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Sunday, 11 May 2014

If Rosh Hashanah is the only holiday you celebrate, don't read this...

Rosh Hashanah 2

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Nina Bernstein in honour of her husband Alex’s birthday.  Till 120 in good health!

Remember that New Year’s resolution you made last Rosh Hashanah?  It lasted what, two weeks?  A month?  Two months?   And then it was back to day-to-day life.  I mean, it’s not like you forgot about it completely; it’s still somewhere in the back of your mind, right?   But, hey, next Rosh Hashanah is a few months away.  Maybe you could try to start fresh then. 

Today, we begin a new tractate of the Talmud, entitled Rosh Hashanah.  As you’ve probably guessed, most of the tractate deals with the Jewish New Year.  We’ll learn about the calendar, how months are established, the lunar cycle, and the leap year.  And we’ll spend a couple of chapters on the laws of the shofar and the Rosh Hashanah service.

The Mishnah states: “There are four Rosh Hashanahs (New Years).  The first of Nissan is the New Year for kings and festivals.  The first of Elul is the New Year for tithing animals.  Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishrei.   The first of Tishrei is the New Year for years, sabbatical years (shemitta), jubilee years, planting, and tithing vegetables.  The first of Shevat is the New Year for trees, according to Beis Shamai.  Beis Hillel says: on the fifteenth of the month.”

How many people observe all these Rosh Hashanahs?  Most people I know just do one of them – the one on the first of Tishrei.  Some people might also celebrate the New Year for trees.  But I have yet to meet anyone who does three, four or more!  Why would the Rabbis start a tractate that deals primarily with the Rosh Hashanah that we’re all familiar with, with a teaching about a bunch of other New Years that aren’t particularly relevant to most people?

They are teaching us a powerful lesson about our New Year’s resolutions.  You know those great intentions that have fallen by the wayside and you’ve told yourself, ‘I’ll try again next Rosh Hashanah?  Well, guess what – the next Rosh Hashanah isn’t eleven months away.  It’s right around the corner!   You see, we don’t have just one Rosh Hashanah per year.  We have multiple opportunities to turn over a new leaf and start afresh!

In fact, every day is a mini-Rosh Hashanah.   Why is Rosh Hashanah called the ‘head of the year,’ as opposed to the ‘new year’ or the ‘beginning of the year’?  Our Sages explain that just like the head is the control centre for the body, similarly Rosh Hashanah is the control centre for the entire year.  Your actions on Rosh Hashanah will determine your fate for the coming year.  And so we maximize our dedication to “teshuva, tefillah u’tzedaka” – repentance, prayer and charity, so that we are signed and sealed for a great year. 

But really every day is the control centre for the days that follow it.  To use an old cliché, today is the first day of the rest of your life!   And the decisions you make today will affect the rest of your life.   If today you commit to improving yourself, your entire life will be changed for the better!  And so effectively, today is the Rosh – the head – the control centre – of your entire life!

Our tractate begins with an important lesson.  You don’t have to wait for Rosh Hashanah to turn your life around.  There are many Rosh Hashanahs each year – multiple entry points for change.  Indeed any day of the year could be someone’s Rosh Hashanah.

Make today your personal Rosh Hashanah! 

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

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