The Hebrew word Shanah, as in Rosh Hashanah, is translated as Year (Rosh is Hebrew for Head—hence—the Head of the Year, New Year). The meaning of Shanah though, as a Hebrew root, is “change”—and the Hebrew letter Shin with which the word begins connotes transformation. Shin in Kabbalstic teachings also reflects our capacity for creativity—a creative solution flows from looking at things differently, a change of perspective engenders new possibilities.
There is a very poignant prayer that has crept back into the High Holiday prayer book—to say before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. The prayer which comes from the Sephardic tradition is entitled in Hebrew, “Tichleh Shanah ve’ Kelilotehah” –let the year end (pass by) with its curses! With a title like that you might not wonder as much why it lost its popularity and was omitted from the liturgy.
But what is the deeper meaning of letting go of a year and its curses? If we look at the year as a unit of time in which change can take place—we reflect on Rosh Hashanah where we were a “year ago” and the commitments we made to change. Change is ever present, but to consciously change is never an easy task. And change, even if accomplished, is often a cursed reality. Did I really change—how deep did I go in effecting true change? Then someone points out to you yet another level or layer of change that you have yet to accomplish—often in the same area that you thought—“I have changed.”
As I continue my recovery from hip replacement and have days that are more painful than others—I have found myself ‘cursing’ the decision to undergo this change. I do have the faith that all will be well in the end, but struggle with the uncertainty of returning to normal functioning. So let us reflect on the necessary curses that accompany our commitments to change—to grow and transform from our weaknesses and resistances.
I spoke on Rosh Hashanah at the National Jewish Hospital service about the various sounds of the Shofar (ram’s horn) which in Hebrew are Tekiah, Shevarim and Teruah. The Tekiah is a smooth, straight note, the Shevarim a broken, wailing note and the Teruah, a staccato note. It is traditional to blow the Shofar in particular sequences—always starting and ending with the Tekiah-smooth notes. If we look at the notes metaphorically the broken and staccato notes can represent those aspects of us that need examination and smoothing out—the flow of our life has either been broken or the staccato of life is interfering with what we really want to be engaged in.
As we anticipate the end of Yom Kippur this coming Saturday night (the end is enwedged in the beginning) we look forward to the signal that the day and fast is complete—a final Tekiah-smooth blast of the Shofar. To resonate with the Tekiah sound is to be at peace, tranquil in the trust that all is for the good and that even the ‘curses’ have a role in our realizing wholeness.
I for one will say as I hear the final Tekiah: Hip, Hip Hooray. Let the curses of this past year find their place in the smoothness of the coming year.