The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is just around the corner. I have always found this holiday to be unique and interesting and in a very real sense even a little puzzling. One the one hand, this is a festive event. While it certainly is not celebrated in the manner of our secular New Year, it is a joyous time, it is celebrated with a festive meal. They say that Rosh Hashanah, by its very name (translates to “Head of the Year”) is the day that sets the tone for the entire year. As a result, it is not meant to be a solemn day.
Rosh Hashanah also, however, begins the “Yamin Naraim” (The days of awe) and it is the start of “Azeret Y’mei T’Shuvah” (The Ten Days of Repentance). As a result, it takes on the feel, to a lesser degree, of the most solemn day of the year, Yom Kippur, which occurs ten days later. We are told that on Rosh Hashanah, G-d decides the fate for each person and on Yom Kippur, the fate is sealed.
Even this concept seems a little foreign and strange. If your fate is sealed for the year then you do not have to worry about what you do for the rest of the year, except for the consequences it will have in the subsequent year. The truth is this concept never had much appeal to me.
There are two concepts that I do specifically like, however. First is the notion that you should apologize to people if you hurt them, even if you did not mean to, even if you are not aware of the fact you did. I find it very powerful talking to people during this time of year and asking for forgiveness for anything I might have done that hurt them.
The second concept has to do with the Kol Nidre liturgy, the evening service that begins the holiday. In the Kol Nidre prayer, we ask that G-d forgive us for any vows we have made but not kept, from this Yom Kippur until next Yom Kippur. Of course it would make more sense to say from last Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur. There is a recognition that we will make vows and promises, with the best of intentions but we know we are not perfect and will not keep them all. So, we ask ahead of time for G-d to forgive us of any vows we will make over the course of the upcoming year.
To me, these are two of the most powerful ideas exhibited during this season.
To one and all, L’Shanah Tovah (A Good Year).