Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rosh Hashana

This year, on the Thirteenth of September, we celebrate the Jewish new year. There was a time when the Jews believed truly that the world was some 5000 years old. Numerous Rabbis, in their infinite wisdom, had carefully reviewed the events recorded in the Torah and concluded that the world must be exactly 5768 years old. The Rabbis taught that 5768 years ago, God created the sun, the moon and the star systems, together with the earth and all that is within it. The Rabbis taught that the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, were created 5768 years ago essentially out of nothingness. They taught that the entire planet, with its myriad plants, animals, entire civilizations, and the human race are less than 6000 years old.

Happy New Year!

As humans have acquired more scientific knowledge, we have come to understand that indeed the earth and the solar system are much older than what the Rabbis taught. We have found remnants of humans and animals that are hundreds of thousands of years old. And we have come to realize that the age of the earth measures in the billions of years rather than thousands.

Revisionist Rabbis, confronted with the extensive evidence that the world is much older than what the Torah would have suggested now have changed their tune somewhat. They now claim that maybe the six days that comprise the first week of creation may in fact be much longer than actual 6 days. They say, “Since the sun was not created until the third day, who says that the first two days were 24 hour days?” When faced with fossil records dating millions of years, they claim that the evidence is fabricated and should not trusted.

The truth, for all who are willing to open their eyes, is plain to see: The world is not 5765 years old!

But calendars measure time, and the Jewish time is as good as any. Years must begin and come to an end, and for the sake of complicity, let us accept that our new year, this year, begins on September 13th.

Happy New Year!

And so we purchase our admission tickets, attend the synagogues, celebrate, and congratulate our friends and congregants. We gather at our friends’ and family’s homes, sit around the table together, sing songs, and eat.

We eat apple and honey so that in the coming year we can be happy and full of sweetness. We eat tongue so that we may be wise. We eat pumpkins so that our sins may be light….And at night’s end, when we are satiated and content, we usher in the New Year, full of good wishes and hope.

In the ensuing ten days, we remember our dealings of the past year, come to recon and reconcile our deeds, and prepare for the Day of Atonement. The wise amongst us sit in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, remember the sins of the past year, ask God for forgiveness and act contrite. The rest of us, unskilled in the knowledge of Hebrew or skill of the intricate readings of the sacred texts, sit in the synagogue, gossip, and with growling stomachs, yearn for a distraction.

We sit in the synagogue and witness or participate in the auctioning of the Torah readings to the highest bidder. We witness this year’s wealthy family who bids $25,000 for the Naalia portion and wonder how it is that they came to so much money. We gossip that so and so paid $6,000 for the Torah reading because his daughter has come of age and is in need of a suitor. And we contribute money to the synagogue in the mistaken belief that this money will buy favors in the heavens.

And we witness the obligatory event of a woman who rises from the back of the woman’s section, pledges thousands of dollars to the synagogue in the hope of restoring fecundity to her sterile daughter. Rest assured that the money bought nothing!

And we see the Gabbay of the synagogue who happily accepts a donation in the name of some sick boy, whose father donated money in desperation, in hopes of finding favor with God. Know that the Gabbay, like the snake-oil salesman, has sold nothing to the desperate father and taken his money.

Do we believe that God and his favors are for sale? That the representatives of the synagogue are God’s middlemen, sprinkling heavenly favors to the highest bidder? If you believe so, then you are not practicing Judaism.

We cannot eat apple and honey on Rosh Hashanah and expect next year to brim with sweetness. Our hearts must fill with kindness and joy first.

We cannot eat tongue and expect wisdom. We must purchase it in the labor of honest study.

We cannot eat pumpkins and lighten our sins. We must strive to do good deeds and refrain from harming others.

And we cannot rise vainly, for the entire congregation to see, and fill the Rabbis’ hands handsomely with money and expect redemption. The way to charity begins with desire on the part of a charitable heart and ends in fulfilling the yearning of the truly needy.

It is said that the last prayer of Yom Kippur, the Naalia, culminates into the hour of decision, when the books of judgment are reconciled before God, and the course of the coming year is decided. It is said that in that hour the Angels of God seal the Book of Life for the coming year. Who will come to wealth and who will be burdened with bankruptcy; who will enjoy health and who will suffer illness; who will be blessed with happiness, and who will be cursed with sorrow – it will all be decided on the day of Rosh Hashana and sealed on the night of Yom Kippur.

But will it? Does God on that night seal and remove our free will? Will our future be set before us like a train marching within its tracks? Will God cease to have us retain control of our future?

Lacking free will, should we stop obtaining drugs for our children because God sealed our children’s fate on that fateful Yom Kippur night? Should we stop striving? Should we shelf our ambitions because our fate has been sealed? Are we that helpless?

Or should we stop defending our beloved nation of Israel because a set of loathsome Rabbis have decided that Israel cannot be a nation until Messiah comes?


My intention is not to discourage prayer. On the contrary. We must lift our heads, look to the skies, and ask for the strength and assistance in striving to commit justice and refrain from the temptation of evil. We must increase our resolve to treat one another justly and to defend our nation and people from harm. We must stop relying on religious symbolism to cover our misdeeds like thick syrup on bad bread. And we must refrain from contributing to the corruption of our rabbis by contributing corruptly.

May we all bask in the sweetness of a happy and joyous new year.

Happy New Year!