It is not always easy to get in the mood for Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar piercing the hush of the congregation may stir something deep within us: or we may be roused by a haunting melody from the choir. But the liturgy can seem long and difficult and ultimately leave us struggling to find the high in the High Holy Days.
Spiritual teacher Rabbi Laibl Wolf says not to worry about dutifully trying to follow all the prayers if we are having trouble getting much of out of them. If we can find two or three passages or phrases that resonate with us, then it is better to dwell and meditate on them. “Even if the congregation moves on, it doesn’t matter,” he says.
The author of Practical Kabbalah also suggests a couple of themes for meditation over the festival. “Rosh Hashanah has an interesting dynamic,” he says. “On the night, we are mystically taught in Kabbalah that the life-energy that dominated the world in the year before returns to its source and the next day, when we blow the shofar, a new energy begins to dominate the world.”
On the night of the New Year, a person can withdraw into their own thoughts, “looking for two or three people they may have wronged and thereby, going through the imagery in their minds of correcting that wrong. Even if it is only in their own mind. Through that imagery, you are actually creating a spiritual force for change. And it’s called teshuvah.
“Teshuvah literally means to return to normalcy from abnormalcy. If we have wronged people, we act abnormally, because we really don’t want to do that.
“By correcting it in the mind, we take the negative angelic forces we created in doing the wrong and we whitewash them and make them into a positive virtue. We have that ability, say the kabbalists. And that way bring things back to normal. Eventually when you meet the person, you can do so physically.”
Rosh Hashanah can also be thought of as the mind of the New Year influencing the body of the year ahead. Just as the mind acts on the cells of the body, he says, so Rosh Hashanah is the head that can “heal the coming year”.
Fix an image of the brain in the mind and imagine the flow of neurotransmitters sending messages to the body. “You can picture it as white light or in some colour,” he suggests. “Then transfer that meditation to Rosh Hashanah being that white light and flowing to all the different days of the year.
“In that spiritual analogue, we meditate how Rosh Hashanah is like the mind of time and space and the coming year is the body. By making a commitment of positivity in the mind — because positive thinking creates a healthy body — positive commitment creates a year of mazel.”