Our secular celebrations at this time of year take a slightly different focus. Apples and honey aside, there is no escaping the excitement of fireworks on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, music, and joyful parties that will usher out 2012 and usher in 2013. In Wednesday’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Nick Galvin wrote, “there’s still something seductive about New Year’s Eve…[It is] a time of possibility and hope. A chance to draw a line through all the disappointments and letdowns of the previous year and, just for a moment, convince ourselves everything can change. Really, it can.”
But why do we need moments in our lives like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and New Year’s Eve? Why do we need rituals like dipping an apple into honey? Why do we need to fast and afflict ourselves? To borrow a phrase from our Pesach celebrations (incidentally, another “New Year” celebration according to rabbinic tradition), is this night really different than all other nights? Is there something spectacular that is going to happen between 11:59 PM on Monday, December 31, 2012 and 12:00 AM on Tuesday, January 1, 2013?
Only if we let it be so. Only if we choose to see moments in our lives as filled with potential, opportunity, and new beginnings. Perhaps we throw ourselves into the feasting of Rosh Hashanah, the fasting of Yom Kippur, and the partying and commercialism of New Year’s Eve, because throughout the year, amidst the hectic, hustle-bustle, ever-running never-stopping nature of our truly busy lives, that we lose sight of the little moments, the blessings, the opportunities, the freshness, the change, that even every day, and sometimes even moments in each day actually afford us to begin again. It may very well be easier to address and identify “the significant moments,” rather than those times that seem in-between or ordinary.
But every ending point is at once a conclusion, and also representative of a new beginning. This final Shabbat of the 2012 secular calendar year also brings us to the conclusion of the book of Genesis. The end of the lives of Joseph and Jacob marks only the beginning for their family, their descendants, as next week we venture once more into the story of Exodus, and begin to understand the formation of our ancestral people. When we conclude a book of Torah, as we do this Shabbat, we add the wordsChazak chazak venitchazek – meaning, “be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another.” Not just this Shabbat, but every Shabbat, and for that matter, not just on the days which we acknowledge as “the big moments,” but in the times that are seemingly ordinary too – in those moments, beyond the times of solemn introspection, beyond the times of grand festivity, let’s be sure to bring strength to our world and strength to one another.