The coming yearAug 2013
Once again we are facing a new year, and once again we should prepare ourselves for what is coming. The Hebrew word for year, shanah, contains two opposites. On the one hand, the word shanah means repetition; and indeed “cold and heat, summer and winter” (Genesis 8:22) recur each year in the same sequence and more or less the same fashion. On the other hand, shanah also means change, transformation – both in what we expect and in what we fear. As such, our preparations for the New Year should be two-fold: preparing for what we know and have already experienced, so that we can hold on; and getting ready for the new, the unknown and the unexpected.
We live in a world in which events and processes take place faster than ever before. Nowadays, changes which in the past required decades and even centuries to transpire, happen within very short time spans. This is true in all areas of life: politics, economics, technology and science. These changes and new realities, the constant rollercoaster of innovations, may cause the onlooker to feel dizzy. But at the same time – and this, too, is characteristic of our times – when the initial excitement and amazement over the novelty wear out, one can see that the fundamental problems and the essence of things, the real difficulties and the small salvations, are now just as they always have been. Like the sun and the moon that continue to spin in their orbits, so too many things on earth and among human beings continue to happen according to their timeworn patterns.
However, we can prepare for the future on the basis of our foresight. The wise person is one who foresees the future (Avot 2:10), and the clever person is one who does something about it. Things change, new opportunities arise – but not to such an extent as to create a totally new world. Rather, they happen in such a way as to make it possible for us to use the new information for improving the present, rather than living with the feeling that “it (whatever ‘it’ is) has already been ” (Ecclesiastes 1:10). The tension between repetition and novelty is, in fact, the very tension of life itself. Not only in the beginning of the New Year, but also in every new day, the sun rises and sets as always – yet new plants grow.
A major component in our ability to more than just exist and to strive forward, is hope. However, not all of our hopes are fulfilled, and therefore the words of the verse “Hope in the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage, and [continue to] hope in the Lord” (Psalms 27:14) are ever so true. Our efforts and strength should be enveloped by hope, both before and after the fact. We should embrace novelty and changes with faith and hope, reexamine whatever has not been fulfilled despite all of our efforts, and try again – hoping in God.
The coming year is a leap year, and tradition has it that such a year is not only longer in terms of the number of its days, but also has the potential for greater events. We should therefore pray and prepare for a year that will not only be longer, but will also have significant consequences.
With blessings for a good and sweet year, both in matter and in spirit.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is a teacher, philosopher, social critic and prolific author who has been hailed by Time magazine as a “once-in-a-millennium scholar.” His lifelong work in Jewish education earned him the Israel Prize, his country’s highest honor.
Born in Jerusalem in 1937 to secular parents, Rabbi Steinsaltz studied physics and chemistry at the Hebrew University. He established several experimental schools and, at the age of 24, became Israel’s youngest school principal.
In 1965, he began his monumental Hebrew translation and commentary on the Talmud. To date, he has published 45 of the anticipated 46 volumes and is due to publish the last book in the series in November, 2010. The Rabbi’s classic work of Kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, was first published in 1980 and now appears in eight languages. In all, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored some 60 books and hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from zoology to theology to social commentary.
Continuing his work as a teacher and spiritual mentor, Rabbi Steinsaltz established a network of schools and educational institutions in Israeland the former Soviet Union. He has served as scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies in Washington, D.C. and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University. His honorary degrees include doctorates from Yeshiva University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar Ilan University, Brandeis University, and Florida International University.
Rabbi Steinsaltz lives in Jerusalem. He and his wife have three children and 15 grandchildren.