“…A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear…”
“Shanah Tovah”, they all kept saying.
It was my first Rosh Hashanah service, as a part of the temple’s music ministry.
I’d never heard the phrase before that moment, but suddenly it was everywhere.
I became more and more curious with each echoing.
So, as I was packing up afterward, I checked in with a few of the cantors –
Is ‘Shanah Tovah’ kind of like… ‘Happy New Year’?, I inquired.
(‘Twas the Jewish New Year, after all…)
Not exactly, as it turns out.
The Shanah Tovah blessing is more of an intention than a resolution.
It means, essentially, ‘For a good year’.
And not all ‘good’ years are happy ones.
Oft times, the most growth-filled years of our lives are not the most smile-filled. And many of the years that end up ultimately working for our greater good can be positively woeful at the time – filled to the brim with sadness and anguish.
Certainly, a year spent ‘doing’ good – while worthwhile – may not feel all that pleasant at all, in the moment.
For me, it was a profound distinction to draw.
I drove home from that service thinking of my Army PT test runs, and how the most satisfying ones often felt like uphill battles.
(FYI – These timed two-mile runs occur right after you’ve done all the sit-ups you can do in two minutes – which happens immediately after you’ve done all the push-ups you can do in two minutes. Good grief.)
If I ever felt ‘happy’ at any point before the run’s finale, it signified to me that I could probably run faster – that I had another gear or two I could likely shift into.
Those runs were hell – right up until their heavenly finish lines.
And it would occur to me post-run, as I was unwinding (and as a goodly amount of bliss-filled endorphins were swimming around in my bloodstream), how good I felt in the aftermath.
‘That was a good run’, I’d often think.
On the flip side, not all years that feel happy end up looking good in the rear view mirror.
From my vantage point, there appears to be no shortage of happy villains with crooked smiles in our world in this new year.
Up to no good, and laughing all the way to the bank.
Happy as clams (casino).
The feeling of ‘happiness’ is considered to be – in many faith traditions – conditional. And very temporary.
A cryptocurrency that is often attached to a particular noun (person, place, thing, or outcome) – often vanishing jn the very moment that noun vanishes.
For those cantors and corresponding clerics, happiness is a ‘continuing resolution’ – not a balanced budget.
Goodness is much more sustainable and ultimately satisfying to the soul.
A gold standard, of sorts.
This is all subjective, of course – as are our years, in retrospect.
And, in the Einsteinian sense, ‘good’ is relative.
In theory, a good year for Uber is a bad year for Lyft. Someone’s demotion (or firing) is often the flip side of your promotion (or hiring) – or vice versa.
If a football team makes it all the way to the Super Bowl but loses (quite unhappily), was it a ‘good’ year?
What if that team manages to reach the Super Bowl four years in a row – but loses all four Super Bowls?
In my understanding, ‘good’ and ‘happy’ can (and do) coexist.
It can be quite blissful when they do. A year (and a life) need not be a binary ‘either/or’ thing.
And we can all certainly strive to check both boxes.
However, I do love that Shanah Tovah blessing as an invitation to set our sights for a meaningful year.
To set an intention for a rich and fulfilling turn around the sun.
For a grace-filled year of peace that transcends the more transient pleasures (but hopefully also includes a goodly amount of them).
365 days that satisfy our souls, in the Bob-Marley-an sense.
Let’s hope it’s a good year – with just enough fear to keep us honest, but not nearly enough to keep us down.
May it be so.
Auld Lang Syne,