Author: Runyan, Joshua
Date published: September 29, 2011
ROSH HASHANAH, Genesis 22:1-24
Here we are, celebrating, literally, the "head of the year."
Just as the head directs the body, so, too, Rosh Hashanah and how we approach this auspicious holiday influences the entire year. We bless each other with good wishes for health and success, we eat sweet foods in the hope that we know no more bitterness, and we make positive resolutions to correct our past shortcomings and do more to bring goodness in the world.
So much, in fact, rides on this holiday that it's puzzling that, according to several opinions, we should have celebrated the New Year last week. If the day is so important, then why should there be a discrepancy as to when it happens?
According to tradition, Rosh Hashanah marks the day when the world was created; more specifically, when the Almighty completed His creation of the world. It marks Day Six, the day when humankind found itself in the Garden of Eden.
It would presumably make more sense, therefore, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah on Day One, the day that brought us light, the day when creation began. That day, the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Elul, occurred last Shabbat. Why wait five more days?
The Sages tell us in the Mishnah that each and every person is supposed to say: "For me, the world was created." Their intention, of course, wasn't to condone narcissism, but to view each and every person as limitless in their abilities: As it says in the same passage, to recognize that each and every person has the potential to give birth to an entire world.
In the context of Rosh Hashanah, we don't simply celebrate creation from above. To do so would be the ultimate expression of selfish egotism, because it would be viewing mankind as nothing more than the beneficiary of Divine kindness. We would, in effect, be taking without giving.
By celebrating Rosh Hashanah on the day that human beings entered the world, we recognize that we have a role to play in the act of creation itself. We have responsibilities to the Creator and His creation, and through blowing the shofar, crown Him once more as our King.
This concept of being a bridge between the spiritual and the physical realms in order to ultimately bring the spiritual down into this lowest of worlds can also be found in the Torah portion that will be read this Shabbat, Haazinu.
In the portion's opening verse, Moses tells the heavens to "listen" to his final words, while he tells the earth to merely "hear." In interpreting this verse, the Midrash explains Moses' word choice as indicative of the fact that, given his spiritual stature, he was nearer the heavens and so expressed that closeness with the more personal command to "listen."
Chasidic thought teaches that every Jew has a spark of Moses within his or her soul and therefore has the potential to stand near the heavens. It just so happens, however, that that soul is clothed within a body in order to infuse the physical realm with the holiness of action: the giving of charity, the affixing of a mezuzah, the blowing of the shofar.
This Rosh Hashanah, let's recommit to be partners with the Almighty and usher in a world that knows no strife.
May you be inscribed in the book of life for a year of goodness and sweetness, blessings beyond measure, and health and happiness, and may we all soon hear the sounds of the shofar with all of the Jewish people in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Joshua Runy an, former news editor of the Jewish Exponent, is the editor of Chabad.org News. E-mail him at:jrunyan@ chabad.org.