By Rabbi Emma Gottlieb
As we begin to prepare ourselves to enter into the Jewish year 5781, we might all understandably be more than ready to say “good riddance” to 5780.
The Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe) are often a time when we list our woes and question whether there is a connection between our fate and our choices/behaviour. We might reasonably be focused on how the coming year might and can be better. And yet, it would be unfair to leave 5780 behind without also acknowledging that it hasn’t been entirely bad.
Recently, a friend shared with me a blog post from, of all places, a company that makes and sells women’s shape-wear (which I, personally, would add to the list of evils in this world). In this post, titled Redefining Success, were written the following words about how we may be feeling about this past year:
“Perhaps you’re approaching a milestone age and feel cheated out of an extra year. Maybe you were working towards a big life transition that had to be put on pause. Instead of taking a risk to fulfil a dream, maybe all your energy is now spent on simply maintaining what you have. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone — and it’s okay.”
The post goes on suggest how one might redefine success in difficult times, and reminds its readers that there has been good experienced along with the not so good. Among a long list of ‘things that are successful’ this year, shared within the post, are: reconnecting with loved ones (virtually or in person), adopting animals, investing in and perhaps redefining self-care, discovering new hobbies or rediscovering old ones, slowing down, learning new skills in the kitchen, getting involved in your community, becoming more politically active, appreciating the outdoors, learning to be more self-reliant, getting to know your neighbours, and getting to know yourself. I’m sure we all could think of things to add to this list, and it’s important that we do so — that we name our blessings along with the curses we might feel are raining down upon us.
While we pray for a clean slate in the coming year, we also know there is no magic ‘reset’ button and that the first day of 5781 won’t look radically different than the last day of 5780. Our outlook however, can be radically different. I was recently reflecting on the beautiful text from our morning liturgy: Ashreinu, Ma Tov Chelkeinu, U’ma Nayim Goraleinu, U’ma Yafa Y’rushateinu, “We are happy! How goodly is our lot, how pleasant our fortune, and how beautiful our heritage!” We don’t choose to say these words only on the good days of our lives. We say these words on all days, knowing that some days we have to work harder to find the good in our lives than we do on others.
This is the way we must approach the departing of 5780 and the arrival of 5781 — for surely, no matter what the future holds, there will be days when it is easy to count our blessings, and days when it will be hard. In truth, that can be said of every year, whether we are looking backward or ahead. And so as we begin to set intentions for ourselves for the coming year, let us focus not on the parts of our lived experience that we cannot control, but rather on the things we have agency over — including our outlook on life and our commitment to lift up our blessings, even in the midst of riding out a world-wide curse. 5781 can be a year where we continue to take care of one another, of ourselves and of our world, because if 5780 has taught us anything, it’s that even in the worst of times, such things are not only possible, they are more necessary than ever.
May each of us look toward 5781 with optimism and with fortitude and may we bid farewell to 5780 with gratitude as well as relief.
Kein Yehi Ratzton, May it be God’s Will.
Temple Israel www.templeisrael.co.za
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