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Thought for the Day: Rosh Hashana 2020

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Re-evaluation – a New Year paradigm shift


That’s the word I hear most often to describe a stoic response to the Coronavirus.

But, there’s a problem with resilience. The original Latin means ‘to recoil or rebound’. Resilience suggests that we can spring back to where we were before – something which, usually, is simply not possible. Whatever ordeal we’ve endured, the future presents a fresh reality. In Coronavirus terms, it’s our ‘new normal’.

In Hebrew, we use the term ‘nechama’, which means ‘comfort or solace’. Its Biblical usage implies change, recognising that as one emerges from a traumatic experience, a paradigm shift is called for. Nechama is about becoming, not overcoming. It is not a process of closure, but disclosure – of a previously dormant perspective which now comes to the fore.

The Jewish understanding of such profound change in ourselves is shaped by Rosh Hashanah, our New Year, which commences this evening. Looking back on the previous year, we strive to take control of the way it has changed us, to empower us to embark on a new year with renewed purpose. To do this effectively, gratitude for what we have is everything. As the Talmud teaches: Who is wealthy? It’s one who is happy with what they’ve got.

According to our tradition, our New Year is the anniversary of the creation of the very first person and, over the festival, we contemplate on the lives led by Adam and Eve, their achievements and their failings. They lost their paradise because, while blessed with the unparalleled bounties of Eden, their only desire was the one thing they couldn’t have – the forbidden fruit – and it was this which led to their downfall.

Covid-19 is prompting us to re-evaluate our lives. Instead of pining after that which is out of our reach, we can now appreciate life more than ever before, to use every moment constructively. Many people I’ve spoken to have found a renewed appreciation of family and friends, of spirituality and community, and just the simple pleasure of socialising.

“Is your glass half empty or half full?”

The answer given by the boy in Charlie Mackesy’s, “The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse” is, “I think I’m grateful to have a glass”.

Jewish tradition differentiates between fate and destiny. My fate is the hand of cards I’m dealt. My destiny is how I play that hand. In the midst of this tragic Pandemic, a good start to carving out a destiny of hope and promise is being grateful for the glass we have.