Around the world, people celebrate New Year’s Eve with parties, merriment, fireworks and abundant drinking. Jewish New Year, observed on Monday and Tuesday of next week, features a very different tone—yes, we have two days of family feasting, but the holiday’s also a time for intense synagogue services and serious introspection, reviewing the ways we’ve fallen short in the year just passed.
Rosh Hashanah ushers in a period known as the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But the word that’s translated as “repentance”—T’shuvah—actually means “turning”, or “return”—getting your life back to where it ought to be. We celebrate because we’re confident that, with God’s help, we can get there.
As the First Century stoic philosopher Seneca observed: “Res severa est verum gaudium”—that is, “True Joy is a serious business.”