Surprise: It’s Happy New Year time again! Did you know that there are four Jewish new years, one of which, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, will occur this coming Tuesday, March 12? According to the first Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah: “The first of Nissan is the new year for kings and for festivals. The first of Elul is the new year for tithing animals. The first of Tishrei is the new year for years, for the sabbatical year and for the Jubilee year … The fifteenth of Shevat is the new year for trees.” In biblical times, Nissan celebrated a new year for the reign of a Jewish king. In addition, Nissan marks the coming of Passover, the first festival of the Jewish year and also the beginning of spring. When the Bible mentions the three pilgrimage holidays (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), Passover is mentioned first.
How does this relate to us? Most of us celebrate the first of Tishrei as “the Jewish new year” and do not pay much attention to the first of Nissan. Having more than one new year enables us to appreciate that different aspects of life each have their own unique cycle. The new year for trees (Tu B’Shevat) occurs in winter when we are anticipating the growth of seeds into plants and fruit. In contrast, the new year for the land (the first of Tishrei) occurs in the fall, when the yearly harvest is ending as we get ready for the onset of winter. Similarly, each of us is in a different circumstance at each moment. While one is rejoicing, another is in a stressful time. While one is beginning a new career, another is retiring. Multiple new years give us multiple opportunities to further develop ourselves and celebrate our accomplishments.
How fortunate we are to have four new years, which remind us of new beginnings to appreciate life and enjoy growth. As we start to see the flowers bloom on the cacti and the budding of trees, let us also find new areas within ourselves to bloom. While you’re able to enjoy the warm weather through running, hiking, taking a walk or planting something new in your garden, be conscious of the gift of a new year, providing us opportunities to renew awareness of the wonder of the seasons and the joy of life. We also can appreciate our Jewish tradition, which took note of the need to renew ourselves throughout the year through the process of repentance. In Judaism, repentance is available to us at any time, not just during the High Holiday season. As stated in Lamentations Rabbah 3:43, “Repentance is like the sea. As the sea is always open, the gates of repentance are always open.”
Happy New Year once more to everyone! May the new year beginning this Tuesday bring blessings and fulfillment to each of us. Wishing you a happy, kosher Passover.
Rabbi Ben Herman is assistant rabbi of Congregation Anshei Israel.