It feels weird that this year New Year’s Day falls out on a Jewish fast day. Aside from the fact that this year those who observe the Tenth of Tevet need to avoid partying as hard on New Year’s Eve as they otherwise might, celebrating the beginning of a new secular calendar year while at the same time remembering tragedies in Jewish history feels strange. How do we feel both happy and said at the same time? But looking beyond this initial feeling there’s a lot of meaning in these two days coinciding.
Although on the Tenth of Tevet we remember the beginning of the siege around Jerusalem along with other sad things in Jewish history, it isn’t a day for mourning. It’s a day for teshuvah (repentance). We remember what happened to our ancestors two thousand years ago because of their baseless hatred towards each other, and we use it as a reminder that we need to live our own lives better. This is why we fast and include selichot (prayers asking for forgiveness) in our liturgy. These are not things we do in a house of mourning when someone passes away. They’re things we do today, not to mourn, but to ask God to forgive our actions that we regret, and to hopefully remind ourselves to do real teshuvah, and improve the ways we live our lives.
Keeping that in mind, it seems appropriate for this day to coincide with New Year’s Day. New Year’s is a day that many of us reflect on the past year and resolve to make improvements in our lives in the coming year. Although New Year’s resolutions may not feel religious, resolutions are part of teshuvah, which we should try to do all the time. We see this idea in the mishnah, which teaches “repent the day before you die” (Avot 2:15). This quote is generally understood to mean we should repent every day, since, as we unfortunately saw many examples of in 2014, people don’t always know when they’re going to die. For most of us it’s not realistic to do teshuvah every day, so it’s helpful to have annual milestones like New Year’s and Jewish fast days to remind us to take some time to reflect.
Hopefully we can use both New Year’s Day and the Tenth of Tevet as reminders to improve ourselves. And hopefully we will become happier healthier people who next year will look back to feel more proud of our deeds and accomplishments than we do now.