Rosh Hashanah: The Beginning of Change
Rosh Hashanah could not be coming at a better time this year. With the American Jewish community being torn between support and rejection of the Iran deal, the growing rift between supporters and opposers of the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the reemerging dispute over conversion laws between Israeli Orthodox Jews and the progressive views of the majority of American Jewry, it seems that the new year, with its customary element of introspection, could hardly be more timely.
The added woe of a looming rupture between the Obama Administration and large swaths of American Jewry of all denominations, to the point of being referred to as “warmongers,” adds further urgency to the requirement to understand where we are, how we’ve come here, and how we move forward.
The words Rosh Hashanah come from the Hebrew words Rosh Hashinui — the beginning of change. Besides food and family gatherings, Jewish festivals have profound meanings. Rosh Hashanah is not just the beginning of the Hebrew calendar, but is a symbol of renewal. It is when we begin to scrutinize ourselves and determine how we want to improve ourselves.
We taste from a fish’s head to state that we want to be the head and not the tail, meaning that we want to determine our path and not blindly follow the herd. We eat pomegranate seeds, where each seed stands for a desire we have discovered within us, and which we want to learn to use for the benefit of others, and not selfishly. And we eat an apple, the symbol of the sin (of self-centeredness), and sweeten it with honey, symbolizing learning to use even that primordial temptation altruistically.
The people of Israel coined the saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and to various degrees they implemented it until the ruin of the second Temple. All of our festivals symbolize milestones along the path of transformation from the evil inclination – namely egoism – to altruism, where we love our neighbors as ourselves.
It is written in the Mishnah and the Gemarah (and countless other texts) that the only reason why the second Temple was ruined is unfounded hatred. That is, when egoism takes over, we fall. We have been established as a nation only when we vowed to be “as one man with one heart.” When we broke that vow, we were dispersed and exiled.
No less important than our vow to be as one was the promise we received that we would be a light for the nations. But in the absence of the bond between us, what light do we emit? When we are united and project that unity, we become a light for the nations and cannot be referred to as “warmongers” because we spread unity.
Today’s biggest problem is the global mistrust we see on all levels. One by one our illusions shatter. The government cannot be trusted, as former NSA employee Edward Snowden has proven. Spouses also cannot trust each other these days, and the Ashley Madison fiasco only exposed a well known state of affairs. Who can we trust? I’ll spare you the dismal examples that answer this rhetorical question, but it is clear that we are growing increasingly alienated from each other – the opposite of the unity and brotherly love that are so vital for survival in a world where everyone depends on everyone else.
The more we pursue the current trend, the greater the pressure that will be applied on the Jews. Deep down, the world remembers that the Jews once knew the secret to proper human connection. When that memory surfaces, it is vented out as accusations that we are warmongers, manipulators, and other “compliments” that have become part of the anti-Jewish lingo.
Although we, too, are disconnected, we are the ones who can and must rekindle our unity. It is with good reason that the Jerusalem Post wrote in an editorial: “The Iran deal is a single issue that as important as it might be for all sides does not justify jeopardizing Jewish unity.” We may still be very far from unity, but here at least is a recognition of the indispensability of this unjustly derogated value.
So this Rosh Hashanah is an amazing opportunity to really make it Rosh Hashinui, and begin to change how we relate to one another. As we gather with family and friends, we must make it a point to rise above our differences and find the common goal of unity. And when we do that, the previously mentioned woes will be no more, since if you look at them, you’ll see that all of them derive from one and only origin — our overblown egos.
This year, let’s spread some honey on our overblown egos, symbolized by the apple (Hebrew: tapuach, from the word, tafuach [bloated]), and sweeten them with unity. This is all we need; this is all the world needs; and it is the key to our lasting happiness.