“Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the world, who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time.”
It will soon be Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. A time for reflection, renewal and repentance. And a time for new clothes. When I was a little girl, wearing new, smart, winter clothes for Rosh Hashana was as much part of the ritual as dipping apple in honey and blowing the shofar. Rosh Hashana is conveniently placed in the calendar for kitting out growing children with the new season’s wardrobe, but the connection is also encoded in Jewish texts. New clothes are part of the festive celebration.
Putting on new clothes is ritualised. The blessing for new things “shehecheyanu” is said, because, as the Shulchan Aruch writes, new clothes make us happy. Whilst some argue that today we should only say this on particularly special garments, it acknowledges that dressing in new clothing has the power to make us feel good. Being thoughtful about clothing, and our appearance, is not superficial. We are physical beings with bodies connected to our minds. And what we put on our bodies can transform and change our mindset.
There is something enticing about new clothes. Especially when they are beautifully packaged. They are clean and pressed, shiny, unworn and unspoilt. Unlike the items in the wardrobe, all the buttons are there, no hard-to-shift stain, or misshaped. No sign of wear and tear, life hasn’t touched it yet. It is all to come. Seeing ourselves in new clothes, for a split second, we become someone new, without all the baggage of previous mistakes and accidents. This time of the year is heavy with hope for a new beginning, a new life that is better, shinier, unspoilt by the damage of the previous year.
As I get older buying new clothes gets harder. I am despondent with how my body is ageing, and then angry with myself for being superficial and buying into the body-shaming nonsense. Despite all my feminism about body-positivity, I don’t like my size and shape, and put off buying new clothes. I don’t want to invest in this. But this is who I am. Right now, this is me. Buying new clothes, enjoying them, means that I have accepted myself.
All of this is literal. And all of it is a metaphor. Rosh Hashana is a time of renewal. On Rosh Hashana we pray to be written into The Book Of Life, to be given another chance to become and make something of our life that has be granted to us. Rosh Hashana is time to reflect and accept, without excuses, that this is who we are. We are alive today. And so today we wear our new clothes, and see ourselves as unblemished. Our mistakes and wrongs are not intrinsic parts of ourselves. The past has shaped us, but it has not stained us. We can always reflect, return and become a better version of ourselves. Starting today.
Jacqueline Nicholls is a fine artist who uses art to explore and challenge traditional Jewish ideas in untraditional ways.