At the beginning of our service tonight, we made a blessing for the new Jewish year. We declared this evening to be the beginning of the year 5782. The assignment of numbers to years in the Hebrew calendar dates back to around the fourth century CE – not coincidentally, that’s about the same time that Christians started giving numbers to the years in their calendar, which is now also our secular calendar. So, even though 5782 minus 2021 equals 3,761, that is not how much older the Hebrew calendar is than the Christian calendar. In fact, they both started about the same time. They just each started with a different number.
For the Christian calendar, they guessed how many years it had been since the birth of Jesus. For the Jewish calendar, they guessed how many years it had been since the creation of the world.
Incidentally, both calendars got it wrong. It has not been 2,021 years since the birth of Jesus. Most scholars say the count is off by five or six years.
You won’t be surprised that the count of the Hebrew year is off by a bit more. It has not been 5,782 years since the creation of the world. Today’s astrophysicists say that the earth is actually about 4.5 billion years old and the universe as a whole is about three times older. So the Hebrew year is off by a bit less than 4.5 billion years. If you’re going to be off, you might as well be off big.
But, like so many other things in Judaism, the point of our tradition is not to teach us historical or scientific facts. Rather, it is to teach us truths about our lives and our ability to find meaning and purpose.
Since ancient times, Jews have used the number of the calendar year to find such meaning. All of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet have a numerical value, and there is a tradition at the beginning of each Jewish year to find a phrase in the Hebrew Bible in which the sum of all the letters adds up to the number of the year. Then that phrase can be used as a guiding instruction, a theme, an inspiration, or a challenge for the new year.
What’s a good biblical phrase that adds up to 5782? (Well, actually just 782. By convention, we leave off the thousands.) My friend and teacher, Dr. Daniel Matt, has found more than two dozen candidates for the biblical phrase that matches the number of this year. The one that I find most compelling comes from the book of Leviticus (19:17). In fact, it’s from a verse that we will read on Yom Kippur afternoon. In Hebrew, the phrase is lo tisna, and it means, “You shall not hate.”
How is that for a guiding instruction for 5782? I think it’s perfect. There is way too much hatred in the world today and lo tisna is the commandment we need to hear this year to confront it.
So often in this past year, I have heard people ask, “Why is there so much hatred against Jews today, not even 80 years since the Holocaust? Why is racism still a thing more than 150 years after the Civil War, after the civil rights movement, after Rodney King, after George Floyd and after the murders of Asian women in Atlanta spas last spring? Why does such hatred still persist?
Why must we still endure the pain of seeing people brutalized by police because of the color of their skin, women abused by men and the legal system with hateful disregard for their right to be secure in their bodies and persons? Why is there so much hate?” We want the new year of 5782 to be a year of lo tisna, a year of “you shall not hate.”
So let it begin now and let it begin with each of us. Lo tisna means that 5782 should be a year in which we resolve to embrace people for who they are instead of suspecting, distrusting, maligning or hating them for who they are. Let’s let Lo tisna mean that 5782 will be a year in which we let go of the idea that we should hate people who voted for the wrong party (whichever party you think is the wrong one).
Lo tisna means that we should release ourselves from the belief that our society is somehow defined by hatred – whether it was the hatred of four hundred years ago or the hatred of last week. Lo tisna means that we don’t justify violence and lies with the belief that our enemies – the people we hate – are even worse, so our cruelty and distortions of truth don’t matter.
Lo tisna means that we should relent from the instinct to hate people because they hate us, or because we think they hate us. Lo tisna means that hating will no longer be our response to people who anger, upset or frustrate us. Lo tisna means that, instead, we will deal with people who trouble us and make us feel uncomfortable with honest efforts to listen to them, to understand, and extend compassion to people who are different or who think differently than we do.
Lo tisna means that 5782 should be a year in which we intentionally and methodically develop habits toward kindness; it should be a year in which we intentionally and methodically forgive people who have wronged us. Lo tisna means that we give people second, third, and even fourth and fifth chances before jettisoning them from our lives and sticking labels of hatred onto their existence.
Lo tisna means that where we find hatred lurking in our minds, even hidden deep in the recesses of childhood memories and experiences, we will make the effort to confront it, to ask ourselves questions about where those feeling and prejudices come from, and teach our souls to transform that hatred into love, or, at least, into growth.
Lo tisna, the commandment that says, “you shall not hate,” means that 5782 should be a year in which we stop hating ourselves. Lo tisna means that we should forgive ourselves for things we consider to be our failings, our faults, and our weaknesses. Lo tisna means that we should remember we are beings created in the image of God given the gift of wonder, love, and appreciation of beauty. Lo tisna means that we should remember that instead of being our own worst critics, we should be the champions of our lives, believing that we were put here on earth for a purpose that even we may not fully be aware of yet. Lo tisna means that we recognize that each of us is a miracle and that each of us is unfit to be hated, and each of us is unfit to hate. Lo tisna means that we are made for love.
I want to wish you – each of you individually, and this community collectively – a year of lo tisna, a year of “you shall not hate.” In the way you treat the members of your family and your close friends, I wish you a year of lo tisna. I wish you a year of lo tisna in the way that you greet strangers and meet new people,
Let me ask you right now to think of one specific thing that you resolve to do in the year of lo tisna. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Let it be one small, specific thing that you could start immediately – that you could begin to do in the next ten days – that would help you shake off a bit of harshness and hard-heartedness and embrace love and acceptance of others. Choose it right now… Do you have it? Hold on to it. Let that one small resolution about something that you are going to start doing before Yom Kippur be your mantra to introduce yourself to the year of lo tisna.
May 5782 be for you a year in which you work hard to love people a little bit more deeply. May it be a year in which you forgive people a little bit more easily.
There is so much about this world to love, even when pandemics strike, even when anti-Semitism is on the rise, even when we feel baffled and dispirited by war and global warming, even in a year when the world is still not the way it is supposed to be.
Even then, there is so much to love about a world that is filled with the beauty of nature, the beauty of human creativity, the beauty of the human heart with its capacity to do unimaginably generous and courageous things. I want you to find those reasons to love and not to hate in this year of lo tisna.
May 5782 be the year for you – the year in which you do your part to remove some measure of the darkness of hatred from this world and radiate your special light of love to wipe it away. May it be in every breath you take and every kindness you share with others. May this be your year of lo tisna.
L’shanah tovah tikateivu v’techateimu.
May you be written and sealed for a good year.