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happy, good, or both?

09/07/2023 10:38:03 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

My Jewish friends have begun to wish one another L’shana Tova, a happy New Year. Curious it is, the Hebrew and the English, in that L’shana Tova means “a good year”, not a happy year. The Hebrew word for “happy” is Sameach. You may have heard the word when we recognize birthdays during services, singing Yom Huledet Sameach, happy birthday to you. So how might it be that we say L’shana Tova, yet translate it as “happy New Year”? It seems to me that we have adopted the greeting used around the world to mark the transition from one solar year to the next, and plugged it into the Hebrew, even though L’shana Tova predates English by several thousand years.

It got me to thinking about what wishing someone a good year might suggest. Would you not want to be wished a great year? Why do we only offer a good year? The adjective seems a bit meager, does it not? In the business world, if your gross income for one year surpasses the previous year by 10%, perhaps you might say that was a good year for business. If it was 50% more, you most probably had a great year. And while I’m at it, after so long, it would likely sound peculiar to brag that your car drives on GreatYear tires.

Can we be happy with a good year? Might that be sufficient? What are we suggesting to others by our greeting, that on a scale of 1-10, if you have a good year, it registers as a 7? Utilizing this month of Elul for introspection, a 7 out of 10 might not be such a bad thing when we reflect upon all that has transpired in our lives. Despite our desire to only remember the good, human existence means that there will be some bad as well. A year that rates a 10, without anything bad happening is rather unlikely. However, despite the greeting of L’shana Tova, we don’t have to accept that our year will be only good. While there are aspects of our lives where we cannot control the outcome, there are also many areas that we can. In those areas, we must strive for greatness. No matter what may happen on any given day, much of which we cannot directly impact, we can control our response, both what we say and what we do. Before we can hope that others give us their best, we must demand our best of ourselves. That is not always easy to do. There will be moments when we are just not capable of scoring a 10, and that is perfectly fine. If our best at a particular moment is a 6, as long as it was our best, that is still great! As long as you can look in the mirror, and say to your harshest critic that you did your best. And that should make you happy.

Upon reflecting about the past year, if you can honestly say that you scored an 8 for the year, and you tried to do your best, I congratulate you upon achieving your best. While a 10 might be the rarely achieved perfection, since we are all human, perfection is not a constant. We will make mistakes, because that is what being human means. Learning from those mistakes also must be part of the experience. Our capacity to learn and improve is what makes us human, and provides the fodder for us to dare dream of greatness.

With the start of the New Year of 5784 just one week away, permit me to wish you L’shana Tova, and the inspiration to be the best version of yourself. May it be a great year for you.

Sun, April 21 2024 13 Nisan 5784