Hiding me in His shrine, safe from peril, God will shelter me beyond the reach of disaster, and raise my head high above my enemies.” ~ Psalm 27, The Psalm for the Season of Repentance

In a little more than a week, Jews around the world will converge on synagogues in their holiday finest for some of the most serious services of the year. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, looms closer, and many of my friends are making brisket and chicken, chicken soup and matzoh balls, challahs and dishes symbolizing all of the things we wish for in a new beginning:

* carrots so that our vision should be precise and clear

* fish heads so that we favor the head rather than the tail

* pomegranate seeds so that we remember how many commandments are in our sacred text (613, allegedly the number of seeds in a pomegranate)

* challahs that are round and with raisins, for a sweet new year, for the cycle of life, for coming round again, and continuing the circle

* honey with apples, honey with challah, so that we should have a sweet new year

And we will hear the shofar blow, a ram’s horn whose call is guttural and heart-struck, a wake up call for us all, as a collective and as individuals.

Many people think of this time of year as the time when God decides who shall live and who shall die. That’s not really how it goes, though. I’ve been studying with my rabbis, Rabbi Rachel Shere and Rabbi Aaron Bergman, and in our last session, we reviewed the psalm quoted above, to understand what we’re supposed to do at this dawning of a new year, and how we are to interpret the ancient texts.

Those enemies referenced above? It’s a reminder to not become like those we oppose, to not make decisions based on fear.

How many times a day does fear stall you on your path? Prevent you from taking a big leap forward, or the risk that might make your career, and your life? How often do we cower in corners rather than venture out to discover new horizons that may just hold secrets and truths in their landscapes?

I look at this time of year as the time to choose again, or choose anew, how we want to live. It’s not about a punishing God looking down on us with a wagging finger. It’s about taking ownership of the life we’re living, and not making excuses any longer.

It’s about taking stock of ourselves, noticing whether we are rewarding ourselves or punishing ourselves, whether we are living to the fullest of our potential and ability.

These are hard questions. People feel so anonymous in the world. If you look around us, we are in a landscape populated by super-stores and faceless, soulless chain businesses. And the result, as the economy has shrunk, is that in my hometown we find shopping strips and big-boxes standing vacant and gaping, no tenants to move in and take over such huge spaces.

I myself have found pleasure and encouragement in cutting back and simplifying. Eliminating the fat, so to speak. It’s a great time of year to do so. In an era when we often feel we don’t matter in the larger scheme of things, now is the time to take stock and find the ways in which we DO matter, for each of us does, supremely, importantly.

Over the next week, I challenge you to dig deep and figure out your unique gifts to the world. What were you born to do? How can you change the course of life? And if you’re not doing it now, do it. Just jump in.

By the way…I am working on a new book for next year, expanding on the Holy Breads book that came out in 2013. I will be adding a section on Sikh breads, a section on gluten-free holy breads from all traditions and faiths, and blessings on bread. Do you have something to contribute? I’d love to talk with you.

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