Shanah tovah (Happy New Year), again!

As American Jews, we live in two spheres.
On one hand, we mark the year by our Jewish calendar, and on the other, we recognize that American society runs on the Gregorian calendar. If we are being truly honest with ourselves, it is nearly impossible to ignore the fact that we have two new years, but what do we make of each one?

In this week’s Torah portion Vaeira, found in the Book of Exodus, we read about the first set of plagues God brings upon Pharaoh and his people. Just like our well-known Passover tune, God demands, “Let my people go” or else more plagues will follow. We see that in order for the Israelites to reach freedom and make it to the Promised Land, they must be released from their bondage in Egypt. This is true for us as well.

We must ask ourselves: what is holding us back from a better year ahead?
What can we do to reach our own goals and make a change in the right direction?

Fortunately for us, we can use the secular New Year to our advantage.
While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur allow us time for introspection and repentance—for deep, spiritual soul-searching—New Year’s Eve can be our very own checkpoint to consider if we are still on the right path.

Thinking back to the fall, how many times have we said that:
-we will exercise and eat healthier?
-we will spend more time with family or friends?
-we will focus more on self-care?
-we will try harder?
-we will stress less?
-we will unplug a little from the smart phone?
-we will save for the future?
-we will learn something new?
-we will take that opportunity?
-we will partake in social action and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness)?
-we will be more patient and understanding
-we will live life to the fullest?

What are we waiting for?
The secular New Year is our reminder to let go of the negativity from our past, of all that holds us back and weighs us down.
It is our reminder of the transgressions for which we have atoned.
It is our reminder of the relationships and virtues we have promised to strengthen and the work that still awaits us, individually and communally.

This 2019, let us rededicate ourselves to the intentions we made when our Jewish year of 5779 began.

To a year of shalom,

Rabbi Alli Cohen