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It is inscribed

Posted by Ron Coleman on September 29, 2008

Rosh Hashana -- Arthur Szyk

Rosh Hashana -- Arthur Szyk

At the end of the year, Jews deliver an annual report to their Majority Shareholder and pray and hope to have their respective contracts extended — and even for an increase in compensation for a job well done. That is Rosh Hashana, which means the Head of the New Year, and which begins tonight.

The surprising, and very not-American, thing we learn about Rosh Hashana is that it is at its heart an expression of our own acknowledgment of God’s status as the Boss. At other times of year we focus on other aspects of our relationship with God, but at Rosh Hashana it is Kingship that rules.

Independence is so highly valued in our society that some people think that independence is the only virtue, which is really a sort of arrested adolescence, but one much celebrated in our time and place. Thus it’s not surprising that religions based on hierarchies of spiritual authority — scriptural, ethical, behavioral, pastoral — must fight uphill to survive. Maintaining a feisty, free-enterprising, yeoman spirit in the profane stations of life while acknowledging spiritual, and essentially governing, principles that appear to be inconsistent with Yankee virtues is one of the challenges to all religious people in America. I don’t claim to know how to do it, but identifying the challenge, at least, is a step in the direction of addressing it.

If we could ever actually acknowledge that God is the Ruler of our lives — really, as really as we acknowledge the existence of the computer you’re reading this on, of the sky above us, of your left hand — we would never do anything wrong (i.e., sin), and never feel any fear (also a kind of transgression). That’s a tall order, and ironic for how, in its apparent simplicity, achieving would be a giant feat for anyone. Its apotheosis is the answer of great people of faith to what many people believe is an unanswerable query to God: How can tragedy (such as of the scope that has happened in our lives or the lives of our parents) be allowed to persist? The answer: “For the unbeliever there is no answer. For the believer” — believing, as I said, in the very reality of God’s rule over everything, not merely the ideological adoption of it — “there is no question.”

I didn’t say it was easy. But hopefully one’s progress report will report, at least… some progress.

If you’re curious, you can learn the fundamentals of Rosh Hashana here. You may want to look at this excerpt from Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf’s Rosh Hashana Survival Kit, a classic in its own right.

And remember, Rosh Hashana is, as the liturgy teaches, the “birthday of the whole world,” not just a special date for the Jews. So happy birthday, world, and may we all be blessed for a year far better than the one that just ended.

Originally posted on Dean’s World, Rosh Hashana 2006.

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One Response to “It is inscribed”

  1. […] time to blog on the eve of Rosh Hashana, but we had to pass this development in the Scrabulous story on before the sun begins its descent: […]

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