“Today is the conception of the world. Today, [God] makes it stand in judgment, perhaps as children, perhaps as slaves.” — “היום הרת עולם. היום יעמיד במשפט, אם כבנים, אם כעבדים.”
–Meditation following Shofar blowing on Rosh HaShanah
There is but one commandment on Rosh HaShanah, to hear the sound of the Shofar, that raw, emotionally complex, array of sounds that evokes…
military triumph over danger;
the hyperventilating wailing and the despondent sobbing of a mother whose son — (even a son who is our foe, such as Sisera) will not return home;
the terror of Isaac, inches from death at his father’s blade, redeemed with the ram through whose horn we echo his inevitable cries;
the alarm to “Wake up, sleepers, from your sleep! And slumberers, arise from your slumber!” from our sleepwalking lives.
Everything else on Rosh HaShanah is unpacking the urgent voices in the Shofar.
Our first response? Hayom Harat ‘Olam: Today is the conception of the world, the day of infinite possibility. We often associate this with the tradition that the world was created on Rosh HaShanah (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 27a), which we assert in our other liturgical statement that “This is the day, the beginning of Your creation, a memorial of the first day” — “זה היום תחילת מעשיך, זכרון ליום ראשון” (introduction to Zikhronot in Musaf), and hint at by reading of the births of Yitzchak and Shemuel to previously barren mothers, Sarah and Chanah.
But some scholars, such as Rabbis Arthur Waskow and David Seidenberg, argue that Hayom Harat ‘Olam is not a description of history, but a forward-pointing existential statement: “Today is pregnant with eternity”: the cries and anguish themselves, the fear, the loss, the danger — they are pregnant with eternal possibility and vitality. What do we make of our lot?
Jewschool wishes everyone a new year pregnant with eternity — a year of honest confrontation with danger, of attuning our ears to shrill cries everywhere and awakening from our sleepwalking. Personally, I will once again be leading High Holiday davvening in New York City, at the flagship independent, egalitarian minyan, Kehilat Hadar. Along with Aaron Kasman, Yossi Hoffman, and Rabbi Julia Andelman leading prayer, and guest scholars Dena Weiss and Rabbi Jason Rubenstein teaching inspiring Torah, and with the all-hands-on-deck voices of all present, we will try to break through our barriers, to acknowledge that prayer, to be prayer, must be dangerous, that we are all in it together, and that prayer as such can lead us into the birthing room of that eternal possibility. If you are in New York or can be, if you are still thinking about your High Holiday plans, please join us for some or all of the holidays. Your presence matters, these prayers matter, the day matters, life matters.