Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
The year 5773 is now upon us. As with every new year, every new beginning, every new infant born and project initiated, we pin great hopes and expectations upon the new arrival. We hope and pray for a new year of tranquility and peace, success and health and for our emotional and spiritual growth. Most of us have had many such hopes in the past and truth be said not all of the new years met our hopes and expectations.
But that should not prevent us from hoping that this new year of 5773 will meet our high expectations. One of the secret benefits of our commemoration of the arrival of a new year on Rosh Hashannah is the gift of turning a new page in our life’s book. We preface the arrival of the new year by stating: “May the misfortunes of the past year be ended and may the blessings of the new year now commence.”
The ability to get past previous troubles and failures and move on in life is one of the essential ingredients of a Jewish life that is directed towards holiness and eternity. King Solomon in Proverbs teaches us: “The righteous person may fall seven times but he rises!” Both the righteous and those who are less than righteous fall. Such is the human condition – fragile, inconsistent and imperfect.
However, the righteous person always rises and makes a new beginning. He or she refuses to wallow in the despondency of his or her fallen condition whereas those that are less than righteous eventually do not attempt to raise themselves from their own pit of despair and sin. This stark message of the definition of righteousness in contrast to evil is one of the main lessons of Rosh Hashanah and the advent of a new year.
Another important lesson that the beginning of a new year teaches us is the value of time itself. The coming of a new year focuses our minds sharply on how swiftly time passes. Why it was almost only yesterday when the new year of 5772 arrived! What happened to its days and how did it pass so swiftly?
The coming of a new year focuses our minds sharply on how swiftly time passes.
Our teacher Moshe in his prayer as recorded in Psalms ruefully commented that life itself flies away swiftly. And so it does. Time is the irreplaceable element in human existence. It has a unique value that is all its own. Time is the greatest tool available to humans for achievement and self-actualization. It is too precious to be willfully squandered.
We are not bidden to solve all problems, settle all issues, accomplish all lofty goals in our lifetime. We do not have sufficient years to accomplish all that. However the rabbis taught us that we are not freed from our obligations to attempt to do so. Realizing the limitations that time imposes on us and exploiting the time given to us for spiritual and emotional self-improvement, for building a Torah life and society and for aiding, helping and sustaining our fellow Jews the world over are the messages that the advent of the new year brings. The new year is a timely reminder of the value of time itself.
The arrival of the new year also teaches us how uncertain everything in life is. Our modern world has produced a vast array of experts on every facet of existence on this planet Earth. Yet no matter how much we seem to know and how clearly the future is outlined for us by our experts, we are constantly blindsided by events not only unforeseen but in many cases unimagined.
We are always brought to heel in our know-it-all arrogance and humbled by the yet unknown and unforeseen. The new year forces us to deal with our souls and our Creator. It acknowledges the omnipresent hand of God, so to speak, which guides our private and public existence. Again, it points out at one and the same instance, our helplessness and yet also our responsibilities. Without God mankind is doomed to a vacuous nothingness. But without human efforts and accomplishments, God’s work of creation will remain stillborn, empty and void.
The new year emphasizes this Divine partnership between the Creator and His creatures, between the holy and eternal and the necessarily mundane and ordinary. As the new year begins we, so to speak, issue our annual report on this partnership to our eternal partner. May the new year be one of blessings to all of Israel, personally and collectively.
Gmar chatima tova