Tom Friedman recently wrote: “The truth is, if you want a decent job that will lead to a decent life today you have to work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of post secondary education, make sure that you’re engaged in lifelong learning and play by the rules. That’s not a bumper sticker, but we terribly mislead people by saying otherwise.” (The New York Times, September 9, 2012)
It could be a bumper sticker for Jewish values however. His Op-Ed was not of course about Judaism but instead about the economy and jobs. Part of what he wrote resonates with Jewish teachings and in particular the central message for the upcoming High Holidays. On Rosh Hashanah in particular we affirm that we can change. We proclaim that we can fix our mistakes and mend our ways. We believe that human beings are capable of repentance and change.
Change however comes with difficulty. People resist it. And this is part of our current crisis. Everyone wants to hold on to the past and in particular their imagination of that past. When we attempt to hold on to such imaginings we never serve the future. We find ourselves alone and comforted only by memories. Thus change is necessary. It is required for our country. It is required for our people. It is required in our personal lives. We must regularly reinvent ourselves.
On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate our ability to change. We dip the apples into honey and say, “May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to renew this year for us with sweetness and happiness.” The Hebrew word for renew is hadesh. We make new. We make the old new. We are never trapped in our old ways. Our lives are not predestined. Our choices are not predetermined. We can change. We can be different.
Too often we feel that our lives are beyond our control. To be sure there are things that we cannot determine. Our health is not entirely in our own hands. Sometimes as well other people’s choices effect our own and help to determine the directions of our lives. Yet our choices remain in our own hands. This is what we can change. And this is what we mark on Rosh Hashanah.
More than other day this holiday offers us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Let us celebrate this day and seize this opportunity.