L’shanah Tovah! Moving Towards a Good New Year (September KOL)

It’s hard to believe that my family and I only officially moved into our house in Virginia on August 6, just about a month ago.  It has been a wonderfully full and busy start to being part of the TBS family.  So many people have been so kind in introducing themselves and in welcoming us.  We are so grateful to the entire community for the way you have made us feel at home.

I have enjoyed getting to know so many of you, particularly through the Meet and Greet sessions.  As our online visits have concluded, it has usually been with wave and a “glad to meet you” or a “see you soon.”  But as August wanes and September arrives, the farewell has become the familiar refrain, “L’shanah Tovah!

L’shanah Tovah!” is the standard Jewish greeting at this time of the year.  Shanah means “year” and tov means “good,” so wishing one another a shanah tovah, a “good year” makes sense as we come into the High Holy Day season.  But we might ask, what’s with the “L’” at the start?  What does that mean?  There are two answers, one grammatical, the other conceptual.

In Hebrew, certain letters serve as a short-hand for prepositions.  The letter lamed, which makes that “L” sound, is one of them.  The full phrase for greeting someone at Rosh Hashanah is actually “L’shanah tovah tikateivu,” which means, “May you be written for a good year.”  The implied metaphor is the symbolic Book of Life in which God keeps track of every person, and the wish is that God will write your name in the Book of Life for a good year ahead.  The “L’” at the start of the sentence is the proposition “for,” as in “For a good year, may you be written.”  Even without the “tikateivu,” wishing someone “L’shanah tovah” hopes that their year ahead be good.

But beyond the niceties of Hebrew grammar, we can read another meaning into the “L’” part of our greeting.  The lamed of “L” can also mean the preposition “towards,” as in moving towards something.  And, in truth, I think that is what the High Holy Day season is all about – moving forward, moving ahead.  Yes, we look back over the year that has passed, reflecting on what we have done right or done wrong.  But then, through teshuvah, which means “repentance” but is also related to the Hebrew verb “to turn,” we turn away from the past and head towards the future.  We move into the new year with a clean slate, ready to begin again.  We move forward, pledging that this year, we will get it right.  We move towards the vision we have of being our best selves.  We move towards a good year, L’shanah tovah.

This past year, especially these past six months, has been like nothing we have ever experienced.  When we review the year that is concluding, it is amazing to consider all that we have come through.  (And there is much that we would certainly like to leave behind.)  I know that it may feel a little challenging and uncertain to look ahead into the new year.  But I have confidence in our community and in our faith and traditions.  We will start this new year with opportunities for new forms of connection and new ways to experience the meaning, purpose, and beauty of this sacred season.  (Read more about some of these new aspects in this edition of the Kol and in the emails that you’ll receive from TBS.)  Through it all, we will continue to create a community that engages us in meaningful prayer, enriching learning, purposeful action, and a warm sense of community.  We will go forward together towards a good new year, L’shanah tovah.

Karen, Judah, Elisheva, and I wish you and your family a sweet, happy, and healthy new year.  May it be a year of health and blessings for us all!