By Rabbi Aaron Benson
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. We all know the saying and it does seem to be true. It also captures nicely the spirit of the Jewish New Year season which starts Monday night, Sept 6th, with the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. What do I mean?
In synagogues around the world, we read the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, on a yearly cycle reading a portion every week. As the New Year holidays begin, we find ourselves coming to the end of the annual cycle with the reading of the Book of Deuteronomy. That book is read over the course of 11 weeks, about a fifth of the year. And for those not familiar with its subject matter, Deuteronomy is primarily a review of the events of the previous four books.
We spend a fifth of the year, and a fifth of the Torah, doing review. This is intentional because our New Year season is meant to be one of review and reflection. We consider our shortcomings, failures, and misdeeds of the past year, actively seek to mend hurt and broken relationships, and plan for how to do better in the year ahead.
That is a lot to do! If you hadn’t started yet, you’d have a lot to accomplish between now and Monday! Judaism is an optimistic faith. We do not believe anyone is condemned to be bad with no hope of changing. Every year at this time, we celebrate the idea that people can change. But our tradition, as reflected in our liturgical calendar, also understands it is a lot of work to change what’s wrong in our lives.
Using the annual reading cycle as a guide, we probably should be spending a lot more of our time reflecting on what we do so that we can learn from our mistakes and try again — try again carefully and with the wisdom of experience to guide us.
If you will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, I wish you a sweet and happy new year. And to everyone, I strongly recommend a life with ample time carved out for reviewing who you are, who you want to be, how to become that person, and never giving up on that process. A lifetime dedicated to such a process will be one well lived.
The author is the rabbi of North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.