Rosh Hashana isn’t just the “Jewish New Year.” It’s the start date for the original personal growth immersion experience, an epic journey of the soul.
On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, we celebrate the anniversary of creation: of the world, and of humanity. Rosh Hashana is not just a celebration; it also has a serious element. In fact, the customary greeting on the holiday is not “Happy New Year,” but “may you be inscribed in the book of life.”
On Rosh Hashana, we pass before God in judgment; we are called to account for our words and actions from the past year. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are collectively known as the Yamim Noraim — Days of Awe — also known as the high holidays.
Ten Days of Teshuva
The ten day period that starts with Rosh Hashana and ends with Yom Kippur is known as the Asseret Yemei Teshuva. This is typically translated as the Ten Days of Repentance. Repentance and forgiveness are a core theme of the high holidays. As we stand before God to be judged, we repent for our sins and plead for an opportunity to make amends and correct our path.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the root of the word Teshuva means to return, and I like to think of this period as the Ten Days of Return.
Return to what?
(1) Return to God
The obvious answer is “Return to God.”
Seek God where He is to be found, call on Him when He is close. — Isaiah, 55:6
The sages explain that even though the Divine is always close to us, we aren’t always close to the Divine. We do not always seek out God. We forget that we are human beings created in the image of the Divine. On the high holidays, the Days of Awe, even Jews who typically don’t go to synogogue or consider themselves spiritual flock to services. We remember that God is close to us, and we return. This return to God is the essence of repentance.
(2) Return to Ourselves
Just as important as our return to the Divine is another journey of return: a return to ourselves, to our purpose and to our truth.
What do I mean by this?
In our day to day lives, we may find ourselves falling into the trap of busy. We can get caught up in anger, anxiety, fear, frustration, doubt, negative spirals and limiting beliefs. Meditation teacher Tara Brach calls this being caught up in the “trance”: of fear, doubt, or unworthiness. She teaches that when we fall into this trance, we separate, from others and from our true nature.
When we are in this trance, we forget who we are. We stumble. We isolate. We may lash out. We may become critical or judgmental of others. We may mistreat people. We don’t give others proper attention or presence. We speak harshly to or about people.
And, of course, we do the same to ourselves. We may treat ourselves worse than we treat others.
When we are caught up in trance, we forget that we are children of God, created in his image as a loving and compassionate beings.
We leave our spiritual home. We disconnect from our truth and from our purpose.
In this place of disconnection, we are out of alignment and congruency with truth. We shut ourselves off from hearing the wisdom of our inner voice.
On Rosh Hashana, we begin the journey to return home to ourselves.
The Wake-Up Call
A shofar emits a sound like no other instrument. It is like a long, loud wail that pierces the silence. It is powered by human life force; its transforms the human breath into a sound that is bigger than life itself.
A few years ago, as I began to seriously cultivate my meditation and mindfulness practice, I began to hear the sound of the shofar as a call to presence, like a chime in meditation that reminds you to come back to your breath. It is like a supersized alarm: it breaks us out of our trance and remind us of who and where we are.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes that
[the sound of the shofar is] so piercing and strange that it wakes us out of our everyday consciousness into an awareness of being present at something vast and momentous.
This is not the sound of the noisemakers we blow on the secular new year.
Many people treat the blaring horns of the secular new year like the horn that kicks off a track meet: a signal to be off and running in the pursuit of goals.
The sound of the shofar is the opposite of that: a reminder to slow down and take stock.
God is preparing to judge us, and it is time for us to give an account of our lives.
How have we used the precious gift of life that we have been given each day? How have we used the gifts and talents given to us? Have we used our time to make meaning and create impact, or have we simply added to the noise?
The Ultimate Personal Growth Experience
Rabbi Sacks notes that the Days of Awe — “can be, and should be, a life-changing experience.” 
As it wakes us from our trance of fear, doubt and busy-ness, the piercing sound of the shofar invites us to enroll in what is perhaps the ultimate personal growth immersion experience: the Ten Days of Return.
This is a period of intense introspection and reflection through which we illuminate and reconnect with our identity.
Who we are. What we value. Our purpose in life.
These are the fundamentals. They are the deep soul inquiries that lay the foundation for visions, goals and for every decisions that we make about how to spend our precious life force energy in our time on this earth. They are our compass, guiding us on our journey.
To do teshuva is not merely to seek forgiveness or make amends. Teshuva is a process of stripping away the expectations of others, our beliefs about who we think we need to be to win approvals, promotions or live. It is a process through which we return to who we are in our core. Through this process of coming home to ourselves, we remember that we are created in the image of a loving God, and that we are, therefore, worthy of love just as we are.
Ultimately, because we are God’s creations, returning home to ourselves and returning to God are one in the same.
Epic Journey of the Soul
To be sure, this is a process that takes longer than ten days. It’s a path we must travel again and again, both throughout the year, and throughout our lifetimes. But it starts here, on Rosh Hashana, with the piercing sound of the shofar, the amplification of a human breath. A reminder that we are alive. As long as we have breath within us, we have the capacity to return home to our truth, to reconnect with our wisdom, to realign with our purpose.
The season of the High Holidays is a time for an epic journey for the soul, and Rosh Hashana is where it all begins. — Chabad.org
May you be inscribed in the book of life, and may your greet each precious day with the light that shines from within you.