God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. — Genesis 1:31
Shana Tova is the traditional Jewish greeting for the New Year. However, contrary to most greeting cards, the translation is not “Happy New Year!” Rather, when we wish someone Shana Tova, the wish is for a “Good Year.” This nuance may seem inconsequential at first, but the truth is that the difference is extremely significant.
There is a big difference between pursuing a happy life and pursuing a good life. Seeking a happy life is usually focused on getting things for myself. We say, “I’ll be happy when I take that vacation,” or “when I get that new car,” or “when that person treats me better.” Seeking a good life, on the other hand, is about giving to others. My life is good when I do the right thing, help others, and contribute to the world around me.
Let’s take a look at the first time the word “good” is used in the Bible. In the very first chapter of the Torah we read the story of Creation. After every day God looked over His creation and deemed it “good.” On the final day, which traditionally is considered the actual date of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” By labeling His creation good, God meant that all He had created fulfilled the purpose for which He had created it.
God created human beings to worship him and his creation. When we wish people a “Good Year,” we are wishing them a year filled with purpose, meaning, contribution, and fulfillment.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish custom is to dip apple slices in honey. The apple represents our wish for a good year. An apple is healthy – it is good for us. However, we dip it in honey to express our desire that what is good for us also be experienced as something sweet. The longer version of the Rosh Hashanah greeting is actually “Shana Tova u’metuka,” “Have a good and sweet year.” While we are clear that our main goal is to have a good year and a good life, we also ask God that it be sweet. There is a certain sweetness that comes from living a life of contribution, and we ask God for a year that is filled with both goodness and the accompanying sweetness.