Celebrating a new year

2014! We ushered in a new year this week, perhaps with a bottle of bubbly, an evening with friends, watching a ball drop with Miley Cyrus (oy!), or a morning to lazily lounge around the house. Perhaps we even resolved to change something about our personal habits or exercise routines.

What distinguishes the calendar’s new year from the Jewish new year, however, is the amount of preparation that goes into the celebration. The Times Square event may take months to prepare and rehearse, but most of us don’t put much effort into preparing for our personal celebrations. Perhaps we make a phone call to establish whom our company will be for the evening; perhaps we prepare a dish or buy a new outfit. Perhaps we make a resolution to lose 10 pounds as the ball drops.


Contrast with this our celebration of the Jewish new year. Traditionally, we spend a month preparing for Rosh Hashanah. We reflect, examine, resolve and repair in order to bring about real change in our relationships. And while the potential lies within us all year, it is in the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah that we harness the energy to do the necessary work that will bring about change.

Today is the first day of the month of Shevat. According to Beit Shammai, it is also the new year of the trees. You may be more familiar with Beit Hillel’s ruling that we celebrate the new year of the trees on the 15th of this Hebrew month (Tu Bi-Shevat). But two thousand years ago, the date of the trees’ new year was a matter of debate. And this year, Beit Shammai’s new year of the trees fell one day after we celebrated the arrival of 2014. The proximity is significant because the new year of the trees can inform the way we mark and celebrate the passage of time. We plant for the future; we explore that which has been dormant within us; we gather the energy to bring forth new fruits; we express gratitude for those things we enjoy.

Oh yeah, then there are those 4 cups of wine, symbolizing the 4 seasons: white, pink, rose and red. So go ahead, drink a toast (or four) to the new year! Just don’t forget to add boreh p’ri ha-gafen!

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