Auld Acquaintance Remembered

Yoni A. Dahlen
February 7, 2014
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The advent of a new year invariably calls to attention the promises of self- improvement. It becomes impossible to find an open machine at the gym, bikes clutter the often roomy shoulders of local streets, and the kale and quinoa farmers swim in giant pools of money like Scrooge McDuck as they pride themselves on their move from soybeans and genetically modified corn to the staples of the hip and healthy diet trends. Another clean slate, a chance to start anew. Yet often in the reaffirmation of resolutions and wishes, the important lessons of past struggles and failures are pushed from our minds, discarded in disappointment and regret so that room can be made for the seeds of accomplishment and success. While I believe in the importance of new beginnings, I fear that the rejection of our shortcomings prevents opportunity for profound growth and edifying introspection and is ultimately a critical mistake.

Now, I am not proposing an obsessive reluctance to forgive and forget, nor am I advocating clinging to painful or unhealthy elements in our lives. The idea, rather, is to accept life as a journey of both success and failure, of happiness and disappointment, because within those moments of embarrassment and shame, of anger and sadness, are diamonds of wisdom and layers of learning that shape who we are as people, as real people.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah, is celebrated with food and wine, with apples and honey.  Jews greet one another with the words, “shanah tova u’metuka,” that the year will be good and sweet. But the New Year in Judaism is also a time for serious introspection, a time where one’s deeds throughout the year are measured and judged.  Far from the idea of gone and forgotten, the period of this contemplation allows the individual to make amends, to ask forgiveness, to forgive those whose who have erred, and, most importantly, to forgive oneself. It is not the end of a year’s journey, but rather an annual accounting of a life that is not, and will not be perfect. It is a glimpse into the pain of creation, that the day is short and the work is far too great.  But in the accepting of our toils, of our falls and in our falters, our pettiness and our pride, we learn about ourselves and the men and women that we would like to become.

As we celebrate this transition from 2013 to 2014, may we all give some time and attention to our failed resolutions. May we remember that we are compositions of successes and failures, that we are shaped by our ability to move on with kindness and humility, with understanding and forgiveness. For only with love for who we are, for who we’ve been, and for who we will become can we realize the beauty of our journeys. Happy New Year.

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Yoni A. Dahlen is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. He attended Brandeis University where he received a Masters of Arts in Jewish Philosophy. Pursuing a career in academia, his topics of interest include Jewish mysticism, political theology, and the religiosity of Labor Zionism. He currently lives in Jerusalem.

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