Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Rabbi Sharon Stiefel

Current September 2022

To Change and to Stay the Same

Just as humans are full of paradoxes, the root of the word Shanah, the Hebrew word for year, contains one too. It means both to repeat, which implies to stay the same, and to change, that is, to transform.

In Hebrew, every word is made of a source root, usually three letters, that contains a fundamental concept. For example, in the word Shalom, its root, Shin - lamed - mem carries the idea of wholeness, completeness. The Hebrew word, Shanah, has the root shin- nun- hey and many words that derive from it. Sheyni, the Hebrew word for second, comes from the root Shanah. When we do something a second time, we are repeating it.

So, a Shanah, a year, is a repeat, a second time, or more of what has come before. A year has the same weeks, holidays, and seasons. We approach Rosh Hashanah again with the promise of cool evenings, crisp air, and a very distinct feeling of fall.

In contrast, Shinui, also from the root Shanah, is the Hebrew word for change, the act of modification.

From this we learn that Shanah, a year, is also a time for transformation. We may be repeating the same holiday as last year, but we are not the same. Each of us can say with absolute confidence, today and every day, "I am different than I was a year ago.”

The challenge for all of us is to fully inhabit this paradox. With one hand, to reach for change; with the other, to hold on to what we want to remain the same. What’s worth repeating? Hopefully what works for us. Surely, we don’t want to repeat mistakes. We want to duplicate our good deeds and enhance them. The things that are going well should be reinforced. And we need to discover what we need to change. The New Year is a time for self-evaluation; for checking up on ourselves.

May we begin this New Year of 5783 by embracing both meanings of Shanah as we wish one another a Shanah Tovah. May it be a good year of repeating what is vital and nurturing in life and a good year of transformation and spiritual growth.