In this space. celebrating and creating Rosh Hashanah.
Why does any of this matter? What is the point?
Each of us here this evening has our own answer. Or perhaps a few answers. And there is no wrong one and no right.
Some of us are here
–because of family.
–because of tradition.
–a sense of obligation.
—because it is part of who we are or who we want to be.
Some of us are here because we are hurting
–or because we are joyful
Or both and so much more.
All of us are here— right now—because it is the Jewish New Year.
And yet. This evening would be the Jewish New Year no matter what. Rosh Hashanah would come and would go whether or not we marked the time, whether or not we stopped everything we were doing and took notice. Rosh Hashanah would happen out there in the world, but it would not happen within us. We have to create the holiday in order to feel the holidays. We have to create the space for the beginning of a new year in order to truly begin one.
Rosh Hashanah, and all beginnings in fact, remind us of what matters most to each of us. Transitions are painful and awkward and amazing and freeing.
Transitions remind us of who we are and what we care most about.
Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? What do we stand for?
We ask ourselves these questions over and over throughout our lives, in different forms, with different answers. Answers which can be difficult to listen to and answers that can bring us great peace.
And so we ask ourselves year after year— Who am I? What have I done in the last year? Who have I become?
And yet, none of us exists in a vacuum.
And there is so much to each of us. So many details.
So many little things that really are not little at all.
And there are also so many things that make up who we are, that in fact have nothing to do with us. That did not begin with us but were passed down from generation to generation. Values. Gestures. Words we use. Things we find funny. Prejudices. Trauma.
We learn our world from the people who raise us. From parents and guardians. From chosen family and biological family. From friends. teachers. coaches. babysitters.
We learn and create our world from the books we read and the media we consume. The words to our favorite song. Traits from fictional characters we admire, celebrities we follow.
The lens through which we see and approach the world is only partially our own. It is also the lens that is passed down from generation to generation—smudged and scratched, warped and modified.
I am who I am because of the people around me. Because of the way I have been treated throughout my life— the way I have dealt with that treatment, and the way I have explained it to myself. But I am also the person I am because of the way the people who raised me were treated. And how they explained that treatment to themselves and how it was explained to them.
We create our worldview, but we also inherit it.
And we know that the past never quite stays in the past, but continues to impact the future.
Over and over and over again.
Changing and morphing.
Twisting and hiding and becoming.
Tomorrow morning we will read in the torah of a parent who listens to a voice he labels as God, telling him to murder his son. The father hatches a plan, takes the child far from home and prying eyes, ties him up, and then just as he is in the midst of the very act of murder, he listens to another voice telling him to stop and so he stops. and then the father unties the child and murders an animal instead.
This is a story of trauma.
Of a father betraying his son.
Betraying his wife.
It’s a lot.
And This is the story of the very beginning of our people.
The mythical family where it all began.
And here we are, thousands of years later, with thousands more years of collective learning and growing. We can do so much better. We HAVE to do so much better.
After all, why are we here right now, stopping our busy lives to show up and engage with our tradition? Why did the rabbis of old decide that Rosh Hashanah mattered?? Why do we continue decide that it STILL matters?
It is no coincidence that the three core themes of Rosh Hashanah are Memory, Power, and Revelation— Zichronot, malchuyot, and shofarot—
Memory. Power. Revelation.
One generation passes down their memory to the next.
And changes it. And understands it.
And passes it down again.
Shana— as in Rosh ha-Shanah— means year. But it also means repetition or review as in Mishnah. We humans have a tendency to repeat ourselves— for the good and for the bad. But L’shanot, with the very same root, also means to change. We can repeat the past AND we can change the future.
It is never too late to start over.
the cycle can stop with us.
Right now. in this moment.
And the change does not have to be huge. It can be small. It can be ever so slight.
One small change that builds on another and another and another.
Or the change can start tomorrow. Or next month. or five years from now. The key is to remember that that change IS possible. and we can help make/let that possibility grow and grow until one day it becomes/b action.
We can choose life. choose health. choose ourselves and our communities. We can choose to seek the help that we need. to go to therapy. to find support. to spend loving time with ourselves and others. to let go of unhealthy relationships that refuse to change. to put the work into making all our relationships healthier.
We can choose to begin a healthier new year. And we can choose to help each other begin one with us. Change can be easier when we have someone supporting us, cheering us on. And often it is easier to cheer someone else on than to cheer on ourselves.
Our past does NOT have to be our future.
Our trauma and hurt does not have to dictate what comes next.
We can choose to live our lives differently. To admit what is difficult for us. to confront that which stands in our way. to take it seriously and then to find ways to move past it. To write a new story. A new future that is no longer burdened by the past. A new future that is brighter because of it.
We can do this.
And we can do this TOGETHER.
Happy New Year