D’Var Torah: Rosh Hashanah this year offers a chance for renewal | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

D’Var Torah: Rosh Hashanah this year offers a chance for renewal  


I’ll admit it, there’s been a lot of idle scrolling in my world during the pandemic. I find myself scrolling through the news, stories, COVID-19 numbers, and who’s doing what on Facebook. One of the memes that has caught my eye during this scrolling time warp says, “I’m going to stay awake until midnight on December 31st. Not to welcome a new year, but to make sure this one leaves …”   

There is no denying it, 2020 has been a year of challenge so far. The pandemic has twisted the world we know upside down. There has been entirely too much loss of life, suffering, horrible financial uncertainty and mental anguish. Couple that with the struggle for racial equality that has consumed our world and it’s easy to see why one might want to be in a hurry to see this year exit or hibernate until 2021. 

Our tradition teaches that we mustn’t hibernate or wait for something better. Judaism teaches that we are partners in the work of creation. The first chapter of the Book of Bereshit, Genesis, discusses creation and all that God made, including us. We weren’t created to sit idly by, rather to be part and parcel of this world and all that is in it. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes, “In making people, God endowed one creature the only one thus far known to science with the capacity not merely to adapt to their environment, but to adapt their environment to them; to shape the world; to be active, not merely passive, in relation to the influences and circumstances that surround us.”  

If we can’t adapt to our environment because of this topsy turvy world, then we must adapt our environment to us; we must shape the world in the way it works for us.  We needn’t wait until Dec. 31st to do it, for Judaism offers us an earlier reset.  On Sept. 18th at sunset, Rosh Hashanah will usher in the new Hebrew year 5781. It is our spiritual new year. A time of awakening for us to look at our world, our environment, ourselves and think about what we want to change. It is our chance for renewal.   

Whether in a virtual or face-to-face way, when Rosh Hashanah arrives, we have to do cheshbon hanefesh (examining our souls) and think about what we want to change and how we want to shape the future. For each one of us, that inward check means something different. For some it’s tossing the smartphone, shutting off Netflix and being present. Perhaps it’s putting boundaries on work and home balance as many juggle the new reality of working from home. Or, it could mean putting an emphasis on self-care. Like exercise, eating healthy, sleeping better, even rescheduling doctor’s appointments that were cancelled during the Safer at Home order. It might mean going marching, joining a rally, and voting to allow our voices for change to be heard. Does our self-reflection remind us that we might need to work on being more patient, as a parent, child, spouse or friend?  If COVID-19 has taught us one thing it’s recognizing the fragility of life. Do we have relationships in our lives in need of repair? Who are the most significant people in your world and what can you do right now to tell them how much they mean to you? 

Our environment might not change on Sept. 18, or even on Dec. 31. But we can! We can be active partners in creation and help renew our world, each in our own way, so that we embrace each new day instead of running from the ones that have passed.      

Shanah tovah, a healthy New Year for us all.