Hayom Harat Olam — a meditation on the Earth for Rosh Hashanah

According to the tradition, the creation of the world was completed on Rosh Hashanah. In the traditional liturgy, this is reflected in the idea that the world itself is reborn. After we hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we call out the words "Hayom Harat Olam!" meaning, "Today is the birthday of the world! Today the world is born!"

But this birthday is not just one of celebration. The line we add after "Hayom Harat Olam" is "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.

"Today the world is born" — so says the liturgy according to most translations. But let's look more closely at the words "Hayom Harat Olam" to see what they can teach us.

"Harah" or "Harat" 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". And "olam" can mean world, but if we wanted to say "the conception of the world," we would add the definite article and say "harat ha-olam." "Olam" by itself 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, "Let my mother be my grave and her womb be pregnant eternally / v'rachmah harat olam." (20:17) This is the scriptural 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, "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." "Today," the day of Rosh Hashanah, we birth new intentions and conceive new possibilities. Today is our day, today we are alive on this planet, as we say in the liturgy, "All of you alive today / Chayim kulchem hayom." Today our choices will gestate the future, for our children, and for the children of every species upon the Earth.

We pronounce blessings on ourselves at the end of the Rosh Hashanah service, blessing about "today." We shout and sing: "Hayom t'amtzeinu." "Today you will find courage." "Hayom t'varcheinu." "Today you will be blessed."

And the Psalms say: "Hayom im b'kolo tishma'u." "Today, if you will listen to the Voice." Let us listen to all the voices crying out, the voice of the Earth, and the voices of every creature, and hear in them the divine Voice.

On Rosh Hashanah, as we really listen to the shofar, may new feelings and intentions be birthed within us. Then we will know what it means when we receive the blessing, finally: "Hayom ticht'veinu l'chayim tovim." "Today you will be inscribed into life."

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