The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins tonight at sundown. By tradition throughout the world, the holiday is announced with the blowing of the shofar.
For Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah begins a sacred period of reflection, time spent with loved ones, and prayers for peace, health, and happiness. We wish each other a sweet new year, dip apples in honey, and devour one of the world’s great comfort foods- honey cake.
The themes of Rosh Hashanah echo those of many faith traditions. The new year offers a chance to begin anew. We begin by looking back and acknowledging our imperfections. Despite good intentions, we all fall short, both professionally and personally. Reflecting on the past year affords us a moment to seek forgiveness for our mistakes, work to repair any hurt we have caused, and resolve to do better with the gift of a new year.
I’ll start with myself. During the past year, there were times when I spoke when I should have listened, and times when I stayed silent when words were needed. There were times when I jumped to conclusions instead of pausing to think, and times when I dwelled too long on questions when the answers were obvious. There were times when I spoke harshly instead of providing encouragement, and times when I questioned good intentions when I should have kept faith. There were times when I focused on trivial tasks instead of urgent work, and times when I should have put down my work down because my family needed me more. For all these mistakes, and the many others I have forgotten or neglected, I hope to do better this year.
The same is true for physicians. We are all imperfect- again, despite our efforts. When pressed for time, we may overlook diagnoses and opportunities to heal. We may rush patients through their stories and skimp on physical exams. We may skim through records that call for more attention and fix prematurely on diagnoses instead of considering alternatives. We may be heedless with our words, leaving patients to feel abandoned instead of cared for. Too often we blame our shortcomings on administrative burdens, the tyranny of the EMR, and “the system,” instead of looking honestly at ourselves. We can all be better physicians. This year, let’s re-dedicate ourselves to our profession’s sacred mission. I invite you to join me in that effort.
Family, friends, and community give us the strength to confront our shortcomings and to stretch toward higher ideals. When we support one another, we have infinite potential to tackle this important work.
This afternoon I will wish a Happy New Year to my mother, sister, brothers, family, and friends. This evening I’ll join Lloyd Friedman and Kai Yang and their family to celebrate the holiday, as has been precious tradition for countless years before and, hopefully, for many more to come.
Wishing all of you a sweet New Year. Happy 5780. Shana Tovah.