Rosh Hashonah is About Returning
We should also contemplate how we could change the babble of many years and bring about an era of productivity. This way we might raise, beyond divisiveness, to levels nearer to G-d within our lifetime.
By Isaac Meyer Zwick, September 19, 2014
The Jewish New Year is approaching and, as in all new year celebrations, we pray for peace, freedom, health, and happiness. It’s a period of harvest and of shorter days. Unlike Passover, the Jewish New Year is about returning to G-d. For most, this is a repetitious yet temporary annual exercise. At times where strife, loss, and war dominate the news, I pause to wish everyone a happy 5775!
The rituals preceding the New Year, developed through millennia, include returning to the core and origins. These aren’t pilgrimages to holy shrines. These are returnings to introspection about origins, self, families, and neighbors. Those who can, do visit gravesites of deceased family members, they meet for special prayers, and they even blow the shofar each day during the month of Elul, the month prior to Tishrei. The beginning of Tishrei is the new year.
Less than 2 months have transpired since a mourning period during the month of Av, memorializing the destruction of the Holy Temples. The destruction of the second Temple was in 70 AD by the hands of the Romans. At the time, the Jewish lands were part of the Roman territories and the Jews staged several revolts against the Roman regime. Some were successful while others failed. Under a new Caesar and his son, Rome staged an offensive that would include the temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem. The Jews were able to return after the fall of Rome a few hundred years later. The holy temple was gone and the old-biblical sacrifices were no more. The Sanhedrin would replace them.
A group of Jews, the Zealots, cast several rebellions against Rome over several decades. 60,000 heavily armed and highly professional Roman troops launched their first attack against the Jewish state’s most radicalized area, the Galilee in the north. The Romans vanquished the Galilee, and an estimated 100,000 Jews were killed or sold into slavery. All told, approximately 1 million Jews may have been killed in the revolt, during the Zealot period. Historians and theorists believe that, ultimately, it was divisiveness among Zealot groups that contributed to the loss against Rome. Divisiveness never wins. Unity may prevail but how attainable is it?
The area has always been a region of war and discontent, from the Christian Crusades, Saladin’s Islamic victory over the Christians, Turkey’s invasion, and British rule. It took nearly 2000 years before the Jews could claim Jerusalem their home. after the bloodshed of two wars in 1967 and 1973.
Sadly, 5774 has shown that peace within the region is still an abstract idea. Peace in many regions around the world continue to be more abstractions than realities.
As people proceed to the New Year, we continue to confront personal and regional crises. There are deaths and displacements. Perhaps as we celebrate and pray for a happy year ahead, we should hope that, despite technological advances, we transcend to higher levels of consciousness and understanding beyond our tumultuous pasts.
Isaiah is quoted as “turning swords into plows.” This is our planet, a tiny infinitesimal little rock that G-d provided to sustain life and cultivate civilizations. Rosh Hashanah is not merely a day or 10 days, or 40 days. It is literally the head of the year, a period of new beginnings. Health, happiness, prosperity and all other ideals are good wishes and plans. We should also contemplate how we could change the babble of many years and bring about an era of productivity. This way we might raise, beyond divisiveness, to levels nearer to G-d within our lifetime.
Yoma, a section of the Talmud, implies that the Yavneh generation of rabbis who replaced the concrete Temple went to search for the reason for the destruction, for the severing of their concrete link with the Almighty. They found that not in the relationship between human beings and God, but rather in the interpersonal domain. They identified the source of national disaster as unworthy human conduct: sin’at hinam, gratuitous hatred. Intragroup divisiveness is as lethal as intergroup hatred.
The significance of Rosh Hashanah is that return to G-d. It is in this period that we pray and atone for our deeds and misdeeds. If this ritual was extended each day of the year, perhaps this may be the route to better states of living. Few will agree.
Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
Perhaps, this is a rather large way of sharing best wishes for your 5775 Shanah Tovah! Historical events are repetitive but we hope for the best that we can be as one and all; during the year of opportunities that lay ahead to discover.