Rosh HaShannah, the beginning of a new year. Parts of it sped by, parts seemed to go slowly, but we reach this new year and see the broad expanse of time and possibility spread out before us. But unlike the beginning of a secular year, this moment in the Jewish calendar is marked by transitional time. The Jewish calendar is set up for this transition from one year to the next to be not only smooth, but transformative. From the 17th day of Tammuz, when we enter into a period of 3 weeks of mourning leading to Tisha B’av, to the beginning of this final month of the year, Elul, we are occupied with transitions of the past, present, and future. It is common Jewish practice to spend Elul in transformation, searching our souls to make changes and make the new year different. So here we are at the turning point, called Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of return or repentance.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Hebrew language is the way in which the shoresh, the three letter root of a word, can often have several meanings. For example, the shoresh Nun, Sin, Aleph, spelling Na’Sah, can mean to lift up, to carry, or to marry. You could spend an eternity analyzing the meaning in this relationship between the words with the matching root. It should come as no surprise that the holiday we celebrate this week, Rosh HaShannah, has wordplay of its own.
Rosh means head, but that could be the body part at the top of the neck responsible for thought processes, the person sitting at the special spot at a table, or the first day of anything. Whatever the meaning, we know there’s some type of beginning involved when we see the word rosh. The second word, Shannah, typically means year, but there’s a little more to it. The root of the word is Shin, Nun, Hey. This special shoresh can mean year, to alter, or to repeat, and the slight variation of Shin Nun Nun, even means to teach.
We’ve reached this time in our yearly cycle where we have the opportunity for a new beginning, but also an opportunity for change, for learning, and the chance to perhaps learn from or repeat our prior mistakes. The question is how will you view this coming year? At this Shabbat we read the words of parshat Ha’azinu and the beginning of the end of Moshe’s final instructions to the Israelites. We are reminded about the changes he led them through, the teaching he’s done, and the years of dedication he gave to the nation.
At this turning point, the rosh, the head of a new year, give yourself the gift of change. Make sure that it includes learning new things, repeating those things that worked in the past, and making changes for the better, toward what will lead you to your dreams. That will make the year truly transformative.