Rosh HaShanah launches the process of the Yamim Noraim - the Ten Days of awe that lead to boxing round two of our struggle for a balanced life, personal growth and favorable judgment in 5768. The moving and intriguing aspect of this year is that it is a shemittah one, a time of remittance of debts and resting for the land. In both cases, the problem resembles a quest that can only be unsolved. It would apparently be much harder to release debts than to fictively sell land to Muslims and Christians that would infringe the rule allowing the grounds to rest for one full year, a sabbatical year.
This sounds more like North American brain-storming need for a year break out of daily concerns rather than the essence of Judaism: the earth, that nourishes its inhabitants and far more than these residing people because of world trading of produce, Eretz Israel, and no other grounds on Earth - this is the point - are entitled to take a break. This should allow Jews and other inhabitants of the Land understanding the value of our days.
The same aspect should be considered with regards to money and pending debts. The wealthiest countries of the world - the industrial rich ones as the G8 spend their time and funds in redeeming the poor countries, wiping out the debts of undeveloped or even rich countries. Strangely enough the United States, France, Germany and other members of this G8 also ask for remittance of their debts on a regular basis. In Israel, this implies something else: we all would "like to live in a rich man's world" as Group Abba swings it almost three shemittot. I too often meet with people, in particular newcomers, who drastically changed their living standards upon their arrival in Israel and dramatically fell from the bottom of their often renewed financial baskets to some street or cave surviving system. It is amazing and quite an interrogation to become squatters in Eretz Israel for a one year period, provided that we do trust the land will legally be returned to pious Jews. Shemittah implies a sort of salvation that surpasses all available gambling games. For the poor it does involve that “in God we trust” our lives.
Where else in the world, usually fascinated or burdened by fate and bad luck, can we hear that “it is possible to correct the future” for the small people and Land of Israel that are like a “pilot plant”? This shows that we are duly inspirited from Above, beyond all kinds of parties, blessings or curses because we are indeed an old-new – ancient-renewing nation that only can look forward as our ancestors did. Any Israeli should be able to say that the sound of the shofar for two major feasts falling on a Shabbat: New Year and the Day of Atonement would activate and energize them to envision all ways of repairing the future with much vitality.
This is the language of faith, of the Jewish faith that precisely does not belong to any Jewish or non-Jewish first or second cousin-like related believers. Faith or thinking postures full of authentic, playful doubts show the form of the talent that is sealed in our history for the best of life. This is also how faith started: we have a siddur – standard usual prayer-book for common days and a machzor – a special prayer-book for the cycle of a specific Feast or series of connected Festivals. “Siddur” definitely tracks back to “order, arrangement, successive order” while, by a sort of contrast, “machzor” marches in the traces of a revolving move that recurrently moves ahead, back and forth, but always looks ahead. Indeed, time is not arranged as a successive and repeatedly unchanged motto. Nonetheless, we know that something happened at some starting point that develops daily and cycles ahead of us showing a real connection between God and humankind.
Franz Kafka is maybe the typical Jew full of “angst/anxiety”, imprisoned in A Jewish Prague city made of Czech (Kavka = Jackdaw), peculiar German speech, some Yiddish and a personal dream to settle in Palestine. The Jews of Prague – before World War II – strongly contributed envisioning the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel. But, on Yom Kippur’s eve, the young Franz regarded his father with fear and some distrust. He could show to the boy the Hebrew line that was chanted but would not read it. Curiously, we are still strongly embattled in the same ritualized situation. We would know ton of pious words to cry to God, but we would often utter them without paying attention.
Rosh HaShanah implies that we start to read the Chumash* * (Five Books of Moses) from the beginning, i.e. Bereishit / Genesis. It is good and fundamental that we recall the shaping of all the creation, creatures, vegetables, animals and humans. Till the shaping of Eve, God and Adam had a one-way relationship: God spoke; Adam did give a name to his environmental realm. He would not ask for a partner. On the other hand, God understood that Adam was alone. And therefore, he could repair his future by creating Eve. Now, the point is that there is a delightful, frankly tasteful verse in: “(Adam and Eve) heard the sound (Qol) of Elokim having a walk in the garden at (the time of) the evening breeze (“leruah hayom”); and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Bereishit 3:8). It was a time when God was getting some fresh air… not really hanging out. But He was having a break, which also means that the day was breaking, cooling down. “The cooling air of the day = evening, dusk” conceived and generated wisdom (Gen. Rabba 15, 22) and “a praying spirit” (Berachot 31a). And then the encounter: God and the two human beings start a real talk, the first one: “I am naked (arum)”, says Adam. “Who told you were naked? – “The woman whom you gave to be with me” – “The serpent, added the woman”. This was the first real talk based on apparent punishment only. Surprisingly, this is the original point of every liturgy and prayer.
