It is generally presumed that the holiday of Rosh Hashanah (celebrated this year from sundown of October 3 until sundown of October 5) is the Jewish New Year. Indeed the words Rosh Hashanah mean “head of the year.” Yet this assertion is sure to puzzle anyone with a working knowledge of the Bible, which notes on a few occasions, of which Leviticus 23:24 is the first, that this holiday takes place on the first day of the seventh month. How do you celebrate New Year in the seventh month of the year?
The answer is that there are two Jewish calendars. There is the calendar for all human history and the calendar for Jewish history. The Jewish parochial calendar begins with the month of the Exodus and the holiday of Rosh Hashanah takes place on the first day of the seventh month. The Jewish “human calendar” begins on the day of Rosh Hashanah, based on the tradition that Adam and Eve were brought into human life on that day 5766 years ago.
Thus Rosh Hashanah is not the Jewish insider’s New Year. It is the New Year of all humanity, celebrated by Jews on that day. But the celebration is modified by a shadow of trepidation. It is a day not without fear, since the belief is that each living person undergoes a review on this day to determine whether he or she will receive an additional year of life. This is why you will hear these days referred to as the Days of Awe.
Some of the lines in the liturgy — “On Rosh Hashanah it is written…who by fire and who by water…” — resonate powerfully as fires burn in California and floods persist in Louisiana and now Kansas.
Think about it. Here is a wonderful exercise, whether or not you choose to accept the notion that your next full year of life is being allotted on this day. Take the challenge, step up and offer a plan for a year’s worth of achievement. You are asking for venture capital, a year of life with which to accomplish various things. Show us why you are a worthwhile investment. Show us what we can expect by way of return.
You’re an expensive proposition, my friend. You’re knocking off, what, thirty, forty chickens a year? A head or two of cattle? Not to mention all that bread and salad and milk and eggs. We know that you love those crispy tortilla chips and those gooey caramel bars. Apple juice and orange juice and soda and tea and coffee and what’s this other item? Oh, I see, adult beverages. Whew, hitting the sauce a little heavy last year, you might want to watch that.
We have to deliver a whole mess of steel and rubber in the form of a car or you’re going to be pretty annoyed. Riding a camel like Abraham is not enough. How about a donkey like Moses? Still no good. Not even a mule like King David will do. A lot of mining and smelting and hot vats of molten steel and assembly-line machinery a block long and a lot of harried-looking guys waiting for Michael Moore to come around again for an interview: all this and more goes into enabling you to zip hither and thither in ways that your first 5650 years of ancestors could not imagine. And if you get a flat tire and are inconvenienced for half an hour, you whine as if your birthright was stolen.
Then there is all your internal machinery. Eyes whirring in rotation, ears juggling sound waves, noses breathing, mouths eating in and talking out, a regular refinery processing the nutrients out of your food and some complex piping to unload the waste. Heart bumping, lungs thumping, brain firing neurons in all directions (including a naughty thought or two, as I recall), arms churning, legs turning and soul yearning. And I suppose that on top of all that you will want your sexual equipment to work.
There is so much more that goes into making your life. Your parents, if they’re still living, your spouse, your children and grandchildren, your friends, your business associates, your students perhaps. The people who work for you and see to your comfort and health and security. An entire vast network of interlocking details is devoted to your existence. Can you produce sufficient to justify that investment?
I’m just kidding you, of course, just putting you on the spot. I know how incredibly much you have to contribute to society. And I wish you a wonderful year full of joy, with health and abundant resources, so that you can throw your heart and soul into making this world a better place.