How to Make a Radical Break with the Last Year this Rosh Hashanah
A number of friends have mentioned that they are dreading Rosh Hashanah. Their general sense of overwhelm has made preparing for the holiday—spiritually or physically—exhausting. Looking back at this past year depresses them. Cynicism leads them to expect 5781 will be worse than 5780. It doesn’t help that due to the novel coronavirus, a lot of us won’t attend synagogue. Many of us will be limiting the size of our meals to immediate family or just inviting a few guests to our backyards, with social distancing.
But I’m looking forward to Rosh Hashanah with excitement.
Not long after I commented on a friend’s post about how much I’m looking forward to 5781, I picked up a Tanakh. Through hashgacha pratis, I found myself reading Jeremiah, Chapter 32, which provides a template for trusting in Hashem in the long term even when the short term leaves one in tears.
As the chapter begins, Hashem tells Jeremiah to expect a visit from his cousin. The cousin is in debt, and he must sell off his land. As a close relative, Jeremiah can buy it off him and keep it in the family—indeed, it’s a mitzvah to do so. Hashem instructs Jeremiah to go through with the purchase, then bury the deeds underground so his descendants will be able to prove their claim in the future.
Jeremiah is surprised by Hashem’s command, and here’s why: Hashem has told Jeremiah that Judea will be conquered by Babylonia in a year. The Jewish people have sinned, and this is their punishment. Thus, Jeremiah questions Hashem, saying,
You gave them this land that You had sworn to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey, and they came and took possession of it. But they did not listen to You or follow Your Teaching; they did nothing of what You commanded them to do. Therefore, you have caused all this misfortune to befall them… Yet You, Lord God, said to me: Buy the land for money and call in witnesses—when the city is at the mercy of the Chaldeans!
Hashem responds, “Behold I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too wondrous for Me?” (ibid 32:27) Yes, He says, the Jews deserve punishment, and it will come. But it’s temporary.
See, I will gather them from all the lands to which I have banished them in My anger and wrath, and in great rage; and I will bring them back to this place and let them dwell secure. They shall be My people, and I will be their God.
By buying land and obtaining deeds he’ll be able to hand over to his grandchildren, Jeremiah will be showing the people around him that he trusts Hashem to fulfill His word to bring the Jewish back from the exile to Babylonia in 70 years.
Our sages tell us that our decree for the year is written on Rosh Hashanah. If you are sick of this challenging year, this is your opportunity to beg Hashem to write us a better decree for the next one. It’s fully in Hashem’s power to bring us a reversal, personally and/or communally.
I’d like to make a suggestion: When we are preparing for this very unusual Rosh Hashanah, make plans for the future. I’m not talking about the usual requests we insert in our prayers at this time of year for health, a good livelihood, and peace. Whether it’s researching how to start a business, planning a move you’ve pondered for a while, proposing marriage, or embroidering a tablecloth to use when you can host Shabbat guests again, take a practical step which shows that you trust that Hashem can and will bring you a sweet future.
Just because you don’t see how it will happen doesn’t mean He can’t.
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