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  • Rabbi Edward Friedman

A Thought for the New Year

Happy New Year! My best wishes to all for the coming year. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the greeting is not “happy” new year, but “Shanah tovah,” a good year, happiness not guaranteed.

Twice each day we are to remind ourselves of our basic beliefs in Judaism by reciting the Sh'ma, morning and evening. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” We believe in a unifying principle behind the chaos in this world, a supreme power who, we want to think, has some unified plan for all of creation. Though some days we are filled with doubt.

Our sages recognized the conflicting elements of life as they interpreted the verse which follows, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart (l'vavcha), with all your soul (naf'sh'cha) and with all your might (m'odecha)” Seeing the double letter “v” in l'vavcha, they noted that within the human heart there is both an inclination to good and to bad. So they taught, love God with both inclinations. With all your soul, that is your life force, that which gives you life, but love Him even as that life force departs. As for the strange word m'odecha, which could mean all one's strength or one's possessions, they gave it a unique spin, b'chol midah umidah shehu moded l'cha, for every measure which He measures out for you. We are to find it within us to love God in spite of whatever befalls us during the course of the year. The ancient rabbis urge us to praise God for both the good and bad which we encounter in life.

Many people have called 2020 the worst year of our lives. Indeed, for many people it has been a year of terrible suffering: illness, loss, financial crisis, and destruction. Hurricanes, fires, floods were added on to the all-pervading pandemic. Human cruelty and hatred have added to the mix as well. Yet in these last hours of the departing year, we look around and we are still here. We have survived, we have found the strength to meet the challenges, we have learned new things about our world and about ourselves. We have witnessed great acts of self-sacrifice, dedication, and generosity. Like every year, this past year has been a mix of good and bad and we who are still standing give thanks to the Almighty who has brought us to this day.

The new year ahead is filled with hope and dreams and expectations. Some will be realized, others may bring disappointment. It too will be a year of good mingled with bad, and with the help of the Almighty we will prevail in the days ahead. So I wish you a good year, a year of health and happiness, of blessing, and well-being, a year of strength and learning and courage to face the challenges and joys yet to come. Indeed, happy new year to all.

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