Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Beyond the High Holidays

The Torah is a God-given guidebook on how to run the race of life.

Continued from previous page

Life may be viewed as a spiritual race. Rosh Hashanah serves as the starting- and finishing- line. The track is littered with all sorts of obstacles and diversions. Your running mate is none other than yourself. … Rosh Hashanah is a time for us to reflect upon how far we are lagging behind our potential. It is a time for us to recognize and analyze our errors; and to plan our strategy for minimizing the gap between who-we-are and who-we-can-be for the following lap to the race.

An obvious question that remains is: Why was the anniversary of the creation of man, rather than the very beginning of Creation (and thus the beginning of time), chosen to be Rosh Hashanah? The answer relates to the very nature of the day described above.

Man is considered by the Torah to be the crown of Creation. Everything else was created to provide man with the environment and tools that enable him to fulfill his purpose in this world. Our sages teach us that man was created last to show that if he lives up to his potential, all else was created for him; but if he does not, he is considered to be so lowly that even a flea was worthy of being created before him.

God created man to express His will in this world. God’s desire and goal is that man should become aware of the duality of his nature; rise above and harness the physical, animalistic part of his being and use its energy to make the physical world more spiritual. The task of a Jew is to transform mundane physical acts and objects into receptacles for spirituality; to reveal that the finite, physical world is not antithetical to Godliness, but can be used as a vehicle to demonstrate God’s infinity and majesty. All of this can be achieved by studying and implementing the Instruction Manual (the Torah), provided by The Creator Himself.

One of the refrains of the moving Rosh Hashanah liturgy is the phrase “Hayom haras olam; Hayom ya’amid bamishpat kol yetsurei olamim.” Roughly translated, this means: “Today is the birthday of the world; today He will judge all the creatures of the worlds.” This in fact is a mistranslation. The word “haras” is more precisely used to refer to gestation (pregnancy) rather than birth. The “birth” or creation of mankind on Rosh Hashanah was really the conception of mankind. God was giving us the potential or the chance to complete our own development process.

It is thus extremely fitting that on the day that God gave mankind the opportunity to achieve greatness, man’s achievement (or lack thereof) is judged and evaluated.

So there you have it. Rosh Hashanah was the beginning of timekeeping for mankind. It was and continues to be the moment when our spiritual stopwatch started ticking, when man was presented with the challenge of his purpose. The shofar that we heard this past Rosh Hashanah sounded the stopping and restarting of that spiritual stopwatch.

As we now move into the year and our race begins, let us consider our mistakes of the past year and plan for the event ahead. Let us take the inspiration from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the spiritual energy of Sukkot, which is approaching, and face the coming event with courage and determination.

This article was originally published in the Jewish Learning Experience’s 2001 newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 1.

To read more articles about Torah, visit the JLE Web site
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