A Good Start to a Good Year
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This coming Shabbat, the one happening between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is called Shabbat Shuva. These are the first words of the special Hafatarah we read during this Shabbat, which begins with the words Shuva Israel, literally “Return people of Israel.” Some people call this Shabbat Shabbat Teshuva, meaning the Shabbat of repentance. In both cases, it is clear that this Shabbat is an appropriate time for repentance, right before Yom Kippur. As Maimonides wrote in his Mishne Torah (Hilchot Teshuva 2:6), “Although it is ever well to cry out and repent, but during the space of the ten days’ time between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom ha-Kippurim it is exceedingly better, and the supplication is presently accepted, even as it is said: ‘Seek ye the Lord while He may be found’ (Is. 55.6)”.
So, this Shabbat is a special Shabbat for introspection and repentance. At the same time, we should not miss the fact that this Shabbat is also the first Shabbat of the Jewish year. We often forget this characteristic of Shabbat Shuva! Like every first time, the first Shabbat of the year brings with it a little bit of anxiety and some new hopes and expectations.
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (Poland, 1847-1905, a Hassidic rabbi from the Gur dynasty, author of the famous Sefat-Emet), used to say that we must observe Shabbat Shuva with particular care, since it is the first Shabbat of the year. He learned this lesson from the following quote from the Talmud (Shabbat 118, b), “Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Had the Jewish people properly observed the first Shabbat that was commanded them, no nation or tongue would have ever ruled them.”
The idea behind this explanation seems to be that if you want something to go well, you should start well from the beginning. If you want your new year to be good and blessed, start the first Shabbat properly. Or maybe the idea is similar to what people say about a good movie or a good book. If the first five minutes of the movie, or the first few pages of a book are good, you can anticipate that you will enjoy it.
I am not sure I agree with this last idea. After all, life shows time after time that things that start bad can end well and vice versa. But I do agree that we should do our best effort to start well whatever project we undertake. A good beginning is key to progress.
I wish you all a good and blessed year. May you be written and sealed for good in this coming Yom Kippur. And may this coming first Shabbat of the year not only be an appropriate time for repentance, but also a good start that serves as an inspiration for a meaningful and happy year.