Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Happy 5774 Everybody!

From Tablet magazine
So, you know you're one of the chosen people when you get not just one new year, but two.  That's right, Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is tucked into September every year to give us the chance to reflect and reform and to get a free pass on sweets, especially those made with apples and honey, the customary foods symbolizing the wish for a sweet and happy year to come.  The year (5774) is considered to be the anniversary of man's creation.  The recollection of the ending year that inevitably accompanies the new year is built neatly into the Jewish program, as Rosh Hashanah is ten days before The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the day that G-d inscribes the names of those deemed worthy into the Book of Life for the coming year. Since none of us are theology scholars here-- well, I'm not, anyway-- and because I will surely make mistakes, I'm not going to delve any deeper into the religious roots and themes of the holiday, but if you are so inclined, and your new year's program for improvement includes study, you can read more here, on this site, and here.  As regular readers know, this blog is only peripherally about events and people and stuff in the world, so now we'll get to the heart of the matter:  what does Rosh Hashanah mean for me? 

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are meant to be a time of reflection, repentance, and forgiveness, to clear the slate for the year ahead.  Of course, as a compulsive reflector who doesn't need a holiday set aside to feel like there are things I could do better, I've already got a list of ways to try to improve 5774.  Here's a small sample:

1.  Let It Go. 
Not just say I'm letting it go, or simply know that letting it go is the right thing to do, but really Let It Go.  What is It?  Well, that depends, but for me, there are kind of a lot of things that seem to cause a sudden swell of bitterness or envy or regret.  Usually these things have to do with the past, or other people, or stuff I can't fix or control.  This year, I'm going to try to recognize them before that bitter taste or ugly word comes into my mouth.  Then I'm going to, you know, Let It Go. 

2.  Remember that the good fortune of others doesn't somehow subtract from my life. 
Sometimes it seems like there is a finite amount of good stuff that can happen, and it all seems to happen to other people.  I have actually heard myself tell other people that envy isn't logical because what someone else has wouldn't have necessarily been mine.  I am hereby telling that to myself:  someone else's money or free time or awesome vacation of which they Face booked several pictures every hour, doesn't take anything away from me.  I need to remember that when I start to feel twitchy about my own situation, wondering what I ever did to get shut out of the good stuff that someone else is getting. 

Next year, maybe I'll try to start working on the idea that the good fortune of others increases the good in the world, so I should be happy about the happiness of others.  Look for more about that in 5775...

3.  Take Responsibility.
Often, I think about things in terms of cause and effect.  When I'm thinking about the causes of difficulties in my life, it is pretty common for me to think about situations or circumstances or people (actually, I especially think of people) that I can blame as the cause of my unhappiness.  This year, I want to try to take responsibility for difficulties when I can, so that I can feel like I can make changes for myself.  To paraphrase, If not me, who?  After all, I can only change my behavior.  I know this, because for years, I have been utterly unsuccessful at changing or controlling how other people act, and frankly, I'm ready to give that right up.  That should leave me some time and energy to work on my own self.  Everything isn't my fault either-- I know that-- but only I can take responsibility for my actions and change them to make me happier. 

These are just the major issues for me.  There are a lot of sub-topics and side issues too convoluted and annoying and painful to go into here.  Not to mention, I'd like to be a little svelter, a little healthier, by 5775.  So there's plenty for me to work on while I try to cut back on the salt, fat and sugar.  And no one is saying I have to be perfect.  We're only human, after all, and this is not the religion in which people are expecting to be nominated for sainthood.  That's why Rosh Hashanah is celebrated every year.  There's always a slate to be cleaned. 

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur give us the chance to set up a good new year by Yom Kippur, when the new year's rituals come to a close.  Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and prayer, ending at sundown with a light feast to bring us back into every day life.  Unfortunately there is no mention of champagne, noisemakers, funny hats or other such New Year's revelry in the Torah, but, as long as you don't overdo it or give yourself something you'll need to repent next September, what could it hurt to have a little fun?  Here's to a rockin' 5774!

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