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The Jewish High Holy Days and Their Relationship to the Recovery Community


The sound of the Shofar (ram's horn) is the signal that the Days of Awe, the ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur has begun. This is a period of serious introspection and soul-searching. It is a time to heal hurts, offer apologies, mend misunderstandings, and right wrongs. These 10 days are considered the most sacred on the Jewish calendar. It is not necessary however, to be of the Jewish faith to engage in these practices, because they relate to a renewal and a kind of rebirth - the same way that starting the journey to recovery from addiction does.

Rosh Hashanah is considered to be the Jewish New Year, or birthday of the world. Yom Kippur is known as The Day of Atonement when people mindfully turn their intentions inward to examine how they are conducting their lives. Asking questions of ourselves such as "Am I working towards the best version of myself? Am I acting in accordance with my values and beliefs or am I falling short?" On Yom Kippur, we atone for our "sins". The Hebrew word for sin is "chet," which translates as "to miss the mark," as in archery. When we fall short of our target, we have two choices – we can either give up in frustration, or take another arrow and aim again. We cannot change the past or our previous behaviors, but we can make amends by asking others what we can do to compensate for our actions and work towards seeing that we do not repeat them. This helps us to reconsider the path we have been on and make a decision on whether we want to keep moving in that direction or take a new arrow from our quiver and adjust our aim.

This is much like the decision one makes when choosing a path to Recovery. In active addiction, one easily gets caught up in repetitive patterns of behavior that continue to fall short of the bullseye. It is important to listen for the signal or alarm to awaken us to these repetitive and destructive behaviors.

Here are some similarities to the rituals practiced during the Days of Awe and those practiced in Recovery:

  • Clarifying a relationship with the God of one's understanding
  • Doing a searching and fearless moral inventory
  • Being willing to change
  • Making amends
  • Being in fellowship with others who may share one's beliefs and intentions
  • Considering the areas of one's life where one may have missed the bullseye
  • Internal focus in meditation

One can borrow from these timeless Jewish rituals to reflect on one's recovery – they are available and free to everyone at any time of year and in any setting. In the meantime, I wish for all to have a sweet New Year. 

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Comments 1

Guest - Lisa on Thursday, 09 September 2021 14:56

What a great explanation. Thank you Barb

What a great explanation. Thank you Barb
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Friday, 07 October 2022

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