By Daniel Chejfec
So what can I say about the "new" Year? The first question would have to be...what does it make it "new"? The beginning of another year in the calendar is determined by convention, for we decided that at that time our Planet finishes one orbit around the Sun and starts another...but for the Chinese, that point is in a different place, and so is for the Muslims, and for the Hindus...not to mention our very own Jewish tradition.
In Jewish culture, there are at least three "New Year" times...There is of course the Biblical one, and no - it is not Rosh HaShanah...but Passover! On the Passover Hagaddah we recite "This will be for you the first of the months of the year", and Passover time marks also the beginning of Spring, the renewal time of Nature. During the years of the monarchy, the Royal administration had to levy taxes, so the idea of a "Fiscal Year" got started for us, and its beginning according to many scholars is associated with Tu B'Shvat, the time when the tax collectors went around the farms and counted the trees to assess the taxes, so Tu B'Shvat was generally referred to in our tradition as the "new Year of the trees". And then there is Rosh HaShanah, the strangest of the Jewish new Years. The Bible refers to a "Shabbat Shabbathon" as the day we now know as "Yom Kippur", but makes no reference to what we know as Rosh HaShanah. It appears that even in monarchic times it was celebrated, but it's not clear why. Some believe that Rosh HaShanah was integrated as a Holiday in our tradition when our ancestors adopted the Babylonian Calendar...
So how did our sages justify the existence of three "New Years"? Of course they gave it a Jewish twist...Rosh HaShanah became the Universal New Year, the "birthday of the World" and given the meaning of the day God created the first Human Being, which is probably a holdover of its original Babylonian meaning. The beginning of Nisan, the month of Passover, became the National New Year celebrating the establishment - or confirmation- of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, marking the foundational event of the Jewish Nation - the Exodus of Egypt. As for Tu B'Shvat, it evolved from a day marking the beginning of the Fiscal Year to a celebration of the connection between the People of Israel and the Land, and more recently came to be hailed as the "Jewish Environmental Day"
All this explanation was to highlight the fact that there is no qualitative difference between December 31st and January 1st, but they are both part of the same cycle of perpetual renewal. Each day is a new opportunity to make the world a better place - no need to wait for January first or the first of Tishrei. And whatever we did before December 31 stays with us on January 1; it doesn't disappear. We can never erase the past - we can only look forward and shape the (hopefully better) future by learning from our past mistakes.
And having said all that, each new year in each one of the traditions is an opportunity to renew our hope and to wish happiness to one another for the next orbit around the Sun, and that is important too. So Happy New Year !