Earth Etude for Elul 6 – Today the World is Born
by Rabbi David Seidenberg
On Rosh Hashanah we hear the shofar and call out, "Hayom Harat Olam"!
"Today is the birthday of the world; today the world is born."
So says the liturgy according to most readings. And this birthday is not just one of celebration: "Today the world stands in judgment." These two motifs alone should give us pause today to consider what we are doing to the planet, to how we can restore the balance of the atmosphere, the balance of the waters and the air, of the forests and plains, the ocean and the continents.
But let's look more closely at these words, to see what they can teach us.
'Harah' means pregnancy, conception or gestation. Not birth, but the process which leads up to birth. If we wanted to say "the birth of the world" we would say "leidat ha'olam". 'Olam' can mean world, but if we wanted to say "the conception of the world," we would say "harat ha-olam." 'Olam' really means eternity, from the root that means "hidden," or more precisely, the infinite that is hidden, that is beyond our limited perception.
So 'Harat Olam' means very literally, "pregnant with eternity", or "eternally pregnant." The day of Rosh Hashanah is pregnant with eternity.
What deeper evocation could one find of this wondrous and miraculous creation than "eternally pregnant," always bringing forth new lives, new creatures, even new species? Always dynamic, growing; balanced not like a pillar on its foundation, but like a gyroscope, turning and turning. What higher praise of the Creator? What greater potential in this moment, than for it to be "pregnant with insights, with hopes, that are as great as eternity"?
Jeremiah said, "Vat'hi li imi kivri v'rachmah harat olam / Let my mother be my grave and her womb be pregnant eternally." (20:17) This is the source of the expression "harat olam." On a very personal level, this verse is an expression of Jeremiah's profound grief. In Job, however, our planet is imagined as a womb, as in, "yam b'gicho meirechem yeitzei / when the sea gushed forth from the womb." (38:8) Jeremiah's lament, applied to the earth, becomes one of the truest and most loving sentences in the Tanakh. This earth is a mother to us and it is our grave; it is eternally pregnant, and from our deaths will come new life and new lives.
When we hear the shofar and call out, "Hayom harat olam!" may we find hope, may we find courage, may we find blessing, in this moment on this planet filled with birth and death, pregnant with eternity.
"Hayom harat olam." This day births new intentions, conceives new possibilities. Today is our day, today we are alive on this planet, "Chayim kulchem hayom." Today our choices will gestate the future, for our children, and for the children of every species upon the earth.
"Hayom t'amtzeinu." Today you will find courage. "Hayom t'varcheinu." Today you will be blessed. "Hayom ticht'veinu l'chayim tovim." Today you will be inscribed to live.
"Hayom im b'kolo tishma'u." Today, if you will listen to the Voice.
Rabbi David Seidenberg is the creator of neohasid.org, and a teacher of Jewish thought and spirituality. He is one of the foremost scholars in the world on Judaism and ecology, and his first book on ecology and Kabbalah is coming out this coming year. He has smikhah from both JTS and Reb Zalman.