Painting by Reuven Rubin
When we announce our opening maariv in the amida on the beginning of the Rosh HaShana holiday, we recite a verse from Psalms:
תקעו בחודש שופר בכסה ליום חגינו, כי חוק לישראל הוא משפט לאלוקי יעקב”
“Sound the shofar on the New Moon, on the appointed time for the day of our festival. For it is a statute for Israel, the judgment of the God of Jacob.”
Because Rosh HaShana is the first day of the month of Tishrey, it always begins with a new moon, unlike all the other holidays which are closer to or on the 15th day of the month when the moon is full.
What is the significance, if any, for making this holiday at such a time. The image of Keseh, hidden or covered, is it just because of the date or is there any significance?
Rosh HaShana is referred to as HaYom Harat Olam. Art Scroll translates this phrase as the Birthday of the world. However, this is a mistake. Haras comes from the word harayon, which means pregnancy.
As such, the proper translation would be:
“Today is the conception day of the world”!!
As such, we are not celebrating the day that the world came into reality.
We are celebrating the day that God decided that there should be a world with beings other than Himself. It is the day that God decided to make room in His reality for a being that is other, subject to time and space. He decided to make room in his reality for a being that had free will and choice. He decided to make room for a relationship with others.
The midrash asks why did the Torah begin with the letter bet. The midrash points out that the word bracha begins with s bet and aleph the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is the first letter of the word Arrur which means to curse.
What the midrash is trying to relate is that God decided that the source of blessing can only happen when one gives to another. Existence of one God alone is infinite, but without room for others there is no relationship to grow. In the world of time and space a world of self of 1 can only lead to self-absorption and curse. A world of 2 beings, each giving to the other is the basic source of blessing. As this was the moment of the conception of creation, before it actually occurred, before it came into existence, this is the world of Keseh , of the hidden before time and space.
On Rosh HaShana we return to our conception. We return and Remind ourselves (Yom HaZikaron) of the perfect conception of ourselves and ask God and us to judge where we are in this relationship. This is the Yom HaDin. Straight raw objective judgment.
When God actually brought the world into existence, he let go of the perfect model and made even more room for mercy and patience. As realistic humanity is flawed.
The mortal response to coming face to face with this Yom HaDin is twofold:
A: IMITATE DEO, imitate the Creator. Give to those who don’t have. Be godly. Create a relationship where you are the giver. Go away from self and make room for others.
The second response would generally be dread and fear. Yet the prophet Nehemiah demands from those who returned to Zion with him, Eat, drink enjoy the best that life can offer. Rejoice. When you give to others on this day of judgment, do it with Joy of celebration of standing with the Creator.
Even if you are afraid of your grand potential, know that one can grow that potential by giving to others in joy.
The Sfat Emmet cites a tradition that the forefather Jakob experienced his prophetic dream of being in the presence of the ladder that went up to heaven on the day of Rosh Hashana. In that dream, Jakob is an observer as he watches the angels ascending and descending, all while God watches from up high.
The Sfat Emmet takes Jakob to task. Jakob wakes up from his dream in dread and fear. Ma Nora Hamakom Hazeh. Yet the Sfat Emmet, chastised Jakob for just watching. Get over it he demands. The fear may be real, but he had a major missed opportunity. Jakob was only an observer. He should have gone up the ladder himself, to meet his true essence and true potential all while celebrating his union with God. The course of Jewish history and all of humanity would have forever been changed for the better. What makes someone a hero is not that they are not afraid. One becomes a hero because they act on their fear and despite their fear.
This is the itzumo Shel Yom for Rosh Hashanah. May we all make this judgment experience an opportunity for growth and self-reflection. May we do it with joy and celebration and always seize life and the experiences that God has waiting for us with fear and with the joy of the opportunity. May we all be blessed to be sources of blessing in our search and request for a happy, healthy, successful, and prosperous year.
Based on Rabbi Isaac Hutner’s first Ma’amar on Rosh Hashanah, in his magnum opus Pachad Yitzchak.