What a Difference a Year Makes

This evening is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, popularly known as the Jewish New Year.

It’s an important holiday for two reasons.

First, it falls in the Hebrew calendar’s month of Tishrei, commemorating God’s creation of the world.

Second, it challenges all of us in the coming year to re-create ourselves as better people.

In synagogue, the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) awakens us to examine ourselves and our conduct. The philosopher Moses Maimonides described its message:

“Awake, awake, 0 sleeper, from your sleep; 0 slumberers, arouse yourselves from your slumbers; examine your deeds, return in repentance, and remember your Creator. Those of you who forget the truth in the follies of the times and go astray the whole year in vanity and emptiness which neither profit nor save, look to your souls; improve your ways and works. Abandon, every one of you, his evil course and the thought that is not good.”

It’s interesting because if you think about it, Rosh Hashanah exists only in our minds and in our relationships with other people.

Time exists, sure. If there were no people, time would still exist.

But would minutes exist? Hours? Years? No, they wouldn’t. They are all conventional ways in which we organize the time of our lives. They are concepts that we superimpose on reality. The same applies to the calendar, and to Rosh Hashanah. Through time, we transform chaos into order.

That order has a purpose. It enables us to seek the truth, to do what’s right, and to love each other even when it’s difficult.

And where can we do those things?

They begin in the same place as Rosh Hashanah: in our minds and hearts. That is where they can start to make a difference.

Whatever it means, we want God to be proud of us. The coming year is our chance.

Resolve to make a new beginning. To do better. To be better. To act justly but with compassion. To help others. To improve ourselves and the world.

Let’s do it.

L’Shanah Tovah.

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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