Time is a human construct. If you read Jewish wisdom you will learn that God exists outside of time. How does this work? I don’t know, since I am time-bound it is hard to grasp. Think of it as if you are a goldfish in a bowl and God is oxygen – existing in the water that sustains you but also outside the bowl – everywhere.
As humans began to define time, naturally we shape it to our experience of nature and the rhythm our lives. The website MyJewishLearning says, “the Jewish calendar has served to demarcate both holiday observances and numerous time-bound obligations. To ensure that certain commandments were completed at their appointed times, four different Jewish new years were established to provide boundaries and markers for these activities.”
What are those four Jewish new years?
First and most familiar is Rosh Hashanah, literally, the head of the year. It is on this new year that the year’s number changes. Next Rosh Hashanah we go from 5772 to 5773. This new year falls on the first day of the Hebrew month Tishrei. For most of us that is the very definition of a new year – the number changes. But for Jews that’s just one of four.
The second new year is the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat and may be familiar to you as Tu b’Shavat, literally 15 of Shavat. This is the new year of the trees. Since a fruit tree owner had to tithe the fruit of any tree that was 3+ years old to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem there had to be a date that would be the birthday of all the trees. Today this holiday has become popular as a sort of Jewish Arbor Day, a time to think about how we care for nature. The mystical rabbis also created a seder (order) of study and prayer that described a mystical Tree of Life with its roots in the heavens.
The third Jewish new year falls on the first day of Nisan. Passover falls on the 14th of Nisan. The Torah commands that the month of Nisan “shall be the first month of the year to you.” Certainly Passover is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar today and going back through history. The first of Nisan is also the new year for reign of Jewish kings.
The fourth new year falls on the first of Elul (typically falling in the late summer/early fall). It defines the time for tithing cattle.
Learn more about the Jewish new years on myjewishlearning website here.
What about the American New Year?
As Americans most Jews celebrate December 31st and January 1. January first is a federal holiday which makes it easy. What about New Year’s resolutions? Interestingly more people begin a new class in January than in September! I was surprised to learn that.
What about YOUR New Year’s resolution? More on that tomorrow.