This is a practice for Elul and High Holy Days, but can also be utilized for the secular new year or any of Judaism’s four New Years.
During the Elul and the High Holy days we tend to hear over and over that three things can “avert the harsh decree: prayer, repentance and tzedaka.” But there’s another action that has been part of my practice for years and has the same roots in the Talmud, as tefilah, teshuvah, and tzedakah.
And Rabbi Yitzḥak said: A person’s sentence is torn up on account of four types of actions. These are: Giving charity, crying out in prayer, a change of one’s name, and a change of one’s deeds for the better. … as it is written: “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be”(Rosh Hashanah 16b via Sefaria)
Why do we only hear about prayer, repentance, and tzedaka for the High Holy days? What happened to changing your name and conduct? That’s the practice I want to talk to you all about today – naming your year.
Jewish liturgy often presents Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a time where we throw ourselves on the mercy of the heavenly court. But what if there were another way to look at it? What if we co-create our world with the Holy One, acting as the eyes, hands, and bodies of the Holy One in the world? In that case, we can’t just beg for mercy for our failings. We would need to have the courage of our convictions and ask to be written in the Book of Life. But what do you ask to be written into the Book of Life?
Each of us has a name given by G!d/dess and given by our parents
Each of us has a name given by our stature and our smile and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name given by the mountains and given by our walls
Each of us has a name given by the stars and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name given by our sins and given by our longing
Each of us has a name given by our enemies and given by our love
Each of us has a name given by our celebrations and given by our work
Each of us has a name given by the seasons and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name given by the sea and given by
our death.~Zelda, translated by Marsha Falk
It’s the name that symbolizes what you will do with the year, if it is granted to you. It’s the word or words that names your vision of the year to come, who you want to be, and the work you want to do in the world for this one year.
So let’s take a minute and see what comes to mind for you all? If you had to name your 5780, what word comes to mind for you? This used to be the center-point of the Rosh Hashanah rituals that I lead, and it was powerful. Not only the claiming of the new name, but also the shedding of names that no longer serve you. I’ve attached the ritual script/siddur from one of the last times I did this style ritual as part of Rosh Hashanah.
Once you have selected a name/focus – you can go even bigger with this and create what is called a “Dream Decree” a Minshar Cholem (מִנְשָׁר חֲלוֹם). Take that name and really play with what it means to you, what it feels like, looks like, tastes, sounds or even smells like, and then actually write it down in some fashion. You could write it in a journal, create an altar, or create a Pinterest board of images that relate to the dream. I also recommend sharing it with someone(s) who can be supportive of this dream.
Changing your name, stating your dream, both only do good if they compel you to take action – change your conduct. But both of these acts have the power to help you make the change – be the change.
So how do you work this into the Days of Awe.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written.Traditional Liturgy
On Yom Kippur it is sealed.
On Rosh Hashanah you say the name, or dream the dream.
On Yom Kippur, you seal it. Write it down, paint it, dance it – whatever!
On Sukkot, you celebrate it. Find a way to work it into your Sukkah.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written.
On Yom Kippur it is sealed.
Each of us has a name. What name will guide you into your next year?