Christianity and Judaism have many customs and symbolism in common. Naturally, as the aphorism states, the child does not stray far from the mother. We both take vows to repair our character. But, in one area, we grossly diverge: the proclamation of the new year.
To put it plainly, New Year’s Eve to your Christian friends may be an office party with wine, stolen kisses and shrill music that drowns the clarion call of the shofar. Rosh Hashanah is both private and public sober meditation, as serious as death. You can tell it’s Rosh Hashanah even without a calendar when Jewish faces go serious – when Jewish eyes are not smiling.
In both religions, we reexamine our behavior, note our lapses and vow to improve our moral balance. But, in Judaism, ceremony and symbolism take the throne. The environment is much more regal. After all, we are asking of this shofar-announced first day of the year to come – the king of days, so to speak – mercy and goodness. And, above all, life. May that lump on your leg be benign. May Bennie turn a dark corner and find through honest labor the means to feed his family. We attempt to woo good fortune with a shofar blast, the bugle call of the Jewish warrior. We give tzedakah. We fling away our sins, contemptuous of our selfish errors of the past. This is the first bright, shining day of the year to come. Repent, so that the year to come will reflect the life to come. Sweet as the honey in which we dip our challah.
If we were a bit morally careless during the previous year, we bear down hard on the 10-day interval leading to Yom Kippur. We must be as angelic as a human can be so that we are properly inscribed in the Book of Life – and please, Sir, spell my name right. It’s one “b,” not two.
Forgiveness depends not only on repentance, but also on restitution. If I burned down my neighbor’s house, I must rebuild it. “Sorry” is not enough. I must repay my debts of insult, deceit, thievery and violence. And, to be heretical for a moment (rabbis, read no further) it is vulgar, but not a sin to lust after your neighbor’s wife who looks like Jennifer Lopez. So long as you suppress your evil inclination and take no action on your devilish desire.
Deeds, deeds, Judaism is all about deeds.
Ted Roberts is a freelance writer and humorist living in Huntsville, Ala.