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Rabbi's Shabbat Message

Happy New Year!

These are words I write with equal parts hope and trepidation. Honestly, I was pretty grateful to be under zero pressure to go out on the town and stay up until midnight, and I wouldn’t mind doing a Zoom party with friends playing silly games and at-home scavenger hunts every New Year’s Eve from now on. 

But what’s the Jewish significance of this New Year’s Day - if anything?

The first mishna in tractate Rosh Hashanah teaches that there are actually four new years in the Hebrew calendar, four “Rosh Hashanahs,” not just the one we call Rosh Hashanah in the early fall.

There are four new years: 

  • The first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals. 
  • The first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of beasts. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishri. 
  • The first of Tishri is the new year for years, for shemitah/sabbatical and jubilee years, for planting and for [tithe of] vegetables. 
  • The first of Shevat is the new year for trees, according to the words of Bet Shammai. Bet Hillel says: on the fifteenth of that month.

This mishna teaches us that in Jewish time, renewal and revelation don’t just happen at once. So we mark these new years - as well as new months, new weeks, and every single new day - as moments to become witnesses to the constant change that is happening around us and within us, however slowly and imperceptibly.  There’s a lot of wisdom in a calendar that gives us multiple moments throughout a year for marking the beginning of a new process, rather than the year making one grand entrance (that’s a lot of pressure to put on one day, particularly a day as blah as January 1 often is!). 

Today on the Hebrew calendar it’s just the 17th of Tevet, a day without any particular significance of its own. But in a few weeks, we’ll celebrate Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees (following Bet Hillel’s ruling above) - a time when the sap in the trees begins to turn from nourishing their roots in fall and winter and rises upward, to fuel the new growth that will soon come. For now, we may have to search a little harder to reveal the renewal that is taking place. 

Tonight, we’ll be singing this melody of revealing during Yedid Nefesh, called Higale Na - inviting the Divine to gently reveal Herself and spread comfort and protection, a sukkat shelomecha, over all of us like a blanket. I’m grateful to have Luna, Flavio and Dora Manela back with us in the sanctuary tonight along with Amy and Joel, creating that cozy blanket of song with multiple voices and harmonies. 

And tomorrow morning, join us as we close out the book of Bereshit/Genesis with a little text study on Vayechi - you can get a taste of the parsha in our podcast episode for this week as Amy and I reflect back on where we’ve been through this first book of Torah, and see what themes we’ll carry with us as we enter into Shemot/Exodus. We’ll also be joined by our fabulous Shinshin, Yuval Lapidoth, who’s now here in Atlanta and will be publishing his “ShinshiNews” weekly! 

May this new secular year bring with it an abundance of blessings and health and reveal its wisdom to us, all in the right time and season.

Shabbat shalom,

R’ Lauren

Tue, January 26 2021 13 Shevat 5781