Shaina and Esrei Yamim

Here’s what I remember from Jewish Day School: Esrei Yamim is the time in which God chooses who will live and who will die in the upcoming year – God opens the book on Rosh Hashana, and for the next ten days scribes the names of who will live. On Yom Kippur, the last of the ten days, God closes the book to seal the deal. That’s why we’re so desperate to pray during those last few hours before the sun goes down on Yom Kippur. We get down on our knees and beg God for forgiveness.

Esrei Yamim has always been a time for me to think about the previous year – my accomplishments, successes, failures; the big questions I’ve pondered; the relationships I’ve built, maintained and broken; the holidays I’ve celebrated with friends and family; the states and countries I’ve visited; the milestones – and to consider goals for the upcoming year – identify my needs for improvement; think of where I have room to grow; figure out how I can be a better person than I was last year; apologize to people I’ve hurt; write a list of my top ten most offensive sins.

I make resolutions during secular New Year too, but always draw a line between the types of resolutions I make on Jan 1 and Rosh Hashana.  My resolutions for the secular New Year are typically material resolutions:  I want to stop using the word “like” in every other word of my speech. I try to keep my resolutions for Rosh Hashana on a more spiritual plane: I want to rely more on my gut than my brain.

I like the cleanse because it forces me to slow down and think about what I put into my body, to appreciate food that isn’t tainted by chemicals and synthetic additives, to taste the goodness of purity. Eating on the cleanse makes me feel clean.

For more inspiration on food and thought, visit the blog I’m co-writing with my mom:

Arielle and Esrei Yamim

Arielle and Esrei Yamim

Esrei Yamim is an extended period of resolution-making, journaling, and reflecting. It’s a time to get our thoughts in order. Unlike the one-day marathon of resolution forming and quick (erratic, even) decisions of December 31st (“starting tomorrow I’ll go to the gym every single day!”), Esrei Yamim gives us ten days to gather our thoughts about ourselves from the past year. How did we affect others? How did we affect ourselves? What have we achieved? How can we improve?

The cleanse provides me with the physical clarity I need to soundly consider the past year. While inspiring me creatively in the kitchen (the Cleanse Nut Crackers were a happy accident,) I hear more clearly what my body craves. My spiritual state reflects my physical state. Or is it the other way around?



Tashlikh, meaning “cast away,” is a ritual performed on Rosh HaShanah as a physical reminder of the human effort to cast away one’s sins. By casting crumbs of bread into the water and reciting the verse from Micah– ”cast all our sins into the ocean’s depths”– we state our intention to return to our true selves. For many Jews, Rosh HaShanah is a time for reciting many words. Through Tashlikh, we use our bodies and actions to do the work of return. Although the rabbinic authorities originally objected to this ritual, Jews stubbornly performed it until it became a “traditional” part of the holiday.

Tashlikh can be a time for women to gather in a safe environment, consider their lives together, and examine the ways of their community. How have we grown as individuals and as women? How have we fallen short? How have the larger Jewish and secular communities supported us? How have they failed us? This ceremony, designed by the Ma’yan staff, gives women a place to be open about the truths of their lives and to share deeply with one another.

Tashlikh should be performed near a body of water so that the ritual of casting away can be performed. If you have no body of water, use a large bowl or bucket.

More from The Fire Starter Sessions

Life balance is a myth, and the pursuit of it is causing us more stress than the craving for balance itself.
Being well-rounded is highly over-rated. When you focus on developing your true strengths you enter your mastery zone.
Screw your principles, well, some of them. (They might be holding you back.)
We have ambition backwards. Getting clear on how you want to feel in your life + work is more important than setting goals. It’s the most potent form of clarity that you can have, and it’s what leads to true fulfillment.
Competency is for suckers. Your most valuable currency is what comes naturally to you. When you focus on developing your true strengths, you enter your mastery zone.
You’re an artist, and that’s that. When we’re giving our best, we’re being artistic. When you’re bringing your whole self to the party, you’re making poetry happen — and you do it all the time, naturally.
Be the giver. Force it if you have to. Make generosity part of your growth strategy and you will cross that sacred divide where love is no longer a concept but is your soul made manifest. You. Giving. Love. Gorgeous.

