“L’shana tova”. These two Hebrew words are well-known by most Jewish people. This expression is usually translated as "happy new year". However, this is not a faithful translation of these words. They literally mean “for or to a good year”. You may be asking yourself - so, what does it matter? A happy year, a good year – same thing. But are they really the same thing?
Surely it’s possible to have a good year without the year or the person experiencing it being happy all the time. Although I grant that the converse probably isn’t true. It would be difficult to imagine a totally happy year without it also being perceived as a good one.
So let’s take a closer look at this Hebrew word tov (the grammatically masculine form of the adjective) or tova (the grammatically feminine form of the adjective) and how it’s used elsewhere, and see if we can throw any more light onto this puzzle.
The word tov or tova can also sometimes be used to mean things other than simply good. Upon hearing of someone being pregnant, a typically Jewish response is “b’sha’ah tova” – literally “at a good hour”, but used in the sense that the baby should arrive at the time that is right or fitting.
So, perhaps this meaning of the word good is more appropriate for the expression l’shana tova; that the upcoming year be one that is fitting for the person to whom the wish is being expressed; that this year turn out to be one that is right for you, that fits you well.
And if it turns out that there’s also some happiness involved in the upcoming year, then that’s an added bonus.
So, with that, I wish anyone and everyone reading these words a “shana tova” – a good Jewish year 5783. May it be one filled with contentment, enrichment, robust health, fulfilling company, learning, laughter, shalom - peace, and most of all, goodness.
Rabbi Karen Companez
Temple Beth-El, South Bend