May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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When discussing Rosh Hashanah with my high school students a number of years ago, one of my students said that Rosh Hashanah is similar to a movie she recently saw.

“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” begins with Jim and Cindy Green being informed by doctors that after trying everything, they are unable to conceive. Distraught by the news, Jim convinces Cindy to dream about their ideal child and write down the child’s characteristics and the life events they would want their child to experience on slips of paper. They dreamed of a child who is a glass-half-full type of a person, optimistic, honest to a fault, gets to score the winning goal and would have Jim’s blue eyes.

That night the couple places the notes inside a box and bury it in their backyard. After a thunderstorm that continued throughout the night, the next morning, a 10-year-old boy arrives at their front door, claiming that the Greens are his parents. Through their interaction with him in the movie they realize that he truly is the child they wished for and whose characteristics they wrote down and placed in the garden. He is the child who fulfilled all their hopes and dreams.

How does this movie relate to Rosh Hashanah?

There is something missing on Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of Aseret Yemei Teshuva; we will spend next week klapping Al Cheit and Ashamnu at Selichot, and we refer to the Shabbat after Rosh Hashanah as Shabbat Shuva. However, when one takes a look at the Rosh Hashanah machzor there is almost no mention of teshuva. Additionally, there is no “klapping,” beating our chest for Al Cheit or for Ashamnu on Rosh Hashanah.

Did the Rabbis miss the point with Rosh Hashanah? How could it be that on the first days of the 10 days of teshuva there is no teshuva?

What is this day all about? What should our goal be on Rosh Hashanah?

 We first need to understand what we are commemorating on Rosh Hashanah.

After blowing the shofar during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, we will refer to the day as “hayom harat olam.” Many of our machzorim translate these words as “today is the birthday of world.” The word for birth in Hebrew is leida, like Yom Huledet Sameach. The word harah refers to conception, as we read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, “ותהר ותלד שרה.”

Rosh Hashanah signifies the “conception of the world,” not the birthday of the world.

Just as all the genes of a human being are set into motion at conception, and thereafter all the features that manifest in the child as it develops are the results of those genes, so too Rosh Hashanah represents that precise moment of transition from non-existence to existence, which is the most pivotal and vital point of creation. Subsequently, as a child develops, critical phases of growth follow—but not as critical as that first moment of conception. Each new phase reveals the coding that began at conception.

The closer to the beginning of conception, the more critical. Therefore, the moment that demands the greatest care, the greatest intensity, the greatest purity, is the very first, the moment of conception, the moment of creation.

Essentially, this is what Rosh Hashanah is all about. Every year on Rosh Hashanah we recreate the genetic code that will become evident throughout our year.

What our coming year will look like will be determined by how we act on Rosh Hashanah.

Why no teshuva on Rosh Hashanah?

There is teshuva on Rosh Hashanah, but a very different kind. Instead of reflecting on the past and evaluating our year [this is done on Yom Kippur], we model for ourselves the person we wish to become. Just like the Greens, today we plant within ourselves all that we wish for by acting like the person we want to become. 

This year, if we want to be more cognizant of our speech, then Rosh Hashanah is when we begin speaking kinder and nicer to our spouses, children, friends and colleagues.

This year, if we want to enhance our Shabbos and Yom Tov tables, then Rosh Hashanah is when we plant the seeds by singing a little more and sharing a Torah thought with our families.

This year, if we want to work on the intensity and kavanah in our davening, Rosh Hashanah is when we make that happen by spending a little more time understanding the words, or looking at the English translation.

To what should we aspire?

I may be going for an interview as a stock boy or I might be looking for a job in the mailroom, but my aspirations are loftier. How should I dress for the interview? Studies have shown that when being interviewed a person should dress for his dream job. Let us dress for the dream year, let us model what we want our best selves to be like in the coming year. And may all your dreams, hopes and aspirations you have “buried” in your personal “yard” come true.

When we think about what is the most difficult aspect of Rosh Hashanah, some might say it is the long davening, others might say it is not talking after shofar until the end of tefillah, and some will argue it is not Rosh Hashanah at all but rather it is all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and preparing that go into the holiday. I would argue that the hardest part of the chag is when we leave shul, go back home and we are sitting around our dining room table with our family and friends and we have a juicy piece of lashon hara that we just need to share. Just a few minutes before we were in shul making a commitment to working on ourselves, and here we are immediately faced with our first challenge. I believe that this might be the hardest part of Rosh Hashanah. This is the day when we act like and try to create the person we want to be in the coming year.

By Rabbi Andrew Markowitz


Rabbi Andrew Markowitz is the associate rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn.

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