This time of year, when most people think of Times Square, they picture the tremendous New Year’s Eve party attended by more than a million people filled with banners, streamers and the ball that drops at midnight. Less well known, and with much poorer attendance, is an event in Times Square that takes place just a few days earlier. A few hundred people will gather this week to observe the 11th annual “Good Riddance Day.” Visitors and residents of New York will gather to write down the problems and disappointments they experienced this year on a piece of paper, toss it in a dumpster or watch it get shredded and say good riddance to the aspects of the year they wished to leave behind.
Good Riddance Day is yet another reminder of the stark contrast between the way the secular New Year is observed and the way we observe Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. For many, January 1st is marked with a party, drinking and the ritual of the dropping of the ball. The anticipation of the New Year brings with it resolutions and promises, a fresh start and the opportunity to put that which we don’t like in our lives behind us, simply by saying good riddance.
For us, the first of Tishrei, Rosh Hashana, is greeted with introspection, reflection and a sincere and earnest attempt to repair our mistakes and errors of the prior year. We, too, greet our New Year with joy, excitement and the promise of a fresh start. However, we understand that a new beginning only has meaning when we make amends and take stock of the year behind.
Good Riddance Day, in my opinion, is a reflection of the growing trend in our society of seeking simple, pain free solutions. Rather than confront our shortcomings, poor judgment and bad decisions and try to learn from them, we are led to believe that we can simply write them on a piece of paper and throw them in a dumpster. In truth, life is not that simple and pain free. A shredder cannot make our problems go away. To bring blessing in the year ahead one has to embrace what went wrong in the previous year with a sense of accountability and responsibility.
Indeed, Stephen Covey writes that the word responsibility is made up of the two words response and ability. Our sense of responsibility is a result of our ability to respond. Do we respond to failing relationships, unrealized dreams, and unachieved goals by saying good riddance, or do we extract the lessons and recommit our energies to become better versions of ourselves and fulfill our promise and potential.
When Yosef reveals himself to his brothers in this week’s Parsha, they are forced to confront the reality and consequences of their actions. The brothers don’t have the option or luxury of simply saying good riddance, let’s move on. Our Rabbis describe the moment when Yosef reveals himself as stark and harsh rebuke, and cautions us that it portends what we will experience when we meet our maker. Oy lanu l’yom ha’din, woe is us for our day of judgment. Like the brothers, all of us will one day face the consequences and results of the poor choices we have made and the reality created by our failures and shortcomings. We will be held accountable and won’t have the option of simply saying good riddance.
Rather than share a drink, blow a horn, make new resolutions, or say good riddance, let us use the secular New Year as a mid-year review to evaluate our Rosh Hashana promises and prepare to get back on track and make improvements for the remainder of the year ahead.