Rosh Hashanah: Blessings for a Good Year

Yael Eckstein  |  September 14, 2020

Three apples and cut up apples on a plate with honey beside them.

How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
— Psalm 31:19

At sundown on Friday, Sept. 18, my family will join Jews around the world in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. My devotions this week focus on this very holy day, a time when our attention is on repentance and starting afresh.

2020 has been quite a year with plenty of challenges, leading many people to wonder what difficulties lie ahead. However, on the Jewish calendar, a new year is about to begin, and with it, new blessings and the opportunity for a good year. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, marks the anniversary of Creation as described in the Bible. It is time for a fresh start, new possibilities, and hope for a better year ahead.

When I was growing up in Chicago, I was accustomed to the typical New Year’s greeting on January 1 when we wished each other “Happy New Year.” But in Hebrew, we wish each other Shanah Tovah, which means “Good Year.” This nuance may seem inconsequential at first, but the difference is extremely significant.

In life, not everything that makes us happy is good for us. A bucket of candy may make my child happy, but it is not good for him. In the same way, we don’t wish for circumstances that make us happy if they are ultimately bad for us. In our New Year blessing during Rosh Hashanah, we recognize that the most important thing is that our lives our good — that we are healthy in body and soul and that our lives are rich in meaning and contribution.

However, not everything that is good for us makes us happy. If I give my child a plate of vegetables and sprouts, it might be healthy for him, but he won’t enjoy it. Therefore, we pray that God will bless us with a good year — and that it brings us happiness, too.

There is a Jewish custom to eat an apple dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah. The apple, which is healthy and good for us, represents our wish for a good year. The honey expresses our prayer that we experience what is good for us as something sweet and enjoyable.

Appropriately, the longer version of the traditional Rosh Hashanah blessing is actually Shanah Tovah U’metuka, which means, “Have a good and sweet year.” That is my wish for us all. May the New Year bring us goodness and health — and may it be filled with an abundance of sweetness and joy, too.

And as we pray in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, “May the old year and its curses be gone, and may the new year and its blessings begin!”

Your turn:

What is your prayer for the Jewish New Year?