The New Year is not only a time of fresh starts but, equally, a time of closure. Acknowledging the time-based termination of former undertakings is at least as important as celebrating the commencement of new ones. Hopefully, we will engage in both actions this season.
Endings provide us with culminations, i.e., with experiential climaxes. Consider the hours we spend before The Day Of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah, when we review the previous year’s thoughts, words, and deeds. During this interval, moreover, we members of Am Yisrael are apt to squeeze in ever more mitzvot because we want to sweeten the ruling that awaits us. Whether approaching friends and family to ask forgiveness for wrong-doings, giving “extra” charity, or being involved in preparations for hosting brethren who might not otherwise have a place for holiday seudot, the conclusion of a year can be understood as a time of light.
Plus, without endings, we couldn’t have beginnings. Whereas good/easy aspects of life, such as enjoyable employment, health, wealth, beauty, relationships, and more, all eventually pass, part of the reason why we express positive reception of them is their finite status. The laws of family purity, Taharat HaMishpacha, and inclusion not only of feasts, but also of fasts, in our calendar, lend us the type of gratefulness that we might be short of if our spouses were always available to us or if food and drink were never proscribed. Consider, too, how barrenness allows us to appreciate parenthood and how slavery empowers us to cling to emancipation. Absence of opportunity, i.e., the end of a year, inspires us to welcome the beginning of the next one.
Further, if we didn’t, has v’shalom, have temporal limits on our involvements, possibly, we’d continue reprocessing the miseries we’d undergone or, worse, fail to see the need to elevate ourselves through our efforts at personal improvement. We’re blessed that our lives are broken into discrete periods. As imperfect humans, we’re not designed to face infinity and we certainly get stymied when attempting to deal with vast quantities of the unknown. Death of dear ones, for instance, is difficult.
Envisage, the same, if instead of all weeks ending in the respite that’s Shabbat, they continued on boundlessly. Not only does Shabbot provide punctuation for our lives, but our hallowed day, additionally, gives us a break from our burdens, and, more significantly, provides us with time to focus on connecting to The Aibishter. Whereas we’re excused from dedicating all of our hours to spiritual pursuits on weekdays, are even expected to devote six days of each week (holidays excepted) to earning parnassah and to mundanities like laundry, preparing meals, and more, no matter our vocations, we’re given the grace of a day away from commonplaces; we’re given the privilege of Shabbot. Inside and out, we need this demarcation between the sacred and the profane, between Shabbot and the work week.
As is true by our demarcating Shabbat, by noting the end of a year, we declare ourselves people of faith, i.e., Hashem’s children. We acknowledge our relative cognitive limits (vs the expansiveness of Hashem, of Ein Sof, of He Who is Endless) and embrace a new unit of prospects. Delimiting our years helps us admit our frailty and helps us remember to look to The Boss to raise us up.
See, it’s not so much that we’re moving from nadir to apogee when a fresh year begins. Rather, the Yomim Noraim are like a kallah or chatan’s wedding day; they are an interlude when our “slates” are “wiped clean,” i.e., when our heavenly credit is restored. During the month of Elul, that is, during the weeks preceding Tishri, when HaKadosh Baruch Hu opens new “books” to inscribe and to seal His assessment of us, He makes Himself very close, very approachable. We’re never abandoned when it’s time for us to lift our neshemot from one state and immerse them in another.
Weigh that finales, such as a year’s end, are not necessarily low-water marks and that inaugurations, such as a year’s beginning, while hypothetically highpoints, are always unformed, not hitherto well-defined. Our choices are necessary, but insufficient, for shaping our peaks.
Hashem, meanwhile, is recreating our lives. He does so not just on the High Holy Days, but year round. Merely, we’re more “sensitive” to His fashioning of our existence during the Days of Awe.
Put another way, the end of a cycle, such as that of a calendar year, is not a time for despair but for rejoicing. As we grasp that our old year yielded to a new one, we ought to grasp, as well, that we’d been granted life for the entire course of the prior chapter and that we’d been gifted the chance to enter into a fully unsullied one. In passing from one year to the next, our most rudimentary existential needs have been met.
We needed 5783 to wind up not just so that we would have room in our lives to clinch 5784, but similarly so that we could manifest thankfulness for the stretch that we just completed. Recognizing the worth of endings helps us strive for higher levels, eliminate unwanted baggage, exult in our mazel, change direction as needed, appreciate the many boons bestowed upon us, and renew our faith.