Perhaps the most interesting aspect of life is the duality and the contradictory ironies that somehow fail to escape my observation. Or perhaps it's mixed martial arts bouts rebroadcast on late-night secondary Showtime channels.
More than likely, I find the innate concept of the Jewish New Year to be a ultimately mixed message. On the one hand, like the Gregorian New Year, we're supposed to "celebrate" the passage of one year and the arrival of another. And yet, on the other hand, with the new year comes the responsibility of observant Jews to ask God and our friends, family and acquaintances for forgiveness for our sins, transgressions, mistakes and anything which adversely affected anyone we know and/or about whom we care.
More importantly, we are taught that we ask for health and happiness for those about whom we care for the coming year: for health, happiness, success and a sweet year. This is the significance behind apples and honey, both of which represent sweetness. There's a Jewish blessing known as the Shecheeyanu, which sanctifies something new, and this blessing is a quasi-staple of the coming year for obvious reasons. That is why many Jews also try to sample a new (non-everyday/exotic) fruit. So each year we bring in the new year with something different that is new and sweet.
I'm not sure if I buy into that new fruit concept, but unless the new fruit is durian, I won't protest this custom beyond perhaps the lift of an eyebrow.
In either case, with the perspective of an adult, I'm invoking this final stage of the celebration of the new year with family and "celebration." But the celebration will actually be optimism. The seriousness of tomorrow's observance and the significance it has, for me personally, isn't something I can necessarily convey through words. Suffice to say it's a holiday which feels like equal parts obligation, responsibility, solemnity and hope for the future. It's unlike any "celebration" I've participated in in any other aspect of my life, including graduations, milestones, or even my bar mitzvah.
Part of the forgiveness aspect -- ie asking those who we've wronged over the past year for forgiveness for said transgression -- is legit. A new year -- whether celebrated in January or sometime in September -- is a good time to reflect on the year that's past and the year that approaches. But the other aspect -- praying for health for ourselves and those we love -- is, at least for me, very significant. I'm not sure if that significance has come with age, experience, pessimism or reality -- or the verisimilitude of some or all of those things -- but it has increased power and ownership of my mind these days. And frankly, I think that's a big chunk of what this holiday should signify. Acknowledgment of the past and acceptance and optimism for the future aren't necessarily stereotypical hallmarks of Jewish existence in this country or this world, but I think that's what I feel this holiday embodies.
Whether I'm right or full of shit is, frankly, secondary. I'm sure I could assemble a room filled with scholars who could verify my opinion or spend a week ridiculing same. Regardless, part of why faith is what it is is that it -- at some point -- defies black and white factual confirmation. So I'll "celebrate" this coming new year with the optimism that I try to celebrate each day, and I'll acknowledge those mistakes I've made this past year, and I'll genuinely try to be a better person, friend, lover and human being. I can't promise I'll be any more courteous as a driver -- given yesterday's interstate expedition, I'm far too honest with respect to those who don't belong on the road -- but I do pledge to resist flipping the bird to nuns wearing coke-bottle glasses and instead pray they restrict their driving to bumper-car structures and not the nation's highways.
In essence, and in all sincerity, the duality of this soon-to-conclude holiday period doesn't so much puzzle me as it does strike me in its ironic contrast. And while that isn't the bulk of my focus, I think that's part of what I'll continually focus on -- perhaps for the rest of my life. But first and foremost, and most importantly, I'll extend my most sincere and optimistic hope for the future, for the health and happiness of those people -- family, friends, etc. -- about whom I care. And I'll give thanks for each day I wake up happy and go to bed happy, and I'll continue to try and make others around me smile whether they want to or not.
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, sweet and successful new year to those reading this message near, far, here and no longer here.