Susan Elkodsi — Long Island Herald
This Sunday evening, Jews all over the world will mark the beginning of the new year of 5776, with many in synagogue hearing the familiar melodies that call us to prayer.
Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “head of the year,” begins a time of reflection over the past year, and of looking forward to the coming year. We’re familiar with the January “new year’s resolutions,” which typically fuel the diet and exercise industry and cause a spike in sales of self-help books, and many view Rosh Hashanah in a similar way. Much of the holiday’s liturgy focuses on the concept of teshuva, which is usually translated as “repentance.”
However, the word teshuva also means “turning.” It might involve a “turning around” of negative habits or activities, and it might mean a “turning towards” more positive ways of living our lives. Either way, it requires that we look within ourselves, and look at the world around us as well.
What might we do differently, or better, this coming year? What accomplishments do we feel good about? Did we do something last year that we’re not proud of, and for which we need to make amends? Did we do our best to live up to our potential, and if not, did we come close, or try to? In short, what do we want to stop, start or continue?
Rosh Hashanah begins the Ten Days of Repentance, which end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On Yom Kippur, we ask for God’s forgiveness for our sins against God. Hopefully we have already asked for forgiveness from those people whom we might have hurt during the past year, and forgiven those who may have hurt us.
Our tradition teaches that Rosh Hashanah is also Yom Harat Olam, loosely translated as “The Birth-day of the World.” This is the time of the year when we believe God created the universe, the world, and humanity. It makes sense that Creation would have happened at this time of year — Autumn is a time of renewal of sorts; we harvest our summer crops and plant winter ones. We take stock of what we have, both physically and spiritually. Linking creation to our own lives reminds us that we humans were created to be God’s partners on earth, to make the world a better place for all.
One of the most famous rabbinic teachings is that God created a single human being — Adam — from whom all humans are descended. Why? As with just about everything else in Judaism, there’s more than one answer.
One answer is that it reminds us that we are all equal; by being descended from a single individual, no one can claim that his or her lineage is better than another’s.
A second answer tells us that just as Adam, at one time, was the entire population of the world; therefore, we need to see each individual as the entire population of the world. The Talmud goes on to tell us that, “Whoever saves a single life, it is considered as though he has saved an entire world.”
God is invoked by many names, depending on how we’re addressing God, and what role God is playing in our lives. When we chant, Avinu, Malkeinu we speak of “Our Father, Our King,” which spans a range of emotions from a compassionate, caring parent to a sovereign ruler, a supreme judge before whom we must pass muster.
During the High Holidays, we want God to arise from the heavenly throne of judgment and take a seat on the heavenly throne of mercy and compassion. Our prayers and thoughts are directed both inward and outward; we acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses, and we consider our behavior and actions as members of the community, the Jewish people and the world as a whole.
As we enter the new year of 5776 on the Jewish Calendar, I wish you and your loved ones, and our entire community, a year of health and happiness, joy and prosperity, and may the new year bring peace and security for all.
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi
Malverne Jewish Center