This is first direct relationship that connects God to the humans. It should be noted that the contact seeker is God Himself. “Ayyekkah – How, where now (are you)” echoes, as we know, the cry of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah’s Lamentations: Eychah. Say that we would hardly replace our “hi!, Hey!, Hello!” or “Eyfo at/ah? – Where are you?” by “Eyyekkah!”. We do think sometimes we are like gods. No, in Arabic “Wen inte? – where are you?” is also parallel to Modern Hebrew: “How are you doing?” ”Hi” is rather Germanic (“hei”, Gr. “aia”; comp. Russian: “aga”) and lately spread through Kansas Indian dialect. Anyway, this event is considered by the Roman Catholic and the Protestant Churches as the major event of the “fall or original sin” (Augustine of Hippo). Judaism considers it as “chet adam harishon – sin of the first being” that corresponds to the “ancestral/initial sin” in the Eastern Orthodox Church . The Jews as the Eastern Orthodox Churches do not accept the guilt of that sin. Instead, they underscore that God said: See, the man (Haadam) became like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and live for ever” (Gen. 3:22).
The putting of the tallit gadol (great prayer shawl) and donning of the tefillin (phylacteries) in the present form of Judaism may not enable us envisioning what God did during this first dialogue with Adam and Eve. They got aware of their nakedness. “Arum” is very subtle in Hebrew: “naked, shameful, lewd” but also “prudent, deliberate, wise”: “The sane/arum has no reason to walk with the fool” (Pessikta Shim’u 118b). And thus He clothed them. This is what we do when we put on the tallit gadol. The Eastern Orthodox Byzantine rite has it in a peculiar way: normally, before he starts the celebration, the bishop goes in the middle of the church wearing only a cassock. It indicates that he is “naked” and simply clothed by God. He will progressively add different garments that “clothe” him as to disappear and give way to God’s glory. The garments are very similar to those of the High Priest described in the Book of Leviticus.
God cried out: “ayyekkah – where now, how!” when the breeze allows the day making a transition to night and the upcoming hours when light will shine again, according to the different time zones. “How” and “now, there (“ko”)” strongly pronounced in Hebrew by the redundantly stressed consonants. Dialogues always require overcoming strong emotional feelings or individual anxiety, stress. Indeed, God is the Master of the Universe, the Bore HaKol Yachol - the Creator of all things. But, by creating the worlds and our planet where human beings showed progressively, He entered in a unique sort of conversation. “Davening” from Yid. “davenen” is certainly rooted in French “divin (divine service)” but may be linked to “davat’: davai= give!, okay so what!, go on! (or stop it, as you prefer!)”. God called, Adam and Eve responded. This is why, in the Jewish tradition, as well as in the Orthodox, Catholic and Christian tradition too, the day starts at the end of the previous day, by the time of the breeze when God’s walk launched the initial talk with the first couple and the snake. There are now “Jewish watches” that automatically switch at sunset to the following Hebrew date.
We might presume that there was no time expansion, no time schedule or zones in the Gan Eden. Interestingly, the dialogue will start with the birth of Adam and Eve’s children: Cain and Abel and the launching of birthing, i.e. generation, which means history in Hebrew.
Praying will develop along this reciprocal attitude: God longs after the humans and their wellbeing. Humankind stands in a contact that gives consistency to time and years: “Evening and morning and at noon “asichah – I shall converse, have a talk” and “veehemeh - cry aloud” with and to the Lord and He will hear my voice” (Tehillim 55:17).
(**) Interestingly, we are rarely conscious of the fact that new readings are not limited to the Torah but also include the "haftarot - texts from the Books of the Prophets" and the "Megillot-Scrolls" for specials Festivals plus a permanent renewal of the Tehillim-Psalms...