A Question for Cleaning Your Slate

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this to the public, but I recently read Danielle LaPorte’s, The Fire Starter Sessions. It’s a self-help book about success, with a spiritual edge. She just posted the below article – a great topic to consider during the cleanse.

A question for cleaning your slate.

From Danielle LaPorte

This is a big topic. Western self-help spirituality is great at getting us to identify our patterns and ‘isms’. After enough how-to books, workshops and therapy we can honorably say, “I’m neurotic because of my mother,” or “I’m a selfish because I didn’t get enough attention as a kid.” But identifying the source of your crap is only half the journey. The other half is composting it into something radically new.

So, like, what if you CHANGED? Today.

What would you be more of if you let go of the past?

Let’s say that a really cool Fairy Godmother appeared by your side right this second and said, “You are whatever you want to be from this day forward! We’ll just forget about all the times you were less than your best, and all the dark and brilliant ways that you’ve tried to love and be loved. And that one time you were a little bit nasty, let’s erase that from the record. And while we’re at it, we’ll forget about all the times you got bumped and bruised and neglected along the way.” It’s over. Free. Nothing to resent, nothing to be bitter about. Clean slate. Go.

What would you be more of if you let go of the past?

What would you be more of if you let go of the past?

Send us your answers and we’ll post them here!!

Hunger and Tikkun Olam

Hunger on the High Holidays, and How You Can Help

by | September 12, 2012

It’s hard to imagine Rosh Hashanah without sweet apples and honey, or a Yom Kippur break fast without savory bagels and lox. But for too many families, these foods won’t make it to the table.

Today, more than 50 million Americans and almost 25% of all Israelis experience hunger, or live right on the edge of being unable to feed themselves or their families. Dealing with hunger is a year-round struggle, but can feel especially painful on holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, which highlight what can feel like a luxurious time for reflection and bringing people together around a festive meal or a break fast. We sometimes take for granted the ability to fast on Yom Kippur.

The high holidays give us time for introspection and tshuvah (repentance) as we aim to enter the new year with open hearts and strong relationships. They also offer the opportunity for us to think about ways we could be doing more to help our communities grow stronger and healthier.

In the spirit of tikkun olam and of new starts, here are some ways to help stamp out hunger this high holiday season, and to bring some sweetness to others’ new year’s celebrations:

  • Masbia: This New York-based kosher soup kitchen network helps to feed hungry people and families all year round, including on the high holidays. Find out how you can volunteer here, or donate money, food or equipment here. Masbia is also selling Rosh Hashanah cards, the proceeds of which will go to support their work.
  • Mazon: This Jewish hunger organization created a bunch of resources to incorporate the notions of hunger and food security into your high holiday celebrations. Make a donation to support their ongoing work to combat hunger here.
  • Jewish Family & Children Services: Lots of JFCS chapters around the country have high holiday-related programming and year-round food banks you can volunteer with.
  • No Kid Hungry: This national organization fights childhood hunger through advocacy and education. Take their No Kid Hungry Pledge, and get involved here.
  • Feeding America: This national network of food banks helps distribute over 3 billion pounds of food to hungry individuals and families each year. Find out how you can volunteer (sorting, boxing and repackaging donated food) here.
  • Revolution Hunger: Help this national campaign harness teen power to fight hunger and malnutrition around the world. Get involved with the Revolution Hunger Youth Team here.

On Taking Action

On taking action

Who shall live and who shall die:

Who shall perish by sword and who by beast,

Who by hunger and who by thirst,

Who by earthquake and who by plague;

Who shall become poor and who shall become rich

Over and over again in the High Holiday liturgy, we admit our vulnerability before the great forces of the universe — violence and war, hunger, natural disaster, disease and poverty. We acknowledge that our individual fates during the coming year are, to a large extent, subject to forces beyond our control.

But we follow each of these pronouncements of helplessness with a declaration of potency:

U’tshuvah, u’tfilah u’tzedakah ma’avirin et ro’a ha’gezeirah.

Repentance, prayer and charity avert the severe decree.

