Rosh HaShanah is hayom harat olam. – the day of the world’s birth. Over the two-day holiday, we discuss the birth and rebirth of Creation, and we discuss the birth and rebirth of ourselves. It is hard to absorb the reality of our own birth. We know the facts of our beginnings, but our birth remains a mystery to us. More so, the notion of being reborn seems incomprehensible. Yet Judaism insists that rebirth is possible.
Perhaps it is too difficult to imagine ourselves as infants. There is a chasidic tale that tells of two twins in their mother’s womb. One twin believed that life was limited to the world of the womb – everyday, the same muted light, the same food source, the same companion by his side. This twin could not conceive of a different reality, therefore he feared anything new. With horror, he dreadfully anticipated birth.
His sister, on the other hand, did not limit herself to the observable world. She envisioned more in life than she could see, and hoped for vitality outside the walls of the womb. This hope prepared her for the inevitable moment of birth. More importantly, because she could dream of a different existence, this twin did not take life by her brother’s side for granted. She was content to take pleasure in her brother’s company, and in the warmth of their world, and in the security of knowing that she would continue to receive nourishment until the day of birth. (Adapted from the opening image in “Gesher HaChaim – The Bridge of Life” by Rabbi Yechiel Tucazinsky.)
We can sympathize with the first twin’s perception that life is dreary and the future is terrifying. In this past year, when we have been wrestling with the repercussions of the recession, hopelessness has seemed as viral as the H1N1 flu, sweeping across the globe. Despair has become a collective disease. It has been a year in which bad news swirls around us, and sometimes the only reasonable response seems to be to lose the hope that our present situation will change.
This is when the second twin sings within us: No matter what our human experience, rebirth is possible. There is always hope. We hear the echo of our morning prayers: “U’tuvo michadaish b’col yom tamid ma’aseh v’reishit – In God’s goodness, day after day, God creates the world anew.” The core tenet of Rosh HaShanah is that we can be renewed. Rebirth is woven into the very fabric of Creation. On Rosh HaShanah, we are dared to have a youthful heart again, to embrace the fullness of all emotions, to revive our most expansive dreams. On Rosh HaShanah, we are summoned to see the world with wondrous eyes, to discover the possibility for change everywhere.
Our sages command us to recite 100 blessings a day to ensure that awe will awaken within us. Berachot, blessings, reignite wonder in the most wizened soul. Blessings resensitize us to the marvels that burst forth in our lives every day. All moments are worthy of blessing: when we notice the loveliness of spring’s first blossom, when we gaze on the magnificence of an ocean, when we receive news good or bad, even when we experience the daily functions of our body. Blessings prevent us from taking our life, both that which is routine and that which is extraordinary, for granted. They oblige us to stop in our tracks, and fully experience the present. Blessings help us celebrate life and feel profound gratitude for the fact that we have been born.
The world is created anew each day. Because of Creation’s ongoing replenishment and change, we cannot prejudge any event. With wonder, we accept the entirety of our world with all its disappointments and delights. We accept ourselves, and embrace our faults as well as our gifts. Wonder helps us to observe the world without delusions, inspiring authentic, not false, hope. Imagine approaching our lives with this kind of awe. We would awaken in the morning, and feel a sense of discovery.
This is the birthing of the world, witnessing Creation unfold, moment by moment, in all its majesty and all its banality. We gain inspiration from our baby twins. The day of birth arrived, and the twin sister was the first to emerge from the womb. Her brother grieved for her, and quaked in fear for himself. Then he heard the cries of joy in the room outside, greeting the baby girl. The twin boy was overwhelmed with gratitude, because he knew that his birth would also be cause for celebration. He, too, would be born and find his place in the world.
This Rosh Hashanah, let us have faith that we can see the world with wonder. Let us believe that no matter what, hope endures; no matter what, rebirth is real.