Another year has passed. Another year in the life of: our community, our world, our personal circle of family and friends, our lives as individuals. Jewish teaching concerning the passing of years is very wise. The year doesn’t just turn and change overnight. It’s not simply New Year’s Eve one moment and the New Year the next. Rosh Ha-Shanah is the first day of a ten day period that culminates in Yom Kippur and is known as aseret y’mey t’shuvah – ‘the ten days of returning’. These ten days are a special gift; an opportunity to pause and reflect.
So, Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur are not separate sacred days; they mark milestones on a journey. We arrive at Rosh Ha-Shanah, perhaps wearily, perhaps feeling empty, perhaps lost and dispirited, perhaps with trepidation about what the New Year will bring. The past year has witnessed another odyssey in our lives and now we enter a period of sacred time that exists in another dimension. In this space between the past year and the new one that lies ahead, we have the space to consider: Where have I been and where am I now? How have I been and how am I now? Who have I been and who am I now? Even more important, the aseret y’mey t’shuvah – ‘the ten days of returning’ – challenge us to ask: What have I been doing during the past year – and Why?
So many questions. Life is demanding and challenging – for every human being on the face of the earth, and in particular for us, the Jewish people. Our experience of living as Jews in the world across millennia has made it so, but that’s not the only reason. The Jewish teaching that flows from our sacred sources – from the Torah, through rabbinic literature, through the legal codes, through commentaries and interpretations, right up to the present day – exhorts us to rise to demands and embrace the challenges of life. And so we read in Nitzavim, one of the last parashiyyot, portions of the Torah, which together with parashat Va-yeilech falls this year on the last Shabbat before Rosh Ha-Shanah (Deuteronomy chapter 30: 19): ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: that I have set before you, life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose in life! – u’vacharta ba-chayyim – that you may live, you and your descendants.’
U’vacharta ba-chayyim! The conjunction, Vav – here pronounced as the vowel, shurek, ‘u’, can be translated in different ways as: ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘then’. In this context: ‘therefore’ – because the demands of life challenge us to make a choice: ‘choose in life!’ Choose and cherish our own lives; turn and change and renew our lives for the year that lies ahead. Ultimately, that is our sacred responsibility, as we traverse the sacred days from Rosh Ha-Shanah to Yom Kippur. May each one of us find the courage to make the journey. Shanah tovah!