Happy New Year! Afflict Yourself!

Today is Monday, September 25th.

A random thoguht for today.

We have just celebrated Rosh Hashanah (from Friday night to Sunday night in the Diaspora). Rosh Hashanah celebrates the anniversary of Creation, the birthday of the world, so to speak. It also celebrates and acknowledges G-d as the sovereign power, the creator, and the source of all being.

Today is Ta'anit Gedaliah, the fast day commemorating the assasination of Gedaliah, the last autonomous Jewish governor before the imposition of outside gevernance, prior to the destruction of the second Temple. This fast is not widely observed at this point, and many Jews are not even aware of it.  However, it appears on the Jewish calendar each year on the day following Rosh Hashanah.

Thinking about this juxtapostion, the question that comes to my mind is, "what does it mean to begin the new year with a day of fasting and sadness?"

Rosh Hashanah is itself a holiday with mixed emotions attached. On the one hand, we are celebrating and rejoicing in creation. On the other we are steeping back and dealing with the idea that this is the time each year that G-d is sitting in judgement, determining what fate we deserve in the year to come. That latter view is why we call the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur the Yamim Nora'im (days of awe or fear). To think seriously that what will happen to me in the coming year depends on how I did last year gives new meaning to the term 'test anxiety'.

And here the caledar adds to the stress level by causing us to think back and remember and mourn a political assasination that happened over 2000 years ago!

WHY?

I have no answer that was given me from the wisdom of the ages. All I can think is that it is not just a quirk of timing, an accidental placement of the two events on the calendar. So I have to find my own idea of a reason. Each year it changes: here is what I have come up with as my thought for this year.

Like a Jewish wedding, at which we smash a glass - some say as a reminder of those who cannot share our joy in the moment - perhaps beginning the year with a moment of sober remembrance may temper our joy for the instant, but help us to appreciate it all the more. When things are good, when we are rejoicing, we tend not to remember those who are not included in our circle, not to recall the sadness and tragedies of life that others may be encountering at that very same moment. Closer to home, we do not think about what might go wrong, or what we have already dealt with when we arrive at a moment of joy. We focus on the good feelings engendered and feel happy. Perhaps, we would be even more joyous if we could balance that joyous moment with how far it is from the moments of fear, depression, sadness, loneliness, anger, and other negative emotions that we have all experienced, and will all experience. Joy is all that much sweeter when it is possible to see it in stark contrast to the negative.

Perhaps.

I wish you joy and happiness, peace, health, prosperity, love, and all good things in the year to come.

Shanah tovah umetukah,

Rabbi Joe Blair

Sept 25 2006