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    Four new years – Rosh HaShanah

    The Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:1 tells us that there are four New Years, four times in the year when we turn over a page in the calendar and start a new era:

    • 1 Nisan – new year for kings and festivals
    • 1 Ellul (some say 1 Tishri) – new year for the tithe of cattle
    • 1 Tishri – new year for the reckoning of foreign eras, for the release and jubilee years, and for the planting of trees and for vegetables
    • 1 Sh’vat (some say 15 Sh’vat) – new year for the planting of fruit trees.

    Only the third of these New Years is known simply as Rosh HaShanah. But altogether, we see that four elements are high priority in Jewish thinking – Jewish historical events, animals, world history and vegetation:

    Jewish historical events – what happens in Jewish leadership and the people’s observance of the high days and holydays determines the character of the year.

    Animals – the animal kingdom shares the universe with us and according to the Talmud (Eruvin 100b) exemplifies many ethical qualities: “Had the Torah not been given to us we could have learnt modesty from cats, hard work from ants, chastity from doves and gallantry from cocks”.

    World history – each year intertwines Jewish and world events; if the world tries to ignore or oppose the Jewish people, the world itself is diminished.

    Trees, which give fruit, shelter and shade to human beings, come to life as youngsters, they grow, tentatively at first, and as they reach maturity become productive and protective. They rejoice to be part of God’s world. Their swishing in the wind is like a voice that acclaims the Creator. There comes a time when a tree groans under the weight of years and falls apart, but even thereafter it still makes a contribution. Trees, like people, leave their traces. The world is a nicer place because they were there.

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