What’s this Rosh HaShanah thang?
When the Talmud takes up Hanukkah, it begins, “Mah zot Hanukkah, What’s this Hanukkah, anyway?” The ancient Rabbis did not like its military overtones.
But they took great delight in Rosh Hashanah. It’s more than a “new year”: “Rosh” means “head” or top,” but “shanah” is from a root that means both “change” and “repetition.” Only makes sense if you think of a spiral, where a new turning grows from an older reality. Transformation.
We are gifted this year that just as Rosh Hashanah approaches, one of the key fortresses of homophobia is dissolving. We have abandoned the notion that gays and lesbians can’t make good soldiers or will ruin other soldiers. Mazeltov!! — Still to go: Legal prohibitions on same-sex marriage. It’s ironic that America affirmed that gays could kill and die before affirming they could love and marry – but it’s coming, it’s coming. Transformation!
Rosh Hashanah is special for just one reason: It is the New Moon of the seventh month (since Jewish tradition counts the first month as the spring month of Passover). In the seventh moonth and only then, we celebrate festivals of the new moon, the waxing moon, the full moon, and the waning moon.
But now I want to pick up that “seventh moonth” theme. Jewish tradition calls on us to set aside the seventh day, the seventh “moonth,” and the seventh year as time for rest, reflection, love, and joy. Bringing the human ability to do arithmetic into the dance of the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon.
The seven directions of space (left, right, forward, backward, up, down, inward! — an insight of Rabbi Shefa Gold’s) teach us the seventh direction in time: Shabbat, Inward.
I think Shabbat is the Jewish wisdom that the world most needs, at this moment of great abundance and great danger.
The Eden story reminds us that in a world of joyful abundance, we must learn self-restraint (“Eat freely, except for this one tree!”) If we let our greed shatter our self-restraint, the abundance vanishes.
But there is a remedy! In the Bible’s teaching, abundance returns after Pharaoh — Institutionalized greed — is overthrown: We celebrate with manna, and at the same time, for the first time, we celebrate Shabbat!
The deepest wisdom of Shabbat is that self-restraint comes not with ascetic grumpiness, turning away from food, from making love, from dance and song, from joy. Shabbat comes with all these, with joy.
And that is the wisdom the world most needs today:
Between humanity and humus, earth and earthling, adam and adamah, we need the human species to act with self-restraint that is not dour down-cast but joyful dance. Shabbat!
In a world of despairing poverty and disemployment,
we need to renew the free time that renews us. Shabbat!
The Bible teaches, six days for work. But we humans have joyfully created the technology that allows us to do all our work in less than six days.
So during the past 100 years, we have struggled to affirm the five-day week; now we must establish the four-day week, and make possible that everyone who needs and wants a job shall have one.
Jobs for all, by sharing; free time for all, by sharing; decent income for all, by sharing. Shabbat!
Overwork and disemployment; consumerist addiction and wounding of the Earth; domineering violence and despairing enslavement –- each of these twins, the twin relics of idolatry.
Idolatry of Having, or the celebration of Being — Shabbat?
Idolatry of the top-down Pyramid, or joy in the Beloved Community — Shabbat?
Idolatry of the sword, the rocket, the Bomb; or the transformation of Soul-force, Satyagraha, Nonviolence — Shabbat?
I believe that in our world, our generation, Judaism has a purpose beyond itself, even beyond its own renewal. I believe that we must and can find allies in the other great Spirit-Traditions of the world to heal each wounded human being and all the wounds between our species and our planet.
And I believe that the wisdom of —
· Shabbat and the only whole book of the Bible that goes with it—the Song of Songs, the Song of Love among human beings and the Earth, which we are taught to read on every Friday night;
· the Sabbatical Month when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret/ Simchat Torah;
· the Sabbatical Year (Shemittah, the Year of Release);
· and the wisdom that we glimpse the vision of the Yovel/ Jubilee, the 50th Year of Home-bringing —
I believe that the vision the Jewish People can share with all the Earth, can warble into the Planetary Melody, is the wisdom and practice of all these aspects of Shabbat!
Transformation. A Transformative Judaism committed to join with others to Heal and Transform our deeply wounded Earth.
Not to go back but to go forward. We are living in the midst of universal earthquake because all the rigid old structures are crashing, because we need new, more organic patterns for living with each other. Pharaohs are falling; it is time for Manna and Shabbat.
May our new year be filled with joy, with good action, with transformation, and with our being able to taste fully the sweetness of creation!
— Shalom, salaam, shantih, peace — Arthur