The Gemara, in a famous passage (Rosh Hashanah 11a), teaches that Rosh Hashanah was the day when Yosef was brought out of prison and stood before Pharaoh to interpret his peculiar dreams. Yosef had languished in prison for twelve years after he was falsely accused of assaulting the wife of his master, Potifar, following her repeated attempts to lure him into an adulterous relationship. During his time in prison, Yosef successfully interpreted the dreams of two fellow inmates – servants of Pharaoh – one of whom, the cupbearer, was released and reinstated, just as Yosef had predicted. When Pharaoh consulted with his advisors after his unusual dreams, the cupbearer advised that Yosef be brought before the king to decipher the dreams’ meaning. The Gemara tells that this occurred on Rosh Hashanah.
Many have explained that the Gemara here points to one of the important functions of the Rosh Hashanah observance – to leave our own, self-imposed states of confinement. We are all guilty of “imprisoning” ourselves in some way, of underachieving, of viewing ourselves as incapable of accomplishing more than we have. The occasion of Rosh Hashanah calls upon us to leave our “prison” as the new year begins, to commit ourselves to break habits and routines which restrict us and prevent us from achieving more.
Developing this point one step further, the Gemara’s teaching is perhaps intended to reshape our perspective on our current condition. One of the most common impediments to change is the comfort we feel in our familiar routines. We are reluctant to change because change is difficult and unnerving. We are comfortable with what we already know and are accustomed to, and we do not want to go through the trouble of accustoming ourselves to something new. The Gemara therefore urges us to see our familiar routine the way Yosef saw his condition. We cannot even imagine the sense of relief and joy Yosef experienced the moment he was brought out of the dreary dungeon where he spent the previous twelve years. In an instant, he left the filth and gloom of the dungeon and entered a magnificent, luxurious palace. This was a transformation that Yosef longed for, that he relished, that he celebrated. It certainly was not a change which he found intimidating, or that caused him uneasiness. Chazal perhaps want us to approach the process of change as we begin the new year with this same mindset. Rather than feel comfortable where we are and fear the prospect of change, we are to see ourselves like Yosef in the Egyptian dungeon. We are to feel dissatisfied with our current condition, and to desperately seek to leave. We are to trust in our ability to enter a “palace,” to create for ourselves a far more beautiful and more fulfilling life than we have now. We are to approach the new year with ambition, with a restless yearning to leave the “prison” of our present state and build for ourselves something much greater.
Rosh Hashanah is the time for us to leave our “prison” – but the first step is to recognize that we are in “prison.” Rather than remain in our so-called “comfort zone,” we should feel uncomfortable in our “zone,” and firmly believe that we will experience the comfort and fulfillment we desire in a different “zone,” by making the positive changes which we should be making.