Each autumn, the Jewish people get a three-month head start on New Year’s resolutions. That’s because the start of the Jewish calendar — called Rosh Hashanah (literally “head of the year”) — occurs in September or October.
But it’s not just the first day of the new year. It’s a day laden with significance in Jewish tradition, for it is the day we renew our commitment to God.
As Americans, the concept of placing a monarch above ourselves is anathema — we dumped a lot of tea in Boston Harbor to put an end to British sovereign rule — and yet, for American Jews, Rosh Hashanah is one of the most widely observed holidays. According to a 2013 Pew Research study, while only 11 percent of Jews attend synagogue weekly, nearly 60 percent attend during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
And it is this very sense of independence that we as free people living in a free country enjoy that makes commitment to God all the more meaningful.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory — considered the most influential rabbi of the 20th Century — explained that whereas in in our modern era of independence and self-sufficiency, the prevailing school of thought resists accepting things before they are fully understood, it is this mindset that gives our acceptance of God as our ruler a special quality.
The Rebbe explained that when people who are only partially self-sufficient — and partially submissive to others — accept something unquestioningly, their acceptance is not thorough. They’re used to being “yes people.”
On the other hand, the Rebbe said, “when a person who, as a rule, does not surrender his independence and his convictions is convinced that he must recognize and submit to a higher authority, this decision is made on a much deeper and more fundamental level.”
And it is this renewal of our commitment to God that we celebrate on Rosh Hashanah. We sound the shofar — a ram’s horn whose blasts bring to mind the coronation ceremonies of old. We spend time at synagogue, deepening our connection with God. And we celebrate with loved ones and friends — celebrating our renewed connection with our tradition and with our Maker.
And it is in this spirit that we make our New Year’s resolutions. Let us all, together, resolve to add light: to not only respond to negativity with goodness and kindness, but to be proactive in going the extra mile, in being kind when kindness is not expected, in being good to those who haven’t earned it.
And in the Jewish community, let us live proudly as Jews. Let us fill the synagogues this Rosh Hashanah all across the city — Chabad of Kirkland will be hosting free High Holiday services.
For more information, visit JewishKirkland.com/hh19.
In the words of the traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting, may this year be happy and sweet for everyone in Kirkland and around the world.
Rosh Hashanah is Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.
Rabbi Chaim S. Rivkin co-directs Chabad of Kirkland – Center for Jewish life, a local Jewish organization that offers Jewish education, outreach and social service programs for families and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations. For more information, visit JewishKirkland.com.