Rosh Hashanah Reflection, 5779

Rosh HaShanah Day Reflection
by Rabbi Rain Zohav
for IFFP, 2018/ 5779

Last year I spoke about Rosh HaShanah being the “conception” of the world and it is often spoken of as the birthday of the world. It is as if Rosh HaShanah is a Jewish Earth Day. Two years ago I spoke about how important preserving the earth is in our shared tradition. And, I find myself returning to that theme again this year. Christian mystic Julian of Norwich taught “The day of my spiritual awakening/ was the day I saw/ and knew I saw/ God in all things and all things in God”. (The Greening of Faith, p. 137)

It is this understanding that we are all interconnected and that all of creation is Divine that compels me to speak out on environmental issues. If we do not take lots of steps now to preserve our earth, air, water and soil, everything else we care about will also become much more difficult. Environmental degradation is one of the planks in the platform for the Poor People’s campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival because environmental disasters hit poor people, indigenous people and people of color the hardest and Mathew 25:44 teaches us that how we treat the least of God’s children is how we treat God.

And our own creation myth tells us that not only is the earth, and the green growing things, the fish, the creeping beings, the birds, the four-legged animals, including wild animals and humans all good, but that all humans are created in the image of the Divine. And even though we are told to “rule over” these beings; rule over does not mean destroy. Today we will again be listening to the beginning of the Bible – the creation of light – a supernal light that can inspire us to do better (Genesis 1:1-5). This is our shared Jewish and Christian tradition.

In the 80’s I was watching the news and listening to the news about the break down of the SALT talks- these were hoped for treaties between the U.S. and Russia meant to limit the danger of nuclear war. A friend of mine said something memorable to me then. He said, “We need to have a relaxed sense of urgency”. A relaxed sense of urgency?! How can one do that? What a paradox. But I think of that phrase now in confronting the environment crisis. It is urgent and people cannot hear urgency very well.

So, I think the first step is to reconnect with any of nature that we had loved as children. Following the creation story in Genesis, is there a time you remember light or darkness being a comfort (Genesis 1: 1-5) ? Close your eyes and try to recollect a memory.

(give time to do this, each time by bringing your own memory up) Did you ever play in mud (Genesis 1: 6-9 )? Enjoy your bath… the ocean… or a lake (Ibid)? Take yourself back to some of those experiences. (give time) What about climbing in a tree… or eating a fresh piece of fruit? When the earth brought forth fruit, our myth tells us, “God saw that this was good” (Genesis 1:11-12).

Can you remember a particularly sunny day… or a full moon… or a crescent moon that touched your soul? Again, “God saw that this was good” (Genesis 1:18). And we might notice that the sun and moon were only “created” on the fourth day, so that first light was indeed something else.

Oddly, even though this is an ancient text and many people who read the Bible completely literally think it stands in conflict with the theory of evolution, the order follows an evolutionary path, with the fifth day bringing forth “swarms of living creatures from the water” and the birds- which we know are indeed ancient( Genesis 1:20-23).

Who here had a pet gold fish as a child? I so fondly remember my sister’s pet fish named “Fred” who lived for a long time and would come up to the surface to be fed. And I am thinking about birds and sea creatures such as dolphins and whales. Recall the first time you saw such beings…All of these and more are being threatened by our action and inaction. The New Year calls us to do better.

On the sixth day all the other kinds of creatures were created, including human beings. Can you bring to mind the first time you saw lions? What about a special human that you hold dear? Upon viewing creation God found it “very good”. Do we also find it “very good”(Genesis1: 31)? If yes, what must we do to preserve it? One of my daughters is expecting a child soon. (or may have given birth, or may be in labor at this very moment) This makes the question of what kind of earth are we passing on to the next generation much more personal for me and even more urgent. But I am practicing being relaxed about it. : )

Here is “A Prayer for Our Earth” by Pope Francis’ from his encyclical Laudato Si’ that speaks to all these themes:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.

Rosh HaShanah calls to us to live our lives in a way that protects all of creation. What additional steps can you take this year? Plant a tree? Observe a sabbath from driving one day a week? Sign up for renewable energy? Can we set a goal to have our whole congregation switch to renewable energy by next Rosh HaShanah? Even though I love my little Honda, I am seriously considering trading it in for a hybrid.

I find the mystics speak of the unity that exists in very similar ways. Here is a short poem from Meister Eckhart that echoes the teaching of Julian of Norwich, the Baal Shem Tov of whom I spoke last night and the deep meaning of the She’mah prayer.

Apprehend God in all things/ for God is in all things.

Every single creature is full of God/and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.

If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature - /even a caterpillar-/I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God/ is every creature.
(The Greening of Faith, p.175)

So, here’s to spending more time with tiny creatures. If I had read this teaching earlier, I might have just brought in some caterpillars for us to contemplate.

The delight of Rosh HaShanah is that we get to start over, we get to do better and we get to take joy in doing better.