Rosh Hashana: Hope and Growth

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Readings: Rosh Hashana and Ha’azinu on Shabbat.

Happy New Year!

If you’ve attended synagogue services on Rosh Hashana, you may remember a phrase from the liturgy: hayom harat olam, “today is the birthday of the world,” an idea which arises in the time of the ancient sages. In the tractate Rosh Hashana, the rabbis of the Talmud imagined that the creation of the world was completed (with humankind) inTishrei and added that many other significant events happened in this season too, including:

– the births and deaths of our forefathers Avraham and Yaakov

– the matriarchs Sarah, Rachel and the prophetess Hannah learned that they would give birth

– Yosef was let out of prison inEgypt

– the Israelite slaves inEgyptthrew off the yoke of Pharaoh

Now, there is some back-and-forth between the the various sages, and another opinion was offered that some of these great events happened in Nissan, in the spring. Yet it strikes me that none of the events above are dramatic in themselves, like the giving of the Torah at Sinai or the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. After all, even Avraham was just another baby when born in Ur Kasdim , and when Yosef was let out of prison he had not yet had a chance to attain the power and prominence that would allow him to save his family.

Similarly, to say that Sarah, Rachel and Hannah learned of the possibility of giving birth is to draw attention to the fact that it would be some time before their sons were born. Note also that the Talmud says explicitly that although the time of servitude in Egyptended this month, it was of course not until the spring- Passover- when the Israelites actually physically left that bitter place. It seems that Pharaoh’s psychological power over the people was overthrown in Tishrei, but the Exodus itself took time, and wasn’t completed for months.

I think the sages link these events because they speak of blessings which unfold over time, with effort and patience and determination, and this is something important to remember as we anticipate the year ahead. We might indeed have tremendous insight and powerful prayer and deep learning in this holiday season, but these wonderful things are like seeds planted, which grow over seasons. I might have the most amazing spiritual experience in the coming days, but it probably won’t change my life overnight, and to expect an overwhelming and instantaneous miracle is to set myself up for disappointment and loss of hope.

In the text above, the rabbis teach that what happens on Rosh Hashana is the beginning of new chapters, perhaps even new things which will change history, if we will only stay the course. Judaism teaches both hope and faith- a faith which is not believing in unproven things but a quality of living which prioritizes doing the right thing for the right reasons, even if it’s hard and the desired result is far off in time.

That’s faith- to take what we’ve learned and felt and grow with it. That’s the kind of faith that I hope we find together this holiday season- may it be the start of great things which unfold in the lives of each of us, and the world around us.

A good and sweet New Year to all,


1 Comment »

  1. Renee Waghalter said

    I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that said “Faith requires two things: patience and gratitude.”

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