This message will likely find you in the days preceding the Jewish New Year, at the start of a new school year for children and grandchildren, and as we prepare for the end of another summer season partly affected by the shadow of COVID-19 and its variants. I hope this note finds you and yours healthy and comfortable, and hasten to send you these best wishes for the New Year.
The past few months have tested us! at the start of the summer, we so looked forward to a return to a sense of normalcy and regathering. People resumed their travels, children attended sleep-away camp, restaurants and entertainment venues re-opened, many of us again ventured outside our homes – the future seemed promising. By late July, we learned that our recovery and re-emergence from this public health crisis would likely be more gradual and erratic than we wished. Around us, the number of infections rose, we learned about the risks of break-through infections of vaccinated individuals and continued spread of the disease, and became aware of a continuing emergence of variants to this deadly virus. The prospect of a full and carefree return to activities with each other and celebration of our community grew somewhat dimmer and more distant. against this backdrop, I deliver to you the following blessings and wishes for the New Year, summarized in three Hebrew terms, followed by one other in the conclusion to our blessing:
1. First, I wish all of us Ometz Koach (courage of will): these are the prophet Nahum’s words (2:2) – sending to us a message of strength and resilience. Nahum speaks of our people’s capacity to survive and surmount the crises that bear upon our world. at the time, it was the heavy-handed Assyrian conquest and domination of Judah, but his
message continues to resonate through the ages. Inner strength and resilience entail the ability to see beyond the
polar opposites of hope and despair, to process nuance, and remain focused on larger goals and ideals. It includes
the willingness to see, evaluate, and address challenges and difficulties with honesty and clarity. Finally, it also
signifies the conscious effort to envision and plan for the future in spite of the hardships of the moment.
2. The second blessing I offer is rooted in the word Brit (covenant): While inner strength, courage, and resilience in the face of challenge, disappointment, and loss are indispensable to us, so is the consciousness of our covenant. At its core is the recognition that we are not alone. our experiences, setbacks, successes, and ongoing efforts all emerge in the context of relationships characterized by common purpose and shared values. A covenant is not merely a contract: it is not an instrumental arrangement to benefit the parties that enter into it freely. It is an ongoing commitment to values and ideals that we recognize to be larger than ourselves – that transcends the moment and the circumstance, and that demands of us that we rise to our best selves – for us and for those who surround us. Brit is the one word that encapsulates the core of our community as well as our Jewish identity through the ages.
3. Finally, the third word I wish to utter in blessing for this new Year is Tikvah (hope): While commonly used, the word Tikvah is also sometimes misunderstood. Hope is most importantly forward-looking, or future-oriented. It requires the ability to lift one’s head and recognize that things do not have to be as they currently are, and that repair, healing, improvement, and enhancement are all possible. It is the deep sense that we are both capable and worthy of progress towards our ideals. However, the root of the word Tikvah also means “reservoir,” or locus of collection and storage, as well as the pathways to preservation (especially of water.) In other words, the Hebrew sense of hope is not only forward-looking but also denotes a sense of past, of the lasting resources that feed and sustain the vision of our future. In short, the Hebrew for hope is a positive, constructive vision of a future of realized plans and wishes anchored in the capacity that we draw from the deep and rich reservoir of our history and heritage. Our hope is also the recognition of our survival to this moment, the celebration of our overcoming of past challenges, and the wonder of accumulated wisdom and knowledge that prepare us for the days to come.
And so, as we prepare for the new Year, my blessing and wish to all of us is the ongoing experience and consciousness of Ometz Koach (courage of will,) Brit, and Tikvah. I trust that the combination of these will support us through these days and lead us toward our aspirations both personally and communally. I conclude my blessing with the final Hebrew word – amen. the word amen means “I trust –– ” or “I believe” in Hebrew, and more generally “I have faith.” to all of us, I wish an abundance of faith in ourselves, in our community, and in our future.
I send you my warmest regards and look forward to experiencing the holiest moments of the New Year with you soon,
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen