Susan and I wish you all a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a sweet and wonderful year, as we celebrate Rosh HaShana, the head of the year 5774. Our office and store will be closed as we observe this holyday starting this Wednesday evening and continuing through Saturday 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time. This week’s Ask the Rabbi will go out Saturday night after that time.
This past Shabbat I enjoyed serving as guest rabbi at an Orthodox Jewish congregation of lovely people in Denver. Since the High Holy days of the Jewish calendar begin with Rosh HaShana (literally “Head-of-The-Year”) this Wednesday night, greetings flew to and fro. “Shana Tova,” (have a good year) some folks said; others wished their friends, “Have a happy new year.”
Being happy is meant to be a purposeful decision we make. Being happy is our decision and our responsibility. It’s not the responsibility of our parents, friends or family. Be happy, God commands us, regardless of circumstance. (Deuteronomy 16:15)
To my Denver audience I explained that on both occasions when the Torah mentions Rosh Hashana, it fails to speak of new year.
Speak to the Children of Israel saying, in the seventh month, on the first
of the month, you shall have a
rest day, a remembrance with shofar blasts, a holy gathering.
In the seventh month, on the first day
of the month, you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no work,
it is a day of shofar sounding for you.
The day is identified only as a day for blowing the shofar, a ram’s horn.
The Rosh HaShana synagogue service revolves around one hundred blasts of the shofar. In general, Judaism seems to value sound above sight. Music is more esteemed than the visual arts.
In fact, the Torah warns against trusting eyes, much preferring what you hear to what you see.
…that you don’t detour after
your heart and your eyes,
which incline you to go astray.
…hear, Oh Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears today…
God indicates that ears are a better avenue for trustworthy information than eyes. But there is another difference between ears and eyes.
What happens if we press ‘pause’ while watching a movie? We see a freeze-frame—a still picture with actors frozen in whatever postures they were in at the instant that ‘pause’ was pressed.
We can slice an instant of video, disconnected from the moments before and after and still retain a meaningful visual image.
However, with sound it is different. If we press ‘pause’ while listening to a CD of a song or a speech all we hear is silence. Sound is meaningless when disconnected from the moments before and after.
Rosh HaShana is also known as, “The Day of Memory.” Nobody with zero memory could hear a tune. All he’d hear is a sequence of disconnected notes. Despite having no memory, the same handicapped human could easily see a painting, picture or statue.
Hearing also helps to connect us to others. If you had to make a horrible choice between only having sight or only having hearing, many people might instinctively choose sight. Yet ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that not hearing is a worse affliction. Blindness isolates one from things, but deafness isolates one from people.
Our ability to make sense of sound depends on continuity of time. And continuity of time is exactly what helps us be happy. Living in a sliced instant of disconnected time means that the pain, sadness or humiliation we now endure overwhelms us with its sense of permanence. We remain frozen in our agony. Hearing the shofar blasts vibrates our souls into a visceral awareness that the instant is not all-important. Tomorrow the pain will be gone, so be happy today.
Rosh HaShana does not stand as a day isolated from the rest of our year. It is a time when our prayers focus on how our own conduct impacts our connection with God, our world and with all humanity.
May God grant us all a year of good health and prosperity. And happiness? Well, that is, of course, your choice.
I don’t want to leave you with a reminder to ‘be happy’ without also offering an ancient Jewish wisdom technique for increasing happiness. Here it is: Growth. Find a program of growth and self-improvement, both physical and spiritual. I can’t help you lose weight, but I can offer you a fantastic launch pad for spiritual growth—our audio CD program, Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity.
This week’s Susan’s Musings: New Year Labor Pains
Childbirth is a routine occurrence —until it isn’t. Like marriage and birth; like illness and death, we intellectually know that thousands of people share these events on any particular day. Yet, when we are a principal participant, the world shrinks to encompass little more than ourselves. This week begins the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that during this period… READ MORE