Rosh Hashana – not the Jewish New Year.

“When God began to create heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water — God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” – Gen 1:1-3

I am just not feelin’ it this year.

The holiday starts in, like, eight hours, and I’m still not feeling very holiday-y. It’s been an intense and painful week for a couple of branches of my family, the Middle East and North Africa have decided to melt right the hell down, and I haven’t really been free to stop moving like a whirling dervish since about August 1. I’m tired — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Not to mention that the bar mitzvah was all of four weeks ago. I’m still not sure how that’s come and gone, and here we have the holidays again! How’s that work?

So it goes. The beauty of Judaism is that you don’t have to be feeling it for the holidays and the mitzvot to count — if you stick with the plan and stick with the schedule, it’ll all still be there for you when you do feel it.

Interestingly, via the wayback machine that is my blog’s search function, I find that I wasn’t really feeling it last year, either — but last year it was because I was really mad. So, you know: Better to just be tired, mirite?

However, what I managed to write then is still very applicable, and so in the spirit of not feeling it, I’m just re-upping last year’s post. Forgive me, and please note: Once the sun has set over the Greater Chicagoland Area today, I will be off the grid until Tuesday night (the holiday is two days long for almost everyone but some in the Reform movement). If you’re a new commenter, you’ll get stuck in moderation until then. I apologize! I’ll fish you out as soon as I can.


Yom Harat Olam – this is the day the world was made.

Truth be told, I’m not feeling very holiday-ish today. I’ve bought a ton of special food, we have plans for services and time with friends, and it’s hard for me not to love anything that results in me getting to spend concentrated time with my family — but.

But, for me, being Jewish is hopelessly entangled with being Israeli, a thing which I very loudly announced I was tired of being the other day. I have always found the American Jewish community’s attachment to the modern State of Israel as an article of religious faith to be problematic — surely when in prayer, our thoughts are to be on our relationship to the Divine, and not the latest policies of a political construct? Surely we can be good Jews, and yet oppose some of those policies, no matter our familial relationship to the people making them?

So, you know, writing about the holiday hasn’t exactly felt like a thing I wanted to do. And yet here we are! And here’s the thing that I’ve been thinking about lately, re: Rosh Hashana:

We are taught that Rosh Hashana is not, as it is known, “the Jewish New Year.” Aside from anything else, it falls on the first day of the seventh month of our calendar, meaning that calling it the Jewish New Year is a little bit like planning your New Year’s Eve bash for the Fourth of July.

The words “Rosh Hashana” do translate to “head of the year” — it’s just not our “head,” our beginning, that we’re celebrating. We’re taught that Rosh Hashana marks the very, very beginning — the world’s creation. The Holy One Blessed Be He completed His work on this day, we believe, which is why we also call the holiday Yom Harat Olam, the day of the world’s birth. Rather than drawing inward on this holiday, in a very real way, we’re meant to look out — to celebrate all of creation, and annually reconsider the role we play on the world stage.

And here’s what recently struck me: Isn’t fall kind of an odd time to celebrate the birth of the world?

This honestly never crossed my mind before. Jewish holidays are very tightly bound to the turn of the seasons, in part because we were once an agricultural society, and in part because we’re taught that our holidays sanctify the cosmic year. You really can’t celebrate Passover in the summer, for instance. It’s in the spring because it’s meant to be in the spring — the holiday depends on the calendar, but the calendar also depends on the holiday. Given that our calendar is, in fact, lunar, the ancients had to go to real trouble to tinker with it to make sure the holidays stay on course; a solar aspect was folded into things, and every third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth year, we have a second month of Adar to even things up. That’s a lot of trouble to go to in order to keep the holidays in their seasons — so why are we celebrating the world’s birth in the very season in which the world begins its annual slumber?

I’m guessing the more Orthodox among us would say “because we did the math and that’s when it happened,” but I’m not the kind of Jew for whom that’s a very useful answer.

I don’t know, of course, but I wonder if this doesn’t tell us something about becoming, and being. I wonder if, at the very moment that we are becoming, we might not need to withdraw into the earth, cover ourselves with mulch, and gestate. We like to believe (I like to believe) that the desire to change or become is all we need in order to effect change (from the social protests in Israel, to the revolutions in the Arab World, to the individual upheavals of the heart), but that really and truly isn’t how humans work. We trundle along, bump into the need to change, think about that for awhile, decide to change, struggle with that for awhile, achieve some newness, readjust for awhile. Like that. We cannot just burst into being — we have to lay low and allow the change to seep into blood and bones that are still enough, quiet enough, to really take it in.

So Happy New Year, world! As we all struggle forward, as we are born anew, may be also lay still and quiet enough to allow ourselves to grow straight and true, and bring a much, much better year to a very weary world. May your year be sweet, and may your blessings be as numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate, amen, amen.

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  1. I wonder if, at the very moment that we are becoming, we might not need to withdraw into the earth, cover ourselves with mulch, and gestate.

    Yes. This.

    Wishing you and yours a shanah tovah u-m’tukah — not only a “good” year in G-d’s eyes, but a year which is sweet in ways we humans can discern.

  2. Adam Cohen

     /  September 16, 2012

    Perhaps the holiday falls during the autumn because it was meant as a reminder of all that the Holy One, Blessed Be He (or Her), created. It is the time that we traditionally harvested our crops, which one could argue were given to us by the Holy One. What better reminder of the creation of the earth than the fruits of the earth that we consume to sustain ourselves. Similar to you, I do not know the answer but in my mind, it seems like a nice explanation.

  3. Wishing you a happy holiday all the same!