This evening marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year; literally, the head of the year, the time of the birthday (literally) of Adam and Eve (no presents, please.) It is the beginning of the most holy and sacred time of the Jewish calendar, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of At-One-Ment. Tradition has it that God determines on Rosh Hashanah who lives and who dies in the coming year, who has success and who has failures. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provides a time for a “do-over,” when repentance and prayer, not to mention a couple of good deeds, can produce a plus instead of a minus in the “Book of Life.”
When I was younger, I was taught that this time was a period when G-d sat on this magnificent throne, with a huge book in front of him. (God was always a he, since Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was written, does not have gender neutrals. All nouns are either masculine or feminine. At the same time, the grammatical gender designation of a noun is purely linguistic and has no relationship to a noun’s gender in reality. A subtle differentiation lost in translation.)
Meanwhile, back at the royal hall, each person stands before God, who after due consideration and interrogation makes an initial determination of that person’s future in the coming year. While I don’t really believe in this imagery, it does explain how New Year’s Resolutions came into being. “Please, God. I will do better in the coming year. Look, I promise to do these things. I have learned my lesson. Just trust me for one more year; you won’t be disappointed.”
Of course ,God, like the rest of us is disappointed. And, of course, God is not really sitting in judgment; that would be too easy. We are judging ourselves — did I do everything I could last year? How can I be a better person this coming year? What can I do differently that will be of more benefit to the world? That’s what we probably should be asking ourselves rather than “how many days into the new year will it be before I break my resolutions?” I remember one year I resolved not to get any more parking tickets. By 10:30 on January 2, I received my first one! That was my personal best! These days, if I make resolutions, I do so on computer. Then all I had to do, from one year to the next, is copy and paste them, changing the date, since they are almost always the same — get more exercise, lose weight, be more patient, develop more compassion.
So this evening, my wife and I will venture to the Mainland and spend the evening with our rabbi and friends, offering prayers and songs for the new year. It will be a happy time, an opportunity to offer thanks for what we have experienced and received in the past year and contemplate the new year will bring. And we will certainly enjoy being in the company of old friends, many of whom because of geography we haven’t seen since this time last year.
Most holidays, Jewish and non-Jewish, have traditional foods associated with them. Rosh Hashanah, being about new beginnings, has a tradition of sharing apples and honey, the former being fresh off the tree, and the latter, symbolizing the sweetness one wishes the year to contain. A friend sent me this somewhat sac-religious depiction of an apple in honey which, as one who drank the Steve Jobs kool-aid, I nevertheless appreciate.
And so, as I prepare my body and my soul for the coming year, as I attempt to achieve the mental and emotional state that would allow me to maximize the experience, I wish you the traditional greeting of the time, L’shana Tovah (A Good Year.)