Rosh Hashana 5774

                                          Rosh Hashana 5774

 

        Alas, the Hebrew people, led by Judge Devorah and General Barak are at war with the Canaanites. Devorah’s attendants tell her that the Canaanite General, Sisera, is busy plundering the villages of their people and invading a womb or two while at it.  We know where the abominable evil is in this tale, so when the Hebrew maiden, Yael, sneaks into Sisera’s tent at night and puts a nail through his head, we cheer a heroine for the ages. 

      But centuries down the line, the Rabbis are trying to write a companion for the Bible that will accompany the Jewish people as they are expelled from Israel and spreading about the globe.  This Talmud needs to be a companion that will help the people survive as a culture that places the highest priority on moral caring and peace.  Why survive if we must lose our souls in doing so? 

          In the Talmud then, this story becomes one where we are not delivered a pep talk for seeking revenge, but asked to picture Sisera’s mother, standing on a balcony, watching the parade of the Canaanite soldiers returning, looking out eagerly for her son, a heart full of love… and gradually realizing with each minute and passing figure below that he is not returning… and then… she weeps… and weeps… and weeps… buckets of inconsolable, hot tears.   

      

       The Rabbis are telling us this tale of Sisera’s mother in that part of the Talmud that guides the New Year or Rosh Hashana observance.  They ask us to feel this mother’s sobs.  Let her cry register on your heart each of the hundred times you hear the short, sharp sound of the shofar’s teruah on the New Year. {T.B. Rosh Hashana 33b}

 

       In addition, our Tradition reminds us that if we follow the genealogical line of Sisera we come to the astonishing sight many years down the line of a certain son of converts to Judaism who is becoming one of the greatest teachers of Jewish history, Rebbe Akiva.  How many have been steered well by his insights.  His is the Hope we are all responsible for keeping alive: the Hope for the Messianic Era when human society is characteristically caring and at peace.

      

       The Holiday wishes to remind us that we are all brothers and sisters, a family.  Rosh Hashana marks the birthday of the world and the birthday of the original Adam and Eve {T.B. Rosh Hashana 27a}.  Who is my neighbor? The rabbis say God created only one Adam, an original androgynous human form.  Why?  For the sake of worldwide peace, for now none of us can say to someone else: the blood flowing in my veins is redder than yours, for my lineage is finer.  We are all neighbors and family.

        Darwin and Wallace of course also taught us about this common ancestor… and were bold enough to bring our line back even further, to those first organic super celled creatures.  This is the Birthday for all of us.  If we were to hear their teaching in the spirit of our tradition, we would become a bit less haughty concerning our relations with our animal and plant brethren.  God’s truth herds us away from arrogance in relation to all others.

      

       The Original Soul of Life is an ‘Us’ that includes all. The Creation Story celebrated in Rosh Hashana is unique amongst creation stories for it does not feature epic family conflicts, such as the Greek’s where Zeus defeats his father Cronus who had defeated his father Uranus, or the Babylonians where the chaos monster, Tiamat, gives birth to a generation of deities whom she soon declares war on before being slain.

        In addition to the tears of Sisera, and our common and nonviolent origin, on Rosh Hashana we are reminded of the Jewish New Year.  So, how ridiculous is this number—5774—in light of our living on a planet that is over 4 billion years old and coming from an ancestry that even in its most narrowed Hominid sense reaches back at least 70,000 years?  Maimonides tells us that good science cannot be contrary to Torah, truth doesn’t oppose truth, but how can we reconcile this good Torah with this good science?

      God operates from a perspective where the gravitational impact on time is the size and mass of the entire universe.  The clock at the edge of the universe moves rather slowly in contrast to a clock on earth.  One minute of God time measured from the very edge of the physical universe could equal 700,000 years earth time. 

         Rosh Hashana marks the finishing of the Sixth Day of Creation with the creation of humankind.  Rosh Hashana marks the transition of time itself, the shift of relative perspective from that used to measure the first five and half days, when God had assumed responsibility for measuring time, until now, when humans are ready to share and accept responsibility.  

      On Rosh Hashana, we are reminded of the first Teaching God gives the Hebrews as they are readying to exit Egypt.  ‘I taught Adam and Chava how to keep time, and they passed the knowledge on to Abe and Sarah, and Jacob and Rachel and Leah.  But I understand you’ve forgotten, so I’ll remind you,’ God says.  ‘And then, note it well.  Slaves can’t manage their own time, but now you are going to be free!  Now you are going to be My partner.’

       ‘What’s a partner?’ the stunned slaves asked.

      “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone.  If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you.  We must not stop doing the work of creation on this Eighth Day We are living in.  You are my co-creators.  We are working towards being able to truthfully say at the day’s end, ‘Good,’ and perhaps even, ‘Ah, yes, very good!’  Come now, we’ve a lot to do.”

      So the Hebrews learned to climb hills to seek the molad, the moment when the crescent moon reappears in the sky, just as the sun is setting, to seek the moon. “There, in the west, just behind the sun, see that tiniest sliver of a crescent!  Light the signal fires, sound the shofar, the time has come!”

      Now we are responsible for time, called to fill it with soulful living, with caring relations, with peace so wild for wishing, with goodness of heart.  This does not mean God has disappeared from the scene, for that’s impossible, but when we lift the Shofar and blow the Tekiah, having seen the new moon, there is a Touch happening as a torch of time is passed and in that Touch, there is a godly good reason for living being invoked.

        

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