If you are like most people, you hate the sound of your own voice. Most people would rather listen to fingernails scratching chalkboards than to a recording of a voice mail they left. Some attribute false and overly negative characterizations to the sound of their voice. Personally, I was assured many times that I was mistaken and my voice does not sound nasally and squeaky. Anecdotal research has demonstrated that many people have similarly poor self-voice-esteem. This ubiquitous phenomenon is uniquely perplexing. A person’s own voice is a sound s/he should be very familiar and comfortable with. With the possible exception of one’s spouse, there is no voice that a person hears more than his/her own. Furthermore, not a single decibel that one emits is not the product of his/her own utterance. Why is it so unsettling to hear yourself talk? What is so cringe worthy about the sound of our own voice?
The answer to this puzzling question is the same answer as to why we have trouble finding meaning on Rosh Hashana. When you hear yourself talk you are striking a chord that both unnerves and disorients: you are thinking about yourself. Your thoughts are directed inwardly; a most terrifying experiment indeed. There is no one scarier to meet than oneself. The mere sound of one’s own voice is often too frightening to bear.
Directing your thoughts inwardly is the point of departure for making Rosh Hashana meaningful. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of mankind, and therefore the day best suited for personal re-creation. It is a time when man can fundamentally refocus and reprioritize his life and experience a paradigm shift that will forever accompany him. Rosh Hashana is the most auspicious time to cast away the petty small mindedness that plagues our life, and begin living a life of purpose and meaning. It is a day when we are capable of total personal reinvention.
However, there is only one way to maximize the incredible opportunity of Rosh Hashana and that is to do what we dread most: true honest personal introspection. If we desire to utilize Rosh Hashana as a tool to propel spiritual growth it is imperative that we overcome our fears and assess, analyze and critically evaluate ourselves.
We have to look back and reflect on the year past and all the opportunities squandered. When doing so we cannot lose sight of all the isolated personal failings; every individual misdeed and mistake needs to be addressed, yet it is far more important to get a general overall accounting of who we are as a person, what are our goals in life; asking: what am I living for? In our hearts we all know that we have nearly limitless, largely unused, potential. We are all intimately aware of the fact that nothing stops us from achieving a goal that we set our minds to accomplish. The realization that we are wastefully misappropriating our talent, abilities and time is specifically what scares and depresses us. To mitigate the pain we do what humans are wired to do – avoid pain; and therefore refrain from thinking about ourselves. This tendency to avoid thinking inwardly greatly jeopardizes our ability to tap into the awesome powers of Rosh Hashana.
Rosh Hashana is the day where we can experience a personal renaissance, provided that we undergo a rigorous, likely uncomfortable, self-examination. On the Day of Judgment we have to judge ourselves as well. We have to ask ourselves and dwell upon questions like these:
- What am I living for?
- What are the obstacles blocking my path to greatness and how can I overcome them?
- What difference does it make if I live or die?
- What am I willing to die for?
- How should I live my life so that I have no regrets on my deathbed?
These last few questions that make us ponder our death are particularly valuable because thoughts of our own demise assist our efforts of deep and genuine personal introspection. It is no coincidence that our Sages incorporated liturgical emphasis on death on Rosh Hashana. When we think about our own death we view our life differently. If the thought of one’s own death hangs over him, his outlook on life is entirely different. Thinking about our own death galvanizes us to reexamine, reframe and renew our life and priorities, and therefore it is an appropriate emotion to capture on Rosh Hashana.
The hallowed sounds of the Shofar are likewise designed to wake us up from our slumber and begin asking ourselves these life changing questions. Rosh Hashana is too vital an opportunity to sleep through.
It is ironic – or perhaps by design – that the most valuable of pursuits – contemplating one’s character, actions and life-direction – is the one we fear most. If only we can take the time to dwell on these thoughts and questions, there is no telling of the dramatic self re-creation that we can achieve.
Friends, on this Rosh Hashana let’s overcome this great fear that we all share, and truly evaluate and assess ourselves. There are no limits on what we can accomplish on Rosh Hashana if we engage in real self introspection. We can emerge a different person. Who knows, perhaps the new you will love the sound of your voice as well.