These are divisive times, but I think the entire world can agree that this past year has been especially challenging. Many have been saying that they can’t wait for 2020 to come to an end so that a new chapter can begin. But on the Hebrew calendar, the new year begins this Friday night with Rosh Hashanah, which is the beginning of the High Holy Days.
The Hebrew language is rich with meaning, and it is no accident that the world “shanah,” which means “year,” is related to the Hebrew word that means “change.” A new year is not merely a change in number; rather, each new year carries the potential for growth and change. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for a change for the better – for a new year where we will see less suffering and experience more blessings.
The Breath of Life
This has been a year when our breath in particular has been threatened and compromised: by the coronavirus which infects the lungs, by the protective masks that many of us wear, and by the at times intense stress that nearly takes our breath away.
At the same time, this year has forced us to slow down, and just breathe. It has remined us to be grateful for every breath we take, and that we are truly dependent on God for every breath. This emphasis on breath and breathing gives added meaning to the main themes of Rosh Hashanah.
According to Jewish tradition, the Hebrew date on which Rosh Hashanah is celebrated coincides with the creation of the world – specifically, with the sixth day of creation, the day on which God created Adam. On that day, Scripture tells us that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Since then, on this day every year God breathes new life into all of mankind, reviving our spirits and instilling within us the capacity for a new and better way of living.
On Rosh Hashanah, not only does God send life-giving breath to us, but we send our breath to God through the ritual blowing of the shofar, the traditional trumpet fashioned from a ram’s horn. When we sound the shofar, we blow into the small opening of the horn and send a piercing sound to the heavens. It is as though we take our God-given breath, our very life, and dedicate it to our Creator.
A Blessed New Year
The message that I will take with me this year as I celebrate the High Holidays at home, in lockdown like the rest of Israel, is that God will bring abundant blessings and changes for the better in the new year, but also that we need to do our part. We need to learn the lessons of this challenging year and realign our lives with what matters most. We need to dedicate our lives to God’s purposes and to recognize that He alone is our King. The trumpet blasts of the shofar serve to coronate our King, and in the shadow of the coronavirus (ironically, the word “corona” derives from the Spanish word meaning “crown”) it has extra meaning and urgency.
Whether you are Jewish or Christian, I hope you will join in marking the Jewish New Year. Let us all celebrate, anticipate, and pray for a “good and sweet year” to come, and rededicate ourselves to living more godly lives. God never sends suffering without reason. There is purpose to every pain.
I do believe that healing and joy are waiting for us just ahead. In the words of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, “May the old year and its curses be gone. May the new year and its blessings begin.” Amen!
With blessings from the Holy Land,
Tags: High Holy Days Rosh Hashanah