For Jews, the first month of the year is the month of Nisan. New Year’s is Rosh HaShanah, a day of judgment and prayer. Celebrating January 1 as the beginning of a new year, in the manner of the gentiles, is following after their ways, and a practice that all pious Jews should avoid. After all, for a Jew, counting the years from the birth of the founder of Xtianity is absurd, to say the least, and sadly schizophrenic. Think about it. Why count the years from the birth of Jezeus? The world was around a long time before he appeared. Why mark that as the beginning of history? Why identify with Xtians? Why should the calendar start with them?
But that’s what happens when a Jew is cast out from his own Jewish Land and compelled to wander amongst the gentiles. He begins to identify with the culture around him. It’s a sad but natural phenomenon. That’s what happened to the Jews in Egypt too. They descended to Egypt just to sojourn there during the famine, but they ended up staying. That’s what happens.
We learn this from the end of this Shabbat’s Torah portion of “Vayigash.” The verse tells us: “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt in the region of Goshen; they possessed property in it and they were fruitful and multiplied” (Bereshit, 47:27).
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would say, “They settled and sank,” referring to our propensity to get stuck in galut. Citing the commentary of the “Kli Yakar,” Rabbi Kahane explains that this verse is a condemnation of their behavior. Hashem had told Avraham that his descendents would be temporary “aliens” in a foreign land, but they sought to become permanent settlers by acquiring property and building villas for themselves – just like we see today in many Diaspora communities.
Interestingly, the Hebrew for “they possessed property in it, “ויאחזו” is written in the passive form, literally meaning that “they were possessed by it.” That is the situation in galut. We become possessed by the foreign lands and cultures where we live. We come to identify with foreign languages, customs, values, and nationalities – very much like the Jews who were slain in the plague of darkness in Egypt, a staggering 80% of the Jewish community, because they didn’t want to leave Egypt and go on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.
While Yaakov only came to Egypt to temporarily sojourn in the land, his descendents let themselves become gripped by it. This is why Yaakov gave his children the order to bury him in Israel – so they would never forget that Eretz Yisrael was their homeland, not Egypt, America, France, Canada, Mexico, or Australia, and that Rosh HaShanah was their New Year’s and not January 1st.
I can understand how an assimilated Jew who doesn’t study Torah could come to love a foreign place – but for a religious Jew who believes in the Torah, I simply cannot understand it at all. Can you?
Happy JEW Year