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Joy for the New Year

09/04/2018 08:11:15 PM


How many of us contemplate the Jewish date as we go about our lives? At some times of the year it becomes more relevant than at others, of course. These fall holy days, Passover in the spring (or late winter, depending upon the local weather), remind us of the various ways our ancestors determined the “head of the year,” a literal translation for Rosh Hashanah.

I’m contemplating the year aspect of the date – 5779. At the same time that we launch the year, concluding the Tishrey month of holidays with the scrolling back to the beginning of Torah on Simchat Torah, we mark a series of themes. The big ones on Rosh Hashanah, malkhuyot/sovereignty, zikhronot/remembrance, shofarot/calling, all have significant liturgical components that put their stamp on our yontif experience.

There’s a sleeper theme, though, that is reflected quietly in that number. The rabbis of yore determined that the world’s birthday was the 1st of Tishrey. After each of the shofar blasts that accompany the Rosh Hashanah themes, this text is traditionally pronounced:

Hayom harat olam - Today, the world is born! Today shall stand before you all the beings of the cosmos, whether as your children or your servants … be gracious, rendering judgment for the good on our behalf, as clear as light …

[Kol Haneshamah: Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, p. 651]

This is our “Happy Birthday” song to Creation! We put ourselves right into the picture. Imagine a child-like drawing of a set of humans, like the one you (I!) drew in kindergarten, pasted over an image of the cosmos. That’s how we understand our use of the imagined year-since-Creation date that we put on our Jewish calendars, in our Jewish new year greeting messages, and to pair with the dates of those who will be born - or will die – in the year ahead.

Our joy and our solemnity are bound up in the shift from 5778 to 5779. Birth! Newness! A Change to Start Again! … Death. Memories. Regrets. Atonement … and then … Our People’s Sacred Narrative, Told, and Interpreted, Again!

What a party is this month we are about to enter, with all its ritual drama – candles; cake (ours was a particular style of apple cake); something new to wear; family, friends and synagogue – and that birthday song. When we gather to sing Hayom harat olam this Rosh Hashanah, imprint on your heart your own wishes for the year 5779. Let the song, the shofar calls, the messages, and the community in which we are delighted to gather, fill you with hopefulness for all that is possible in the year to come. Happy New Year – Shana Tova!

-Rabbi Liz

Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyar 5779