Thoughts for the New Year



pocalyptic? Millions died from a global pandemic, and unknown variants and novel viruses are on the horizon. Do you remember how eerie the sky looked when the air was dangerously contaminated by the unprecedented wildfires in Canada? The hurricane-induced conflagrations in Maui caused the highest death toll in America from such a disaster. Melted glaciers in Alaska, and unparalleled torrential rains in California resulted in fatal mudslides. Record-breaking high temperatures in the Southwest, Europe and elsewhere wrought havoc.

Armageddon? Mass shootings are so commonplace we’ve become desensitized. Democracies are becoming authoritarian states or theocracies. Division and hate are surging. An enormous increase in antisemitism is well documented, as well as violence and discrimination against Blacks, Latinos and other people of color.  Attacks on the rights of women’s health, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, asylum seekers, Asians, Muslims, and so many more minorities of all types have seemingly been mainstreamed. Mental illness, homelessness and poverty have spun out of control with apparently no one caring. A war between Russia and Ukraine has been wholly devastating. A nuclear Iran looms ever closer to a frightening reality.

How do we counter chaos? One answer might be hidden in celebrating a biblical festival.

Rosh Hashanah occurs on sundown of September 15th. It marks the opening of the Jewish high holidays and is often referred to as the start of the New Year. However, it is actually described in Leviticus as being observed on the first day of the seventh month.

According to the most ancient of our traditions this date is actually the anniversary of the creation of the world, and hence it is a “new year.”

So, when you take a close look at the language in Genesis that precedes the actual process of fashioning the world, we find that “there was darkness and chaos”. Then God made something that never existed before, a new patterned universe. And therein lies the lesson.

We were made “in the image of God,” therefore we are able, indeed we are obligated, when necessary, to role model the actions of Heaven, here on earth. When presented with endless disharmony, vast disorder, negative energy flowing in every direction, discord of many kinds, and the blanket of dark bitterness covering every corner, we now understand how to respond.

“And the Lord said let there be light.” From the radiance of the sun, moon, and stars to the glistening waters that sustain life, we must be inspired to create a new reality that allows love to overcome hate, that demonstrates our caring for each other and our precious environment over superficial differences and greed. Each of us has to be a spark of light to dispel the darkness.

Rosh Hashanah reminds us that this moment is a portal to the possibilities of building a better future for ourselves and all generations that come after us. 

L’shalom and shana tova.

Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft is the spiritual leader at Temple Emanu-El of Long Beach.