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An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The Religious Value Of Celebrating a New Year

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Celebrating a New Year:

Each year millions of people make new year resolutions to improve their lives. This autumn is an especially good time to do this, because three ancient New Year festivals fall in the last 100 days of the secular calendar:

  • Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year 2015-SEP-25,

  • The Muslim New Year (2014-OCT-25), and

  • The Christian New Year (2014-JAN-01).

The simplest way to improve your future is to improve your attitude to the present by learning to downplay the media's constant emphases on all that is bad, and elevate your attention to all that is good in your life.

For example, American highway fatalities rose during the 50's and 60's until they peaked in 1972, at 54,589. Since then they have declined by more than 40% even though the number of cars and drivers has more than doubled. If traffic deaths occurred at the same rate in 2012 as they did in 1950; over 180,000 more people would have died in the U.S. last year. This fantastic achievement in increasing traffic safety has gone largely unheralded.

Why does the news media devote so much attention to bad news and so little attention to good news? Why do people seem more interested in the occurrences of violence violence than the absence of violence? The Abrahamic religions teach us that we should count our blessings. Politicians and the news media teach us to count every single thing that is wrong; everywhere in the world.

How can people keep their optimism, sanity and balance in our media driven democracy? A religious answer for Jews, and a good way for all others, is to say a hundred blessings every day. A person who can sincerely voice a hundred blessings a day will feel truly blessed.

The best way to influence yourself to think positively about your life is to learn the importance of saying blessings for the many things we experience, both in our ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times.

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Thus, it is a Mitsvah 1 for a Jew, and everyone else, to say blessings at every meal over food and drink.

Every morning when we awaken it is a Mitsvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work. There are blessings for daily prayer and for the weekly celebration of the Sabbath.

Their are also many blessings to say for special occasions. The rabbis urged everyone to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are.

Indeed, Jewish tradition maintains that everyone who is able to say 100 blessings a day is truly blessed.

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Among the special occasion blessings there are those:

  • for seeing a non-Jewish sage and another one for seeing a Jewish sage.

  • There is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering in order to experience the ‘very good’ of the sixth day of creation.

  • On beholding fragrant trees: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.

  • On seeing trees in blossom: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need, who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.

  • On seeing an unusual looking person: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.

  • On seeing evidence of charitable efforts: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.

  • On seeing people who overcome adversity: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.

This last one is one of my favorites, because it sanctifies the human value of being non-judgmental in most areas; and the Divine value of plural opinions and human physical variety:

  • According to the Talmud (Berakhot 58a) when you see a large crowd of people you should say: Praised be the Sage of enigmas, for just as no one person's opinion is the same as another, so are their faces different from one another.

The best way to preserve your sanity and balance in today's world is to make a New Year's resolution to count your blessings every day.

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Footnote:

  1. Mirriam-Webster defines two meanings to "mitzvah:" "a commandment of the Jewish law" and "a meritorious or charitable act."

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Rabbi Maller's web site is at: http://www.rabbimaller.com

Originally posted: 2014-SEP-14
Latest update: 2014-SEP-14
Author: A.S. Rabbi Maller

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