Painting by Yoram Raanan.
(photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)
As the sun sets on Sunday, we will be at the threshold of a new year. We celebrate the beginning of the year with two days of Rosh Hashana, literally meaning “the head of the year.”
If we examine the name of the holiday, we note that it does not just symbolize the beginning of a new year.
The holiday is not called “Beginning of the Year” but, rather, “Rosh (Head) of the Year.”
The head is not just the beginning of the body.
When we look at the human body, we can start at the feet and look up. But it is clear to all that the head is the most important part of the human body, the organ that influences and administers everything. The head is the boss; all is determined there. And so is Rosh Hashana; it is not only the beginning of the year but also the day of most significance, which influences us for the entire year.
How does the first day of the year become the “head” of the entire year? The sages of the Midrash guided us on how we should deal with our personal advancement and how we should implement it and succeed at it. They chose a figurative and unique way to express a great and significant idea. According to the sages, God says: “Open for Me an opening the size of the eye of a needle, and I will open for you an opening the size of a hall.”
Usually, man expects to achieve his advancement on his own with each accomplishment his own doing.
But our sages taught us that it is difficult to advance as we should, based on our own expectations of ourselves as well as those from heaven, with the meager resources available to us. Therefore, the right way to look at our personal advancement is to open a small opening, to take one step powerfully, and God will worry about advancing us forward and opening openings the size of a hall.
But the phrasing of this saying deserves further examination.
Why did our sages compare that same small opening to the eye of a needle? In comparison to a wide opening – the size of a hall – it would have been more appropriate to refer to a narrow opening such as a crack or hole in the wall. What connection is there to a needle? The hint our sages gave us with these few words carries a very important message. A needle is not used for entering or exiting. It is for sewing, for connecting things. If so, the opening God is asking for is an opening of connection, connection to tradition, connection to the chain of generations, connection to the people of Israel. When we forge this connection, God will open for us a wide opening, the size of a hall.
Likewise, we can understand the essence of Rosh Hashana in comparison to the other days of the year.
When a person opens an electricity box, he sees hundreds of wires intertwined and tangled together. He might ask himself, “What are all these wires for?” But the truth is that each wire leads to a different place, and if one particular wire were gone, a house or outlet would not get electricity. The connection is the heart of the matter. Without it, light cannot exist to illuminate and bring warmth.
In the human body, the head serves the same purpose.
All the organs connect to the brain in a tangle of connections. If one of them gets disconnected, at least one organ will cease to function.
The Jewish year also has a day to which all other days are connected. This is Rosh Hashana. Every day of the year receives its abundance, blessing and success from this day at the beginning of the year – Rosh Hashana.
Our role, on Rosh Hashana specifically as well as on every day of the year, is to connect, to sew the days of the year to Rosh Hashana; to spread the effusive light of Rosh Hashana over each day of the entire year.
If we do this, God will grant us an abundance of blessing and success the size of the opening of a hall, through Rosh Hashana to all the days of the year. The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.