When we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year marking the birthday of the world, it would seem natural for the Torah reading to be the story of creation. This tidy story of God creating the world in seven days would help us on this most holy of days to appreciate the grandeur and order of the world. But instead on the Jewish new year we read about messy human families.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we tell the story of Isaac’s birth and of Sarah’s jealousy that leads Abraham to cast Hagar and his first son, Ishmael, into the wilderness. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we tell the story of the binding of Isaac, the disturbing tale of Abraham bringing Isaac as a sacrifice to God.
With these complicated stories of imperfect people, our tradition recognizes the truth about humanity and calls us to be radically honest about our lives. We may get dressed up, enjoy laughing with loved ones, and eat traditional foods at our Rosh Hashanah celebrations. Yet we also all arrive at Rosh Hashanah with our faults, our messy family dynamics, and our grief. We join together with hearts full of joy and gratitude, but also with hearts full of jealousy, anger, and fear.
When the Torah portions reflect these complexities, we begin to understand that there is sacredness in the reality of our lives and not just in the lives to which we aspire. It is when we look at the fullness of our lives as they are that change can happen, that we can do the work of
of turning back to our best selves.
May each of us be blessed this holiday season to have the courage to bring our whole selves to the reflection of this season and the compassion to embrace others in their fullness.
On behalf of the whole staff at Jewish Social Services I wish you
shanah tovah tikatevu (
a sweet new year).