Shana Tova – May it be a good new year. This year, these words feel so important and yet so difficult all at the same time. Will it be a good new year? Could it be? Can I let myself believe that it will indeed be a Shana Tova? What if this new year is no better than the one that is ending? This year has been hard. It’s important to face that reality. Fires, polluted air, racial injustice, loss of life, loss of anticipated events and milestones, loss of in-person learning, loss of hugs, loss of gathering together and the list just goes on because there have also been so many private hardships in addition to our communal public hardships.
There is a naive hope I’ve noticed in myself that something magical will happen when the new year arrives, be it the Jewish New Year or the Gregorian New Year in a few months. And I know I’m not alone. You can see it and hear it in the memes on social media and in conversations with friends;, the way we personify the year and blame the year for all of the terrible things. But, we know that come Rosh Hashanah 5781 or the first day of 2021, nothing will really change unless we change.
Rabbi Israel Salanter, a 19th century Lithuanian rabbi, considered to be the founder of the Musar movement taught, “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But I found it difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my community. However, I discovered that I couldn’t change the community, and so as I grew older, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, but I’ve come to recognize that if long ago I had started with myself, then I could have made an impact on my family. And, my family and I could have made an impact on our community. And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world.”
There is so much that needs change right now. Much has been said about 2020 being the year for perfect vision (20/20 vision), and in some ways it has been just that. The flaws, faults and injustices of our world have been laid before, we can’t not see them anymore. We have been given the gift of a clarity of vision, the question is what will we do with that clarity and how do we start with ourselves?
This morning in the Torah service, I asked the students why the rabbis would have picked Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah that showcase complicated, ugly and hurtful interactions between family members. Wisely, many of them responded that we need to see these moments in our ancestors in order to be honest with seeing them in ourselves. That when we can openly and honestly see our mistakes and shortcomings only then can we change. May this new year bring great change in our world starting with great change in each of us and may it be a better and sweeter year.