Monday, August 15th | 18 Av 5782

September 8, 2011 3:19 am

It’s a New Year, Choose Life

avatar by Moshe Averick

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins the night of Sep. 28, 2011

Jewish Law tells us that upon meeting a friend whom you have not seen for 12 months, one  is required to make the blessing, “Blessed is he that brings the dead back to life.”

On the surface this blessing strikes me as being quite odd. Frankly, if I was sitting with the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) some 2500 years ago composing the formulations for different blessings, I don’t think that particular angle would be the one that would come to mind in order show my joy and gratitude at seeing an old friend.

One of the classic Talmudic commentators, Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edeles (known as the Maharsha, 1555-1631) offers an astonishing explanation for the blessing:  In those 12 months the friend had to have passed through a Rosh Hashanah. He explains that the life-force (Hebrew: chiyus) that sustains a human being is given out by God for only 12 months at a time, from Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah. Every year it must be renewed by Divine decree. Since the previous year’s life-force of the friend had ended before the last Rosh Hashanah and was bestowed anew by God, he truly is like one who has come back from the dead. For the Jew, this understanding of Rosh Hashanah is the bracing and quite frightening reality, not simply a poetic metaphor. I was once told that the great Israeli Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, upon conclusion of his weekly public lecture on Jewish thought and mysticism in Jerusalem, announces: “If God decrees life, we will meet at the same time next week.”  With this in mind we begin to understand why Rosh Hashanah is called one of the Days of Awe.

Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the creation of the first human being with a Godly soul. This portal of spiritual energy is available to all of us at this time of the year. Our lives from the past year end, and we are re-created and infused with new life. It is a re-enactment of the supreme kindness and the greatest act of love that flows from God to his creation: Life itself. The only thing that God asks of us for this gift is that it be used properly. This is the judgment that takes place on Rosh Hashanah. Anyone who has actually been in a court of law and stood in front of a judge knows the feeling of having your future totally in the hands of another. It is scary and dreadful, and that is certainly part of the authentic experience of Rosh Hashanah. However, our Sages tell us that if we cry out sincerely and re-align our true course in life by accepting God as our King, we can celebrate confidently that we will be judged favorably.

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Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. In Jewish tradition the months are counted from Nissan (the month in which Pesach falls). Tishrei is the seventh month from Nissan; it represents a type of culmination, like Shabbat, which is the seventh day of the week. One must prepare for Shabbat on the sixth day, Friday. The spiritual elevation of Shabbat is directly proportional to the energy and dedication that go into the preparation on Friday. The sixth month from Nissan is Elul, the current month in the Jewish calendar. Elul is the special time to prepare for Rosh Hashanah; it is a time to increase prayer and re-dedicate ourselves to our true purpose in life. If we prepare properly now, we can anticipate an exhilarating transformation of our whole being, a re-birth, a new life, a new existence. God should help us all to Choose Life for the coming year. Shana Tovah

(Based on a lecture by Rabbi Efraim Wachsman)

Rabbi Moshe Averick, is author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website at

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