On 16 September, Jews throughout the world will mark the start of the year 5784. I say “mark” rather than “celebrate”, because in Jewish tradition the celebration comes three weeks later when the annual cycle of reading the Old Testament – the Torah – is completed and the new cycle starts. The period running up to the New Year is for reflection rather than celebration in three ways summarized in three Hebrew words.
Teshuvah – literally “returning” – to ourselves, to God and to those around us. We promise to learn from our mistakes and to put them right where we can so that we can begin the New Year with a clean slate.
Tefillah – prayer, when we have an honest conversation with God about our innermost thoughts, wishes and resolutions. This helps us understand, review and renew our motivations and weaknesses.
*Tzedakah – justice. For Jews, there is a sacred obligation to combine our individual acts of justice to others into a communal act which is both powerful and generous. This is an integral part of how we can heal and repair the world – Tikkun Olam. I’m now the Tzedakah Officer for my Synagogue in Weybridge, and our Annual High Holy Days Appeal benefits a range of selected charities.
So, as we say to each other the traditional New Year greeting – “L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu” [“May you be inscribed for a good year”], we do so with #solemnity, as well as humanity and joy.
*Tzedakah is an interesting word in itself. As with other Semitic languages such as Arabic, to which Hebrew is so similar, the basic linguistic structure is founded on “roots”, ie basic combinations of three letters which can appear in different guises. So for example Z-C-R in its basic form means “remember”, and in its causative form “remind” [cause to remember]. Indeed, that causative form gives birth to a female noun meaning “secretary”, on the basis that a female secretary’s principal task is reminding her hapless male boss of things he should have remembered for himself! So the Tz-D-K root of Tzedakah spawns the word for “righteous”, as in the Arabic name Sadiq.
#Solemnity is another interesting – and highly appropriate – word. From the Latin “solus” and “annus”, so literally “once a year”!
Date: Wednesday 6th September 2023