Tonight is the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New year. Between now and Yom Kippur is a time of self-reflection, repentance, and return to our truth.
The customary greeting on Rosh Hashana is not “happy new year.” Instead it is Shana Tova. This translates to “good year.”
One of the Rabbis at my synagogue, Rabbi Elie Weinstock, reminded me this week that the word shana, which means “year,” also contains the root of the word that means change.
As Rabbi Weinstock explained,
When we wish each other a shanah tovah, we are also stating our intention and aspiration for good change.
What is a Good Change?
This begs the question: what is good change? How would we even know it if we saw it?
And for that matter, what defines a good year?
I’ve heard many people talk about the difficulty and challenges that we’ve had in 2020, and their desire to “return to normal” and “get back on track” with where they were.
They want to go back to a situation where they had the illusion of being in control. The problem is that now that illusion has been shattered.
Even if that were possible, would that be “good change?”
It presumes that there is something wrong with the current state of the world.
I’ve spoken with many others who have been grateful for the event of this year. Not that anyone wants to see so many people dying, obviously. But there’s an appreciation for how COVID forced us to slow down, take stock of our lives, and redirect our attention to what’s truly most important.
Who Determines if a Change is Good?
Have the changes of this year been good? Who’s to say?
Looking at the situation today we see only a the present and the past. We don’t have the perspective of the full arc of time, because we don’t know what the future will bring.
Maybe those who have been suffering will eventually look back at the past six months and also realize the gifts we’ve been given at this time.
Ultimately, it’s not in our scope to determine whether a change is good. We don’t have all the information yet.
In fact, even the concept of “good” is a challenge because it sets up a duality: the idea that it’s either good or bad. Any duality is an illusion.
Change is change. To judge it as good or bad is a form of resistance.
When we react to change by resisting change we miss the opportunity to see the opportunity in the change.
By removing the judgment about whether the change is good or bad, we expand our capacity to be with what is.
A Shift From Whether to How
Rosh Hashana is the celebration of the creation of the universe. In the creation story, God steps back at the end of each day to look at what he created — the change he made — and declare that “it is good.”
This is the example for us to model proactively.
Shana Tova is not a wish that the change will be good, but a declaration that it will be good.
Rather than waiting to see what unfolds, we can choose to trust that what is happening now is good.
We can choose to trust that everything is happening for us, not to us.
By deciding this up front, we shift from a question of whether a change is good — a question we can’t answer — and open ourselves to see how it is good, and how it is serving us.
Every new year brings change. But even if that change is difficult to navigate or causes us temporary pain, it is ultimately for our good.
Shana Tova is a reminder: the change is good.