We are all aware of the passing of a day. We start our day with a bit of ceremony, and we end it too, with a certain behavior pattern. We wash the sleep from our faces in the morning; some of us, our hands. Some of us brush our teeth. We put on our clothing. Some of us eat, or drink a cup of coffee. And at the end of the day, we prepare our bed, undress, set our clock, or do other things that mark the end of the day. Not everyone is as sensitive to the time span of a week. But for many of us, the weekend puts a framework around that span of time. A year too, is an important chapter in our lives. One can keep on going, intent only on what we are doing or what is going on around us at the time. But it is a very good feeling, for me at least, to mark the passing of the old year, and the beginning of the new year.
In the Jewish tradition, there are two aspects to the new year. The ten days between the new year itself, and the day of atonement, are called ‘days of awe’. These days are dedicated to soul searching, and contemplation on the worth of the year that has just passed, on our mistakes and failures, and how we could repair them; and on the fact that life is temporary, and time goes by. And that our habits and routines make us less sensitive, less aware. That is why we blow the ram’s horn. It is like a trumpet, and it is supposed to wake us up. Wake us up from our day dreaming to the realities of this world.
But at the same time, one of the most consistent messages in our tradition, is to relate to life with joy. It is common for those who study holy books to celebrate the conclusion of the study of every book. If a group of us have been studying a book, we have a regular little party around a table, enjoying drinks and snacks, and discussing what we have learned together from the experience. So, on a new year, we also try to mark this passage with joy. Often, the year that has passed has more bad memories than good. And so, we ‘bury’ what is past, and put an accent on the future, resolving that the new year will be a good sweet one. We put things on the table that will remind us of sweetness and productivity, and of choice and initiative. Some put the head of a fish on the table, to remind us that it is better to be a head, that makes the choices, and takes the initiative, and sees where it is going, rather than to be a tail, which just follows the leader in the flow of things. And another way of understanding this symbol, is that the fish doesn’t close his eyes. They are always open. And that is the awareness we would like to have… not to sleep through this life, but to be aware, and to keep our eyes open. We start our feast by dipping bread into honey, and blessing our friends, may this coming year be a year as sweet as honey.
We believe that this was the day on which Adam was created. And so this is a day that celebrates all of mankind. And so, though I know that for most of my readers, this is not their new year’s day, I would like to wish for all of us, as part of the family of man, a year of sweetness and peace, and the joy of learning, and love.