Geographically, Israel is uniquely positioned as a bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa, as if to indicate its inextricable link to and involvement in world events. That is also reflected in Jewish ritual life as indicated by the fact that Judaism observes 4 distinct new years (one that has been dormant for the last 2000 years) by which to understand life on this planet.
While Jews typically identify their New Year as Rosh Hashanah, that holiday is the one that accentuates that we are citizens of the world, and its themes, with the follow-up on Yom Kippur, pertain to how to best live in this world as human beings, with the New Year of 5775 beginning on the first of Tishri, the evening of September 24. The fact that Tishri is the 7th month of
the year, Jewishly, is indicative of the importance of Passover as the launch of the particularly Jewish New Year, and Jewish kings marked their reigns not from Tishri, but from Nisan, the first month in the calendar year. So, the year, as pertains to the whole world from the Jewish perspective, changes in the middle of the cycle of Jewish months.
These days, such ritual subtleties have tangible meaning when you see in the news that Israel in its war with Hamas, still raging as these words are written, is not necessarily the main headline, with the emergence of a radical Islamic force that is threatening all the nations of the Middle East, and beyond, and Iran positioning itself to threaten not only Israel, but the entire world as a rogue nuclear power. Indeed, positioned geographically as it is, Israel lives in one of the toughest neighborhoods you could find in the world today.
Our Rosh Hashanah observance this year presents more than a ritual welcoming of a world new year (5775 is a metaphorical indicator of the world reckoning back to Adam and Eve, with that number reconciling with the notion of human history being much older in the fact that the 7 Days of Creation are not to be taken literally [given that in the story the sun and moon were created on Day 4]). Rosh Hashanah finds us, Jewishly, intertwined with concerns for Israel’s future and that of the entire world, given Iran’s growing nuclear prowess and the emergence of this new Islamic threat, ISIS, that portends to draw new boundaries in the Middle East, including, as these words are written, a threat to transform Syria into a whole new danger, particularly to Israel.
So, as much as we would like to settle into our ritual observance of a New Year and wish each other well with apples and honey, our “celebration” this year mandates us to take stock in what is going on in this world and how that affects all the other New Years that are in the Jewish calendar.
Two stories associated with Rosh Hashanah come to mind: one, the expressed hope of someone preparing for the holiday with the noble goal of wanting to change the world for the better. This person determines to have a positive impact only to realize the project is too large for one person to undertake, so s/he regroups and figures the best way to make progress is to change his/her country for the better, only to realize that even that project is too large for one person to tackle; so he/she decides to focus attention on the community, only to understand even that is too much for one person. S/he decides to refocus on changing her/his family for the better. The ultimate realization is that the only change that can be made by that one person is with him/her self, the true starting point by which one can change the world. The other story is of the person in a boat that decides, for whatever reason that he/she wants to dig a hole in the floor of his part of the boat, without thinking that to do so would be to sink the entire boat.
Our world is too complex for one person alone to change, and with so many challenges to the planet in terms of environmental matters and global warming (an allusion to the third Jewish New Year, Tu Bishvat, the celebration of nature and vegetation), each person must become more mindful to avoid their part in digging a hole underneath their berth in the boat that is planet earth.
So, we have much to reflect on during these Days of Awe that are upon us. The ritual is just that, symbolic of the issues that we all face, and Jewishly we are as much at the center of these questions and concerns as Israel is geographically located at the meeting point of three of the seven continents that are home to life in the world.
We have much to pray about and reflect upon, and I am comforted that we have each other to help in attempting to sort through the mess with hopes that together we can find a way out, as in yet another story that illuminates the challenge: a person lost while walking through the forest seeks a way out, despairing with each step into the unknown; s/he finds new hope in seeing someone else approach that hopefully can provide the answer. As it turns out, the second person acknowledges that he/she is also lost in the forest; the second, however, offers a suggestion: let us join hands and walk together in seeking a way out.
Let us do that: hold hands and reflect together, even as we partake in such groups as Common Ground, locally, with hopes that together, and with God’s help, we will yet taste of the apples and honey, providing a promise for a sweet and good 5775.