Rosh Hashana for humans

Let us hope that this new year will deepen the awareness and sensitivity, between us and ourselves, and those around us.

Woman blows shofar 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Woman blows shofar 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 they are.
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Click for more JPost High Holy Day features
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).
This 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 toward others.
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 forward.
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.