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Good riddance to Good Riddance Day

on Friday, December 23 2011. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
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 and 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 just a few days earlier. A few hundred people gathered to observe the fifth annual “Good Riddance Day” this past Wednesday. Visitors and residents of New York gathered to write the year’s problems and disappointments on a piece of paper, tossed it in a dumpster, watched it get shredded and said 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 secular New Year is observed and the way we observe Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. For many, January 1st is marked with partying, 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 1st 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 recognize 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 what went wrong in our lives and try to learn from them, we are told 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.

When Yosef reveals himself to his brothers in this week’s Parsha, and they now must confront the reality and consequences of their actions, the brothers don’t have the luxury of saying good riddance. Rather, our Rabbis encourage us to see Yosef’s words to them as a hint to the sense of consequences and accountability we will all face when we meet or Maker and are forced to confront our failures and shortcomings. Oy lanu l’yom ha’din, woe is us for our day of judgment.

Rather than share a drink, blow a horn, make new resolutions, or say good riddance, I suggest we use the secular New Years as a mid-year review to evaluate our Rosh Hashana promises and prepare for the remainder of the year ahead.

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