It must be exasperating to discover that, in fact, this year's wish list is really no different to last year's, or the year before -- or the year before that! Each year the various media outlets poll South African's hopes and dreams in advance of the New Year and invariably it goes something like this: 1. World peace 2. Security 3. Success (both financial and with relationships -- we call it "Nachas"). Every year! Shouldn't it change? Surely, if last year's wishes were fulfilled we should have new ones for the New Year, and if they weren't fulfilled, why ask again?
So I wonder if maybe we're aiming too high. I wonder if the lesson of the past year is to get more realistic and start aiming for something more within reach, something that might actually happen in the next year. Mmm ... a little less idealism and a little more realism -- doesn't sound like a very inspiring year ...
The truth is that I'm putting the cart before the horse, because "Rosh" Hashanah does not translate as "new" year, and the date is not simply arbitrary (set to give us a fresh start); it marks an actual development. Literally translated, Rosh Hashanah means "head" of the year; this is the day that G-d renders judgement of our actions, thereby setting the course of the coming year. HH
In the Jewish New Year, the analogy is clear: just as the head is the origin of all vitality in the entire body -- the brain instructs the movements of the body -- so too it is with Rosh Hashanah. In it -- and through it -- is decreed the energy, vitality and blessing of the next twelve months. These are indeed solemn days, moments in time that will affect you long after they are gone; our conduct has far reaching consequences.
And so I realize that I've been asking the wrong questions. Rather than toning down my expectations of G-d and how events may "play" out, I should be asking myself, "what will I do" to see these lofty wishes realized? Rather than lowering your wishes, elevate your conduct. The meditation of the past year is phrased thus: has my life and behaviour of the last 12 months been consistent with the wishes and hopes that I express over this solemn period? Have I been in touch with my inner, ideal, self and lived another day to reach those goals, or have I been disconnected from myself, living a surreal existence chasing the immediate opportunity and instant gratification?
While it may seem farfetched that our Rosh Hashanah resolutions will impact on history, our Sages teach us, in one of the most moving High Holiday prayers, that "Repentance, Prayer, and Tzedaka avert the evil decree". Indeed, when considering which actions we should take on to enable us to realize our wishes, our focus should be in these three areas of life: the earnest regret of Repentance, expressing the desire to be truer to oneself; coming closer to Hashem through Prayer, and an increased awareness of one's responsibility towards others -- the ideal of Tzedaka.
By all means, make a wish. Then make it come true.
Rabbi Sholom Galperin