The Hebrew word שנה has several meanings. It means "year", "to review / repeat" (as it usage in the term, משנה תורה and it also means "to change". Thus, it is an antagonym.

With Rosh Hashanna approaching, I'm curious if there are any commentaries or writings (ancient or more recent) that discuss these opposite meanings and how they may relate to the concept of Teshuva and how one should behave at the start of the new year.

For example, if one is to supposed to change his behavior, how does he do this by "repeating" it? Or, does the definition of "year" include both the concept of repetition as well as change and in what ways?

Surmisal: Every change involves repeating something from the past. The word "new" has several nuances, but, the main idea behind "new" is that it is something that previously never existed. Perhaps, this is the reason why Rosh Hodesh is not mentioned as part of Rosh Hashanna. "Hodesh" means "new". Perhaps, each month (except Rosh Hashanna), one should be creating something absolutely new. On Rosh Hashanna, we shouldn't create something "new" but, rather, we should change things by refining the past.

  • Interesting observation. Re terminology - is there a verb "shana" or "shina" that means both "repeat" and "change", or are those always distinct words? (I'm thinking of l'shanos and its derivatives, which are usually in pi'el in Hebrew, as opposed to lishnos and friends, which are pa'al, while l'shanen is pi'el.) Re etymology - are the roots for "year", "repeat" and "change" related?
    – WAF
    Sep 30, 2016 at 15:27
  • @WAF shanen (as in veshinantam lebanecha is from a different root than shanah. As for the others, I believe that they all come from the same root s-n-h . The binyan shouldn't matter for purposes of this question. BTW, I think another meaning is "to learn" as in shoneh kahalacha (mentioned in Pirkei Avot), But, it may originate from shanen.
    – DanF
    Sep 30, 2016 at 15:33
  • This post made your observation too, but doesn't cite any sources.
    – WAF
    Sep 30, 2016 at 16:54
  • I don't think there are opposite meaning here, it would seem they all boil down to meaning repeat/renew. The Hebrew word for tooth is שן which I'm guessing is because the old tooth falls out and then is renewed. שנה - a new year; a renewal of the year משנה תורה - a review of the Torah שינון - to review one's learning לשון - to renew oneself (by sleeping) שן - a tooth, the only part of the human body the intentionally dies off and then renews itself
    – Mbrevda
    Oct 5, 2016 at 19:08
  • 1
    @ninamag "Hodesh" comes from "Hadash" which means "new". There are nuances to what "new" means in Hebrew as well as in English (and, I gather in other languages, as well.) In English, we often see the term "newly improved." That implies taking an existing product, "improving" (usually by raising the price) it and then saying, "Hey, you've never seen it this way, before (with this price), so it's "new". (Stop laughing!!) Or, you see "brand new" meaning "It's never been around, before." My definition is my own analysis. Yours is absolutely acceptable, as well. We're both right!
    – DanF
    Sep 27, 2017 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


I share with you this short teaching called "A Blessing for the New Year" from Reb Zalman z”l.

"There is a paradox in the word שָׁנָה shanah, of Shanah Tovah and Rosh HaShanah. שָׁנָה Shanah in Hebrew carries two meanings. It has the sense of repeating, doing again a second time, sheini, and in this sense it is used in Mishnah, the laws repeated by heart, and also in the sense of which the fifth book of Moses is called Mishneh Torah, the repeating of the Torah (by Moses before his death). However it also has the sense of change, l’shanot, to make other – and here, too, is the sense of ‘two-ness,’ a second one that is different than the first. In Yiddish the same phrase with different inflections means the opposite. היינט אזוי – מארגען אזוי “Today like this; Tomorrow like this,” can mean “Today like this > and also Tomorrow like this >” and it can mean “Today like this >” (pointing to the right) and “Tomorrow like this <” (pointing to the left). It thus has the possibility of being read both ways: repeat or change. For those parts of your life that were good last year and that want to be repeated, I bless you with Shanah Tovah, have a good repeat. And for those things that need change, Shanah Tovah, have a good change!"

  • Reb Zalman who?
    – mevaqesh
    Oct 10, 2016 at 1:41
  • Probably en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zalman_Schachter-Shalomi?
    – WAF
    Oct 10, 2016 at 3:24
  • Bounty awarded. Please specify per above comments. I have some questions as follow up which, B"N, I'll ask after YK.
    – DanF
    Oct 11, 2016 at 18:31
  • Another year, another reminder :-) can you provide a link to the above or, specify who this "Reb Zalman" is?
    – DanF
    Sep 26, 2017 at 20:45
  • @DanF WAF is most probably correct. This same piece is posted on the Aquarian Minyan's website aquarianminyan.org/arch61 and Schachter was a spiritual force of that cong.
    – Oliver
    Sep 26, 2017 at 21:26

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