While there are many themes related to Rosh Hashanah, one of the most powerful and ubiquitous is the theme of having children. This is so integral to the message and nature of the day that the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a) tells us that on Rosh Hashanah Sara, Rachel and Chana became pregnant. The Talmud deduces this from the verses “God remembered Rachel” (Bereishit 30:22) “God remembered her” (Shmuel I 1:19) “God remembered Sara” (Bereishit 21:1). Rosh Hashanah is called by the Torah a “Day of Memory” (Vayikra 23:24), and this memory is related to remembering those who are in need of a special Divine salvation.
On Rosh Hashanah we have the opportunity to come close to God and ask for our deepest needs and desires to be fulfilled. This is felt strongly by those who have no children or who are struggling with fertility challenges. This was the case since the beginning of the Jewish people. Rosh Hashanah was a day for remembering and a day on which God remembers those who could have been forgotten, those who need to be remembered.
The Torah portion chosen for Rosh Hashanah is in keeping with this theme; we read of the birth of Yitzchak after many years of infertility. The haftarah relates Chana’s challenge in having a child and the eventual birth of Shmuel HaNavi.
The haftarah of the second day speaks of Rachel’s endless tears in seeing her children being led into exile. She will stop crying when her children return back home to their Land, the Land of Israel. In the next verses the entire Jewish people are described as being “a dear son” (Yirmiyahu 31:19) whom God recalls and thinks of constantly.
Birth, having children, raising children and developing hopes and dreams for our children are integrally connected to our prayers for the coming new year. Children are our future, and we are willing to go to great lengths to ensure that we have a good future by investing in our children. This need is the core of PUAH’s mission.
Those who suffer from infertility are willing to try many things in order to have children. Those who face secondary infertility, who have children but are now experiencing difficulties having more children, look at their children and want them to have another sibling. Those who have genetic problems want to have healthy children. They seek out new treatments in order to ensure that they will not pass on their genetic abnormalities to the next generation. The guidance, support and education to help people have a child is part of the vital service of PUAH.
Rosh Hashanah is about birth and children, about challenges of having children and the intense joy in overcoming those challenges.
In fact, we refer to Rosh Hashanah itself as a birth; today is the birthday of the world, we declare after blowing the shofar. It is the day that the world was created, and like a personal birthday, it is a day of reflection and reckoning. Therefore, the day that the world was created is the day of judgement. We come to Hashem as servants or as children, and again we hear the theme of children and parents repeated.
In truth, the 1st of Tishrei is not the day that the world was created. If the birth of the world is synonymous with the creation of the world, this actually happened on the 25th of Elul. Six days later, on the 1st of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, man was created.
And so, we have to refine our definition of the phrase “the birthday of the world.” It is not the day that the world was created, but the day that man was created. Or in other words, it is the day that the world became meaningful and purposeful. A world without man is just another lonely planet, a world inhabited by man possesses the potential to develop and progress. It can achieve significance and direction; it is born in the truest sense.
This provides us with a message about Rosh Hashanah and the prayers that we recite throughout the festival. Life is not just a biological quality; it is not just about entering the world and taking the first breaths. Life is about how we use it; how we create something consequential with the time that we are allotted in this world.
We spend a lot of the day asking for life, both our own lives and the lives of our children. We mention how Sara’s, Rachel’s and Chana’s prayers were answered and they became pregnant. The children that they bore changed the world: Yitzchak continued Avraham’s incredible novel idea of monotheism, Yaakov fathered the Jewish people and Shmuel initiated the Jewish monarchy.
The challenge of receiving life and being able to bring life into the world is how we use that life. Let us take to heart the plight of others and empathize with their suffering. One way to do so is to use the life that we do have wisely, to make each day count and to see the blessing in each child.
May we all be inscribed for a full life, and may we cherish it.
K’tiva v’chatima tova!
Rabbi Gideon Weitzman is a PUAH senior advisor.