People say, “Have a happy New Year” referring to the Jewish high holyday of Rosh HaShana, starting this evening. I’m no Grinch and I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s all wrong.
I wouldn’t mind if people said, “Make it a happy new year,” but “Have a happy new year,” misses the point. Being happy is not an accident but a purposeful decision. Your happiness is not the responsibility of your parents, friends or family. It is your responsibility and your decision. Be happy, God commands us, regardless of circumstance. (Deuteronomy 16:15)
Another problem is that ‘new year’ isn’t the focus when the Torah twice mentions the holy day.
Speak to the Children of Israel saying, in the seventh month, on the first
of the month, you shall have a
rest day, a remembrance with shofar blasts, a holy gathering.
In the seventh month, on the first day
of the month, you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no work,
it is a day of shofar sounding for you.
The day is identified as a day for blowing the shofar, a ram’s horn.
It is the only festival observance highlighted by the making of sounds. The synagogue service revolves around one hundred blows of the shofar. Rosh HaShana, literally “Head of the Year,” not New Year, is the only festival with a blessing for hearing something.
God gave us five main physical senses. Let’s look at just two—seeing and hearing.
…that you don’t detour after
your heart and your eyes,
which incline you to go astray.
…hear, Oh Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears today, that you may learn them, keep and do them.
God seems to be implying that ears seem a better avenue for trustworthy information than eyes. But there is another difference between ears and eyes.
What happens if we press ‘pause’ while watching a movie? We see a freeze-frame—a still picture with actors frozen in whatever postures they were in at the instant that ‘pause’ was pressed.
We can slice an instant of video, disconnected from the moments before and after and still retain a meaningful still image.
However, if we press ‘pause’ during a song playing on our mp3 player, total silence ensues. Whether in the form of music or speech, sound is meaningless when disconnected from the moments before and after.
Rosh HaShana is also known as “The Day of Memory.” Nobody with zero memory could hear a tune. All he’d hear is a sequence of disconnected notes. Despite having no memory, the same handicapped human could easily see a painting, picture or statue and derive meaning.
Hearing also helps to connect us to others. Sharing a listening experience with someone is completely different from sharing a visual experience.
If you had to make a horrible choice between only having sight or only having hearing, many people might instinctively choose sight. Yet ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that not hearing is a worse affliction. Blindness isolates one from things, but deafness isolates one from people.
Our ability to make sense of sound depends on continuity and it also allows us to connect. Rosh HaShana is a time for meditating on our past actions and committing to change so that our future continues on a corrected path. It does not stand alone as a day isolated from the rest of our year. It is also a time when our prayers focus on our connection with all humanity and especially with God.
And my Rosh HaShana greeting to you?
May God grant us all a year of good health, peace, growth, prosperity and close connections to each other and to Him.
Eyes and ears play major roles in choosing a life partner. I encourage you to get Chana Levitan’s book, I Only Want to Get Married Once, for yourself and for those you love. It will help ensure a proper role for eyes and ears. This week, (when we are open) it is on sale at our online store. There is also one more opportunity to get Day for Atonement for only $5.
Thought Tools by
Rabbi Daniel Lapin