Jewish holidays generally commemorate historical events. Passover takes
us back to the time of the Exodus from Egypt, Shavuot celebrates the day the
Torah was received, and Succot commemorates either the temporary dwelling booths
or the clouds of glory in the desert. Even Yom Kippur is traditionally mentioned
as the day when the people of Israel received atonement for the sin of the
Golden Calf, which was followed by Moses’s descent from Mount Sinai holding the
second set of tablets.
However, Rosh Hashana is intrinsically different from
other holidays, as the Torah does not record any historical event which occurred
on that day. It is celebrated at the beginning of the seventh month from the
time the nation left Egypt, which marks it as a holiday in the middle of the
calendar year. It is therefore puzzling that Rosh Hashana is specifically chosen
to signify the beginning of the year.
Early sources tell us that this was
the day that Adam was created. Many nations have developed myths and legends
regarding the creation of man. What distinguishes the divine Jewish story
from the others?
In general there are two characteristics which exemplify the
biblical story of creation. The first is the fact that the creation begins with
one person. The sages explained that this fact was necessary, “so that man
should not say to his fellow, my father is greater than your father; my mother
is greater than your mother.” Arrogance and contempt toward people from
other nations or from different ethnic cultures is non-existent because all
humans stem from the same source. Respect is shown to all human beings for who
The second characteristic which appears in the story of
creation is the belief that each person is endowed with the image of God. It is
in this fashion that the Torah describes God’s instructions for the creation of
man: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
approach has tremendous moral significance. Without elaborating on the
intricate interpretations regarding the term “in the image of God,” it is
evident that the inclusion of this Godly element transforms the human into a
being who is elevated above the rest of creation. If a person is merely a
civilized animal, then no moral demands can be made of him. If man is a creature
driven by instincts alone, then we cannot require him to be responsible for his
actions. However, the Torah teaches us that man is an intelligent creature with
moral sensitivities and, in turn, demands that he shows these sensitivities
This perspective gives Rosh Hashana an entirely new
dimension. The Torah teaches that it was on this day, Rosh Hashana, that man was
created. It is therefore on this day, that we, parallel to God, are obligated to
conduct a selfanalysis for ourselves, as to what extent we live up to the
required standard and functioned as proper human beings. Have we
exercised our moral abilities? Have we honored our parents? Our spouses and our
children? Our peers?
When we listen to the sounds of the shofar we can hear our
own voices. The sound of the shofar reminds us of the approaching
judgment on Yom Kippur, as well as the everyday siren of the ambulance, both of
which represent situations where man’s life hangs in the balance. These voices
remind us of the need to listen to ourselves and our conscience and the need to
contemplate our past actions in order to make our lives more meaningful going
This question of human dignity and the standard of being created
in the “image of God” is perhaps the most fundamental question about our
country’s existence as a Jewish state. What are we doing to ensure that
immigrants from around the world feel comfortable among native Israelis? How do
we educate the younger generation about patience toward others on the roads or
on line at the supermarket? What efforts are we investing to ensure dignified
housing for families who have devoted themselves to the protection and service
of the State of Israel? How are we going to instill glorious Jewish heritage and
Jewish pride in our precious youth, who often lack the most elementary knowledge
of basic Jewish tradition?
Let us hope that this new year will deepen the
awareness and sensitivity, between us and ourselves, between ourselves and those
around us, and may we truly merit to be inscribed in the book of
life.The writer is the chairman of Tzohar Rabbis and chief rabbi of the
city of Shoham.
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