I confess to a hang-up about celebrating my birthday. It makes me uncomfortable. I would rather the day just slip by unnoticed.
The aging process does not annoy me. The usual banter about aging is that the alternative is worse. Perhaps it’s the self-centeredness of the day that leaves me less than enthusiastic.
The birthday theme of Rosh Hashanah can on the other hand be very satisfying. To start life anew, to overcome yesterday’s errors, to begin again when liberated by refreshed hope, to discover new possibilities, to wakeup to the excitement of surprises for tomorrow… that is the spirit of the Jewish New Year. I prefer celebrating Rosh Hashanah’s emphasis on the birthday of the world, than my own.
Take a look at the secular New Year with its raucous celebration. Frankly, I am as uncomfortable with this observance as I am about my birthday. Surely the themes of the Jewish New Year are present as well on the eve of January. But there is another side to the secular celebration.
Drinking is the most universal image of New Year’s Eve. This Bacchanalian dimension commends these attitudes: Forget the world; Have a wild time; Relax a little and enjoy; Raise your glass on high and escape from it all. I don’t believe these purposes are fruitful, or even beneficial. The next day is nothing more than a hangover instead of an opportunity.
We all require respite from the pressures of our routine and challenges. There is nothing wrong, I believe, with such a purpose. But is this renewing of life, the restoring of energy, joy and hope. To forget the world and to escape from it? I think not.
To discover the world and to embrace it in a different way; to find healing that diminishes old hurts with balms of tenderness and forgiveness; to pause by a gurgling brook somewhere in a woodsy place, where are heard only whispers of hidden things in God’s splendorous world celebrated this way the New Year becomes an embrace of life instead of its repudiation.
To grasp the hand of a loved one and bound together in spirit to walk in the crisp winter’s night; the music of a symphony; the voices of the choir; the stage whose drama is a catharsis; these are tributes to imagination and the mystery of creativity. I can list a thousand more human, loving ways to embrace the world, celebrating thereby life, love, family and friends.
For the New Year, I yearn for an end to cruelty, to poverty, to loneliness, to sham, to hypocrisy. I yearn for a rainbow in God’s heaven, the promise of contentment and peace. Wasn’t that in Noah’s time, God’s promise? If God would not do it alone, then let us determine so to do as instruments of God’s will.
Make a rainbow for your Rosh Hashanah celebration this year. It is far better than a hangover. The spiritual uplift will be deeply satisfying. Life is amazingly serene with a blessing when there is a rainbow in the house.