By Rabbi Steven Schwarzman
(Edmonton) – We usually think that there’s only one new year each year. Well, maybe two, counting the civil new year along with the Jewish new year. But the Talmud’s tractate Rosh Hashanah begins with a description of not one new year, but at least four new years, and possibly more.
When you think about it, we know this. There are school years and tax years and other kinds of years. And so it really isn’t so surprising that the Talmud speaks of multiple new years, too. (If you’ve ever observed Tu Bishvat, for example, that’s one of those new years, the new year for trees.)
But of all the new years, there is only one new year for years, and that is of course Rosh Hashanah. This is the day on which we mark the anniversary of the world’s creation. This is the day when we gather in the synagogue to hear the shofar and to pray that we be inscribed in the Book of Life. It is a day of serious reflection and prayer. It is Yom Hadin, the day of judgement.
Yet Rosh Hashanah is not entirely somber. It is also a joyous holiday. We put on our best clothes, we eat festive holiday meals, and we gather with family and friends, because whatever is decreed for us for the coming year, here we are: we may be battered by the pandemic and its lasting societal effects, we may be hurting spiritually or suffering financially, we may be saddened that the pandemic is still not entirely behind us. Or we may be hurting in other ways, because there is some pain in everyone’s life.
But we are here, and we can be grateful for our lives, for our loved ones, for the community we belong to, and more. This year, it’s important to remember how much good there is in our lives when we ask G-d to remember us for good. And there is, perhaps, no better way to show this gratitude than to consciously begin treating those around us with a little extra goodness.
We can start doing this on Rosh Hashanah. And we can begin making this a year-round habit. Because, after all, there are multiple new years in the year, so we can start anew, and keep restarting anew, all year round. There’s no need to wait, and if we start now, we can enter Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe with a little extra merit. Truly a win-win for all involved.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet, healthy, and good new year. Shanah tovah.
Rabbi Steven Schwarzman is the spiritual leader at Beth Shalom Synagogue, Edmonton’s Conservative Egalitarian Congregation.