A Good New Year
Now, the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you: you shall deny yourselves and present the Lord’s offering by fire. (Leviticus 23:27)
The Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur begins today at sunset. Yom Kippur, which means “day of atonement,” concludes the ten-day celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. However, this celebration is nothing like our western New Year’s Eve celebrations. It is a time of self-reflection and repentance as one seeks a new start on a good year.
Yom Kippur is a day of fasting to help focus attention on spiritual needs rather than physical ones. Everyone is released from promises made in the last year that they were unable to keep, giving everyone a fresh start. And in one of the most important traditions of Yom Kippur, each person is expected to ask forgiveness from God and from anyone they have hurt in the past year. We know how difficult this is. Asking God for forgiveness is easy. Asking someone we have wronged…that’s another story.
The whole tradition reflects an image of God I have often thought of as, “the God of second chances.” While in our New Year’s traditions we mostly look forward to the year ahead, making resolutions we probably won’t keep, the Jewish tradition is to look back, learn from the past, and begin the year with a fresh start. It’s an opportunity to let go of the burdens of the past and start over, living into the new life God offers.
One other difference in the Jewish approach to the New Year is the emphasis on community and our connectedness to one another. As Rabbi Adam Morris writes,
We recite litanies of sins we have committed, always saying “we have sinned” rather than “I,” perhaps to remind us that we are always part of the community and responsible for communal transgressions, no matter how we pursue the benefits individually.
So Shana Tovah (good year) to our Jewish neighbors. May your year 5783 be blessed. And may we all seek forgiveness for our sins that we may embrace God’s promise of new, abundant, and full life for ourselves, our communities, and our world.