Kehillah messages for a sweet new year ~ Shana Tova
To say that 2020 has been a challenging year would be an understatement. Just as one crisis seems to begin subsiding another one comes our way, and it can feel like we are trapped in a never-ending cycle where one anxious day bleeds into the next without anything ever changing.
Then, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, all of a sudden comes our way. In a regular year we might reflect upon repentance and forgiveness. This year, however, the greatest lesson that this holiday has to teach us may be about time itself.
Unlike traditions that have a cyclical view of time, Judaism holds that time is linear and constantly moving forward. While we may celebrate the same holidays every year, recite the same prayers every Sabbath, the Jewish tradition tells us that every single moment is unique and unlike every other that came before or will follow. We are also taught that some moments—such as the week of creation, the revelation at Sinai, and the destruction of the temple—are so monumental that they altered the very fabric of the universe. We all witnessed such a moment this year, when people from all walks of life all across the world rallied together, calling for an end to police brutality and the systemic marginalization of People of Color.
Why are certain moments imbued with such power? One possible answer is found in a passage from our daily liturgy that states “God, in his goodness, is continuously renewing the act of creation every day” (hamechadesh betuvo b’chol yom tamid maasei bereshit). A common interpretation of this phrase is that God not only “renews” the act of creation constantly, but that at every single moment the entire universe is being re-created, again, ex nihilo (“from scratch”), and thus the world that you lived in yesterday is not the world you live in today. Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav (1772-1810), a famous Hasidic leader, built upon this idea when he declared that every single breath we take has the potential to be the very first breath of an entirely new life, meaning that it is up to us to decide—at every moment—who we want to be in a way that is unfettered by the past. From all of this we see that each moment has the potential to be transformative, but we must rise to the occasion to actualize that potential.
Rosh Hashanah can serve as a reminder to both celebrate the passage of time and see every moment as a unique opportunity. While we may feel as though we are still stuck in the cycle of 2020, the Jewish calendar tells us that this year is already over and we are in fact about to enter 5781! Let us use this marking of time as an inspiration to continuously look for opportunities to renew our world, ourselves, and do our utmost to make this a shanah tova u’metukah, “good and sweet year” for everyone.
Dean of Jewish Studies