Thursday, September 9, 2010

Shana Tovah!

Today is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. I have been thinking a great deal about religious issues lately. The next ten days are the Days of Awe, the holiest days in the Jewish year, leading up to Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish year. I have some special posts coming up (if I can get them the way I want them). Today’s post is about Rosh Hashana and will be somewhat shorter.

I’m sure many of you do not know what Rosh Hashana is about. In some ways, it is similar to any other New Year observance: we make resolutions as to how we will conduct ourselves in the year to come and review what we have done in the year just ended. And of course we celebrate as well, but perhaps not as raucously as on December 31. I have always understood Rosh Hashana as having many parallels to the beginning of the school year. This was an easy leap to make, since Rosh Hashana falls somewhere in the month of September, when most schools resume after summer break and everyone advances to the next grade (unless you failed - in that case, sorry). Jewish tradition on Rosh Hashana tells of the Book of Life, which can be thought of as the records kept by God. On Rosh Hashana our deeds of the past year are recorded and is a form of annual judgement. A frequently used greeting on Rosh Hashana is “L’shana tovah tikatevu” which translates to something like “may you be written down for a good year” (this may not be well translated - my source is not the best). So just as in each school year you are judged before you go on to the next grade, God is said to judge each of us before we continue on to the next year.

When I started school each September, I was encouraged to make the coming year one of improvement, where I would abandon the bad habits of the last year and adopt good new ones. Unfortunately, most times, these efforts were about as successful as most people’s New Year’s resolutions. The major difference between the new school year and Rosh Hashana, is that the “resolutions” are normally in relation to spiritual matters. However it is also common in the Jewish tradition to also reflect upon interpersonal relations, in addition to one’s relationship with God. This is because how we interact with other people is in fact an interaction with God (since we are created in God’s image). In the coming weeks, I will be expanding on the themes of how we interact with others in a couple different ways.

The greeting I mentioned earlier, while used frequently, is more commonly shortened to “shana tovah” which means simply “good year” and this is probably the most common Rosh Hashana greeting. Here’s to a sweet new year and Shana Tovah to all.

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