Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the High Holy Days. They are more holy days, than holidays, a time for introspection more than a time of celebration.
The Jewish tradition says that every year God reviews the lives of all of humanity and decides what will happen in each life in the year to come. God decrees life or death for each person, inscribing all who will live in the Book of Life.
On Rosh Hashanah Jews wish each other a happy holiday and good year to come. It is a commandment to be happy during the holiday, a must. It would be highly presumptuous to even suggest the possibility of a happy year. Happiness for the whole year?! That’s too far-fetched and very possibly not what would be the best for you. God’s plan for an individual can even be painful so you couldn’t call the experience “happy” but it still can be “good”.
In the time between the New Year and Yom Kippur the traditional blessing is “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.” The exact translation of the Hebrew reflects Jewish cynicism (and negative experiences throughout our history) saying “May your name be well written, all the way, in the Book of Life” and basically expresses the sentiment: “I hope you don’t die next year.”
It’s kinda funny and terrible at the same time.
Cultures around the world have different New Year traditions, ways to celebrate and times of the year that are considered “New Year.” I don’t think there is any culture that marks the New Year with the same level of introspection about the year that passed and the upcoming year, in the same way Jews do. How many people do you know who truly reflect on the quality of their lives, what they have contributed to their fellow man and the possibility of dying in the upcoming year?
Jewish tradition says that before being right with God people have to be right with each other. During the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur individuals reflect on their actions during the past year and ask forgiveness from people they may have hurt during the previous year. People ask God to forgive their sins AFTER humans forgive each other for hurting each other. This is a very different emphasis than that of other religions and cultures. Religious figures, God or prayers do not have the power to absolve Jews from their sins. Healing can occur only when the individual takes personal responsibility for previous wrong actions and asking forgiveness from the person that was wronged.
Jews don’t need to be good just to other Jews; we believe that it is crucial to be good to all people, everywhere, to provide help where it is needed, to right wrongs wherever possible, to make life better.
I am proud that Israel upholds these ideals throughout the year, providing humanitarian aid around the world as well as innovations that affect the lives of people everywhere – everything from agricultural inventions that provide food and clean water in third world countries to the modern day conveniences people in the western world no longer know how to live without. One of the most disparaged nations on earth, we probably provide the most to people worldwide (this is absolutely true when Israeli & Jewish contributions to humanity are calculated per capita).
Our country is not perfect. No one is perfect. But we try damn hard. We argue all year long about the right way to do things and about how to be better. We demand compassion for our elderly, for the sick, for the strangers amongst us, for our enemies and the people of other countries. Each year we take note of our nation’s accomplishments and find that we have fallen short. As long as there are those amongst us that are suffering, that are not being taken care of properly, we have not done enough.
Each year we consider what is wrong and in the next year we try to do better.
Surrounded by enemies who openly declare their desire to see our destruction, weighed down by “friends” who use a lot of the same terminology and slogans as our enemies, it is difficult to know what will be in the year to come.
Who amongst us will die, simply because we are Jews?
Friends and family, colleagues and strangers will die from old age, disease and accidents. Others will die because we are who we are.
Happy thoughts for the new year, right?
On Sunday two Israelis were murdered simply because they were Jews. The family of the terrorist had a huge celebration, happy that he died killing Jews. People from abroad wrote me saying that it is our fault, Israelis deserve to be attacked and why can’t we all just work things out with a nice discussion? Nice.
This is our reality and yet we refuse to be other than what we are. We do our best to do the right thing for each other, for our nation and for the world. We will continue to do so, whether others recognize this or not, whether this is appreciated or not.
This year I pray that my friends and family, people I know and people I do not know will be inscribed in the Book of Life. May the people around the world not have to experience the suffering we have experienced.
A happy year would be wonderful but a good year, one we learn from, grow and become better as a result… that would suffice.
Gmar hatima tova! May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!