Rosh Hashanah’s always been more of a New Year to me than the January 1st one.
Don’t get me wrong. I use the Gregorian calendar 99% of the time. Unless it’s a major Jewish holiday, I likely do not know the Hebrew date. I have a vague sense of which month it is in the Jewish calendar, and that’s it. My Jew time looks more like:
“RoshHashanahDaysofAweYomKippur-SukkotShminiAzeretSimchatTorah-HOLIDAY DEARTH-Hannukah-Winter chilling-Tu Bishvat-make hamantaschen-Purim-oh look, flowers-PESACH!!!-Omer-SHAVUOT!* -More dearth-Tisha B’Av-More dearth-Oh shit gotta buy apples.”
*Shavuot is hands down the best holiday in the Jewish calendar.
But the Gregorian New Year is dull.
Rosh HaShanah is exciting.
I shall use a comparison to explain why:
Chinese mansions and temples, in the doorways, traditionally had foot-level thresholds that one has to step over to cross into the next room. These thresholds not only act as markers of personal space, but also as markers of spiritual space.
I see Time much in the same way. As we cross into another spiritual (and academic, and for me, age) year, we step from the room of the year before, which we may have left in a messy state, into the spotless room of the year to come. But we can’t see the interior of this room that well. The force of G-d propels us into it, but we are still scared. The Gregorian date doesn’t do that.
We are scared when we cross. So to cross over, we go with friends. And that’s why this Rosh HaShanah meant so much to me.
To jump the threshold back home meant hours in a synagogue surrounded by sullen old people. We’d never get enough tickets (I consider ticketing services questionable at best), so I’d often be alone. The only time I felt warm was with my family, relaxing after services or at my mother’s incredible Rosh HaShanah dinner.
To jump here meant to be with Sharon and Aaron and Douglas and Chana and Noah and all the crazy Egal folks I love. It meant to be listening to a rabbi who you’ve discussed the finer points of candy with. It meant to sing prayers – and hear voices that were not just sincere, but were those of the ones you loved.
And that’s just awesome.
To jump the threshold is to allow the force of G-d to run through you. This is the point where you enter your own judgment, where you act against your own shortcomings, where you come to terms with your own humanity.
I went with a first-year in my dorm to do Tashlich on the shore of Lake Michigan. For those of you unfamiliar, Tashlich is a ritual in which one “casts away” one’s sins symbolically by throwing breadcrumbs or cereal into running water. The idea is that the fish, who are usually the likely consumers of your “sins” (in Chicago, it’s gulls), never have their eyes closed – just as your sins never leave you, and G-d can always see them. (See is an inappropriate word for the force that G-d is. You can’t really use that type of mortal, fleshy verb to describe what actions G-d takes).
As I threw the cereal into the lake, looking out at the beautiful waterscape ahead , I felt compelled. It was awesome. It was like having a force run through you.
I had that too when I read Torah at Thursday morning services. I had practiced my portion, memorized it even, and yet when I faced the text, I began to shake uncontrollably. I do not believe in a literal text, but it is still a text with holy energy. And I felt that coursing through me, and propelling me into the New Year.
And dang, it was great.
For those of you who are celebrating:
Shana Tova uMetuka! A sweet and Happy New Year! May the upcoming year be productive and happy, loving and energetic, inspiring and creative for you. May you and your family and friends know peace and evade sorrow. May He who pervades and outlasts everything give you blessing.
As you cross the threshold into 5772, may you do so with those you love and care for. May you find the reflection you seek and the insight you desire. May you be inscribed in the Book of Life, however you interpret it.
I wish you all the best.