Traditionally, we read these as mitigating practices — perhaps if we repent, pray and give tzedakah, we will be spared. But this year, what if we read this trio of tshuvah, tfilah and tzedakah differently? Instead of seeing these as ways of avoiding personal punishment after the fact, what if we look at them as ways to make a better world going forward:

A world in which more people live full lives and fewer die unnecessary deaths; A world in which there is less bloodshed in war and fewer deaths at the hands of beastly rulers; A world in which hunger is less persistent and no one dies of thirst; A world in which the aftermath of earthquakes is alleviated, and natural disasters are anticipated and addressed; A world in which no one is forced to live on less than $1 a day, and in which we close the distance between the rich and the poor?

This year, let us read tshuvah, tfilah and tzedakah also as reflect, aspire and pursue justice, our three vehicles for repairing the world and ourselves.

*From AJWS High Holiday Resources; go to for more.


The Shofar

Courtesy of For more, go to

The Tekiah Sound

Rosh Hashana is the day of appreciating who God is. We then internalize that understanding so that it becomes a living, practical part of our everyday reality. God is all-powerful. God is the Creator. God is the Sustainer. God is the Supervisor. In short, God is King of the Universe.

But for many of us, the idea of a “king” conjures up images of a greedy and power-hungry despot who wants to subjugate the masses for his selfish aims.

In Jewish tradition, a king is first and foremost a servant of the people. His only concern is that the people live in happiness and harmony. His decrees and laws are only for the good of the people, not for himself. (see Maimonides, Laws of Kings 2:6)

The object of Rosh Hashana is to crown God as our King. Tekiah ― the long, straight shofar blast ― is the sound of the King’s coronation. In the Garden of Eden, Adam’s first act was to proclaim God as King. And now, the shofar proclaims to ourselves and to the world: God is our King. We set our values straight and return to the reality of God as the One Who runs the world… guiding history, moving mountains, and caring for each and every human being individually and personally.

Maimonides adds one important qualification: It isn’t enough that God is MY King alone. If ALL humanity doesn’t recognize God as King, then there is something lacking in my own relationship with God. Part of my love for the Almighty is to help guide all people to an appreciation of Him. Of course this is largely an expression of my deep caring for others. But it also affects my own sense of God’s all-encompassing Kingship.

The Shevarim Sound

When we think about the year gone by, we know deep down that we’ve failed to live up to our full potential. In the coming year, we yearn not to waste that opportunity ever again. The Kabbalists say that Shevarim ― three medium, wailing blasts ― is the sobbing cry of a Jewish heart ― yearning to connect, to grow, to achieve.

Every person has the ability to change and be great. This can be accomplished much faster than you ever dreamed of. The key is to pray from the bottom of your heart and ask God for the ability to become great. Don’t let yourself be constrained by the past. You know you have enormous potential.

At the moment the shofar is blown, we cry out to God from the depths of our soul. This is the moment ― when our souls stand before the Almighty without any barriers ― that we can truly let go.

The Teruah Sound

On Rosh Hashana, we need to wake up and be honest and objective about our lives: Who we are, where we’ve been, and which direction we’re headed. TheTeruah sound ― 9 quick blasts in short succession ― resembles an alarm clock, arousing us from our spiritual slumber. The shofar brings clarity, alertness, and focus.

The Talmud says: “When there’s judgement from below, there’s no need for judgement from above.” What this means is that if we take the time to construct a sincere, realistic model of how we’ve fallen short in the past, and what we expect to change in the future, then God doesn’t need to “wake us up” to what we already know.

God wants us to make an honest effort to maximize the gifts He gave us. You aren’t expected to be anything you’re not. But you can’t hoodwink God, either.

The reason we lose touch and make mistakes is because we don’t take the time everyday to reconnect with our deepest desires and essence. The solution is to spend time alone everyday, asking: Am I on track? Am I focused? Am I pursuing goals which will make the greatest overall difference in my life and in the world?

Make it a habit to keep in touch with yourself, and when Rosh Hashana comes around, the alarm clock of the shofar won’t be nearly as jarring!


1 Response to Thoughts

  1. Pingback: The Cleanse, 2013 | The Cleanse

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