Rise Up to a New Cycle
by Mauricio Quintero and Alejandro Alvarado
Rosh Hashanah (רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה) is a commemorative day during which God gives us the opportunity to rise up. We should not confuse Rosh Hashana, (literally the head of the year) with the first of Nisan which our Creator calls the first month of the year. Why does God allow us to rise up? Because during the next few days until Yom Kippur (during the so-called Yamim Norayim- Terrible Days- יָמִים נוֹרָאִים) we can approach our Creator through introspection of our actions and thoughts and finally through Teshuvah (תשובה. Teshuvah is a cycle like a water cycle, which is constant, beginning with the rise of steam, returning to earth as rain from heaven and then rising again. Just as Teshuva is like the water cycle, we should not only practice it at this time of year, rather we should consistently perform inner reflection throughout the year.
The Torah also brings us closer to God, and it should be like a song to us, as we read Eitz Chaim in our Siddur..: “it is a tree of life for those who take hold of it”. What is the Torah for us? It is an instrument that brings us closer to the Eternal, to return to Him, that is, to do Teshuvah.
The renewal must be daily, and at Rosh Hashanah, when the religious year begins, although our Torah teaches us that it is better not to make vows if however, we do choose to make resolutions, it would be wise to choose to be in closer contact with the Almighty. Likewise, the sound of the Shofar (שׁוֹפָר) calls us to reflection and to connect with Him.
Some rabbis say that the Shofar is made from the horn of a dead animal, which symbolizes that we must submit our animal nature to draw closer to the Bore Olam. It is my wish for all of you, including myself, that we begin this new cycle with the resolve to be better and to pursue the purpose for which we were called.
According to our sages, we celebrate three special days at this Shabbaton,: Yom Teruá (the sounding of the Shofar יוֹם תְּרוּעָה), Yom Hazikaron (the Day of remembrance – יוֹם הַזִּכָּרוֹן -) and Rosh Hashanah (the new year commemorating the creation of man). On Yom Teruá the most important mitzvah is “remember that the Bore Olam is our King.” Saying that Bore Olam is our King has two implications:
1- We are His servants, that is, we live under His rules, His regulations, His ordinances. We, as loyal citizens can either decide to follow his commandments or not, as rebellious citizens. Being loyal is, as Rabbi Percy says, is following the Ten Commandments or Principles and practicing them; while being rebellious is following the instructions of men supplanting what the Eternal has given us: His Torah.
2- As our Judge, the Creator can test us or judge us. Being tested does not imply that He measures how much we know or do not know, rather it implies re-living past experiences and by doing so, it shows us how much we have grown and deepened in life. When we walk with our Creator, we take two steps forward and one step back where life becomes an upward spiral.
At Yom Teruah, listening to the Shofar is a call to awaken our consciences, to wake up from lethargy, sleep, comfort, disinterest, laziness, or indifference. And the consciousness that we refer to is that of Irat HaShamayim, the consciousness of really knowing what our position is with respect to God, as well as knowing that we are special to Him.
Our sages say that at Yom Hazikaron we remember the merits of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. In Bereshit 21 and 22 the name of God, Elohim – אֱלֹהִים is repeated in all these verses: 21: 4, 21: 6, 21:12, 21:17; 21:19 -21; 21:23; 22: 1; 22: 7. Unfortunately, the understanding of its reference to the Eternal is lost in the translation. Elohim, as Rabbi Johnson teaches, can imply: “The greatest God, gods, powerful, rulers or judges.” If we apply it to these verses, it seems as if the Almighty was “judging as King” in all these life experiences of Abraham and his family, and in the end, Abraham received God’s approval when we read in Bereshit 22: 12 “because now I know how fearful of God you are because you did not deny your son, your only one, to Me” and in a “coincidental” way God also provides a ram, as Alejandro said, a potential Shofar, and thanks to the merit of Abraham, we are here today.
Regarding Rosh Hashana, in Spanish, there are two very similar words in his writing: “Miel y Hiel” “Honey and Gall”. Honey is sweet, but gall is bitter. We pray that our “apple” will be smeared with honey and not with gall, which is achieved by being aware of the fear of God. This is a bittersweet year for the community, due to the situation that is known to all, but both the sweet and the bitter comes from God, as is written in Job 2:10 “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” May the Eternal help us to keep guard over our tongues so as not to sin against Heaven. We close by remembering a song that talks about this double feeling, Al Kol Eleh על כל אלה when we hear:
“Every bee that brings the honey, needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.
Don’t uproot what has been planted so our bounty may increase
Let our dearest wish be granted: Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.”
Shana Tova Umetukah, Happy and Sweet New Year!