Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When the shofar calls out, wake up and be renewed because there is hope for our future - by Dror Eydar

...Wake up and be renewed because there is hope for our future, and the rifts in our lives will give way to a loud blast of the shofar for our freedom: "Out with the old year and its curses; in with the new year and its blessings." Shanah Tovah.

Dror Eydar..
Israel Hayom..
First Published 02 October '16..

A new year doesn't start from scratch; rather it is the accumulation of its predecessors, years both good and bad.

Nor does a new beginning erase what preceded it; we begin anew with the accrued beginnings and endings of the past. Even if we didn't reach what we had hoped for, even if we didn't achieve the goals we had set for ourselves a year or two ago, we must not despair. What may seem like failure has actually created some kind of change -- our efforts have made an impression on reality, and what appears on the surface is not the same as what is happening in the depths.

We are a nation with revolutionary spiritual and moral messages, but their practical application is dependent on lengthy historical processes. There is no "quick fix." Evolution, not revolution, "the gently flowing waters of Shiloah" (Isaiah 8:6). The return to Zion also takes time. There is no need to force the matter in every way possible. And this is not just the salvation of the nation, but also salvation of the individual, the human being, his soul, his spirit and his heart. All that we haven't managed to accomplish this year, we will continue next year. Patience.


After we were exiled from our land and were distanced from it and from a healthy national life, the naturalness of the time cycle dissolved. Time lost its fullness and was reduced to only its religious aspect: Times of day (for prayers and the time-dependent mitzvot), times of the week (Shabbat and the other days), times of the year (holidays) and more. "Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has nothing in this world but the four cubits of Halachah [Jewish law] alone" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 8a). From the beginning of the year, only the Day of Judgment remains. Global judgment, which will sentence humanity and the universe to their future in the upcoming year. Fear of this judgment is thick in the air, "mysterium tremendum" (a mystery that causes man to tremble), King of Judgment. Then the shofars will be blown. "This day, the world is born anew, and all creation awaits Your judgment," (from "Hayom Harat Olam," a prayer read on Rosh Hashanah).

But we live in this good land, and during this special time, we do not feel fear, but renewal and exaltation. I have always thought it is no coincidence that the school year starts at this time. Think of the excitement we felt as students and as parents of young students beginning a new year at school. One cannot deny the gap that exists for us between the religious story and the story of nature and culture.


Indeed, with the return to Zion, the cultural treasures and the spirit of a nation that dwells in its homeland, in its natural place, also return. Many of these treasures were dormant for the duration of our stay in the Diaspora. Now that we have become established in our land, they are coming back to life. This is the secret of the special Israeli dialectic for those living in the land for which the biblical holidays were designated: The fertile tension between the sacred and the profane, between awe and defiance, between respect and chutzpah, between the fear of judgment and the joy of a new beginning, between what we are told and what we experience.

It is impossible to ignore the natural passing of time. Autumn is the interim season that separates summer and winter. The hot Israeli summer gives way, amid the stubborn resistance of disruptive heat waves, to a cooler season. The trees speak to us with new fragrances that were previously difficult to detect.


The phrase "This day, the world is born anew," from the Rosh Hashanah prayer, is understood to refer to the birth of the world, but the source of the language points to the opposite. Not renewal and rebirth, but a pregnant world with no birth in sight, that is to say, death. The prophet Jeremiah stood at the gates of Jerusalem, and later at the gates of the Holy Temple, and prophesied: "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will bring a terrible disaster on this place, and the ears of those who hear about it will ring" (Jeremiah 19:3). A government official, who did not like what Jeremiah said, beat him and chained him in stocks for a day.

The next day, when the prophet was released from his torture, he cursed his thankless role. He said that each time he asked to be freed from prophesying, it would not happen: "His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot" (Jeremiah 20:9). The prophecy was stronger than him, and any efforts to abandon it were in vain. "In vain I build a wall, in vain I shut doors" ("Eternal Meeting" by Nathan Alterman in "Stars Outside"). So he lamented the day he was born, when he was forced to prophesy the destruction of his city. He would have preferred to remain in his mother's womb forever and to die there, too. "Cursed be the day I was born ? for he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever ["harat olam" in the original Hebrew, reflecting the name of the Rosh Hashanah prayer]" (Jeremiah 20:15-17).

And from here the sages took the expression out of its terrible context and tied it to a prayer about renewal and birth. Birth lights up the day of universal judgment with hope. This is not merely a play on words, but a changing of reality. We are a nation that made a covenant with words and which believes in their ability to create worlds and to destroy them. The change to the meaning of the expression teaches us a life lesson: Sometimes we fail even before we begin because the story we tell ourselves is one of failure, of destruction, of no chance to change or to be changed. Perhaps if we tell ourselves the story in a different way, not as a story of failure but as a story of growth while dealing with difficulties and obstacles; if we take it out of its negative context and plant it in a new context, we will see that the situation is not as terrible as we thought, and that we can renew and innovate.


No, Rosh Hashanah is not only the "Day of Judgment" but also a "Delicate Day," when all creatures shake off the mourning of the Jewish month of Av and are inspired by the hope of renewal, closing stubborn windows in our lives and opening others. "This day, the world is born anew," is said in prayer, and the blowing of the shofar also speaks to this: Wake up from your exhaustion, from ideological fixations, from thoughts of despair. Wake up and be renewed because there is hope for our future, and the rifts in our lives will give way to a loud blast of the shofar for our freedom: "Out with the old year and its curses; in with the new year and its blessings." Shanah Tovah.

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