Yom Sheini, 17 AdarI 5781
Monday, 1 March 2021
Parshat Nitzavim & Rosh Hashanah

Parshat Nitzavim & Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Janet Darley
14th September 2012

This Shabbat is a time of endings and new beginnings: it is the last Shabbat of 5772 and the Torah cycle is nearly finished. We are bidding farewell to the past year, and moving forward into the new. Atem nitzavim—like the ancient Israelite we are poised to enter what is metaphorically a new land, a brand new year. Have you ever thought what an appropriate season this is to begin a new year? Much better than when the secular New Year occurs in the middle of winter; a time with no real hint of change.

Autumn is a time for looking both forwards and backwards. As we harvest the bounty of one growing year in the Autumn, we prepare for the next. So it is with our lives. We gather up that which we have done in the past year, look it over and like the farmer, save that which is good and dispose of that which is not. In the days before Rosh Hashanah and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we seek to rid ourselves of the habits, the thoughts, the actions that blemish our lives and prevent us from being all that we could be.

Besides the agricultural connotations, we are used to new beginnings at this time from our experience of school. I am sure that I am not the only one who can remember the excitement and sometimes the relief of a new school year. The chance to be away from the old year’s teacher who saw so many of our errors; the opportunity to leave the previous embarrassments behind and start afresh. I always waited with anticipation for the new school year with its new unscuffed shoes, new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils, the new box of crayons unbroken and with a full range of colours offering seemingly endless possibilities for discovery, for achievement.

And how can we bring more light and colour into the new year? One way is through our teshuvah. Teshuvah is far more than repentance. It is, argues Adin Steinsaltz, a spiritual awakening to the possibilities within us. It is not just remorse, but a profound change of one’s life, a break, a reformation. We alone of all creatures have this power to turn, to recreate ourselves anew.

Teshuvah at its heart is a creative process. It is not a turning back, but rather a turning forward, a turning to a new creation. Our teshuvah allows us to turn to who we have always possibly been and indeed are meant to be, but have not yet become. We turn to the growth and possibility that is inside us, but which has lain dormant. Like the sculptor who creates a work of art from what appears to be a block of stone, we create the person we truly are but which we may have kept locked inside us, not knowing how to release it or perhaps even afraid to do so. This process is not always easy. We might face both an intellectual and an emotional block to our teshuvah, yet, teshuvah, though sometimes painful can also be joyous. As we create our true selves, we truly become partners with God in the process of creation.

We all stand here in the doorway of a brand new year, clutching metaphorically our new crayons and our new notebooks. What will we do? We have the opportunity and the potential to create both ourselves and the world anew —today.