As the sun sets before Rosh Hashana, the universe goes into a comatose state. A slumber descends on all existence, everything comes to a stand-still in cosmic silence, in apprehension of its contract being renewed. — Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal
Who would have imagined one year ago what this year would bring? Last September things were going rather quietly (except for the usual wear and tear tensions). But
then suddenly, like the swell of an unexpected tsunami the world erupted in flames. From the Ukraine to Gaza and Israel to Syria and Iraq — with powers like Qatar and ISIS emerging to the forefront seemingly out of nowhere — deep cracks were exposed in the religious and political tectonic plates of our fragile earth. And no one is immune.
Events in the Middle East are directly impacting — to the point of brutally murdering — citizens from across the wide Atlantic. September 11, which took place thirteen years ago, seemed to be slowly receding into the past, only to rudely resurface as we witness the reincarnation of Al Qaeda and its ideology more alive today than ever. Tremors are rippling across the world. One can sense a global shift in the making. But where are things headed? Will tensions escalate. What upheavals will Muslim militancy wreak? Will the trembling subside or intensify? Is there hope for a true and lasting peace?
As we enter Rosh Hashana and begin a New Year what does this year have in store for us? And can we do anything to control our destiny?
A powerful Rosh Hashana prayer offers us the answer: “Hayom Harat Olam.“Harat” means both ‘tremble’ and ‘birth.’ “Today the world trembles/ Today the world is born.”
Hayom Harat Olam, today the world trembles. Is there a better way to describe the world today, as we stand at the dawn of a new year?
But we must also remember that “harat” means birth. Today the world trembles, but today the world is born as well.
Indeed, the trembles are actually birth convulsions. Every metamorphosis is accompanied by turbulence and upheaval. Whenever there is shift from one state of being to another, we will experience tremors, as the transition and transformational changes take hold. In Kabbalistic terms this is referred to as “yesh, ayin, yesh“: the transition between one state of “itness” (yesh) to another state of “itness” always has a void and vacuum (ayin) in between.
Rosh Hashana is the birthing of a new world. Every year on this day the universe experiences renewal. As the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya (Igeret HaKodesh ch. 14):
“Every year there descends and radiates a new and renewed light which has never yet shone. For the light of every year withdraws to its source in the Essence of the Ein Sof on the eve of Rosh Hashana, ‘when the moon is covered.’ Afterwards, by means of the sounding of the shofar and by means of the prayers, a new and superior light is elicited… a new and more sublime light that has never yet shone since the beginning of the world. Its manifestation, however, depends on the actions of those below, and on their merits and penitence during the Ten Days of Teshuvah”
As this new energy manifests it is accompanied with a deep trembling — “today the world trembles.” As the Arizal says: As the sun sets before Rosh Hashana, the universe goes into a comatose state. A slumber descends on all existence, everything comes to a stand-still in cosmic silence, in apprehension of its contract being renewed.
This is is how we ought to look at today’s shuddering world: The trembling that takes place when matter and energy collide — when a material world and corrupt nations are coming to terms in making peace with G-d and the divine purpose of existence. Such dissonance requires a radical “market correction,” which takes on the shape of shakings and rumblings, as the two paradigms plow into each other. and as a world is struggling to enter a new age of peace and harmony.
On this day the world trembles. On this day the world is born. As we approach Rosh Hashana, the birthday of the world and humanity, the day that determines the destiny of the entire world (al ha’medinos bo yai’omar,as we say in the Rosh Hashana musaf prayer), two things are happening at the same time: The birthing of a new world comes along with preceding shudders.
And we have the choice to see the new reality emerging beyond the trembling. As we stand at the threshold of the Jewish New Year, a time when our cosmic contract is renewed, we have the opportunity to begin the year with a new mindset, one that is not polluted by the anxieties of the past year.
Our actions have the power to see the conflicts of our times as a precursor for a revolutionary paradigm shift, and help bring stability to an uncertain world.
As the world goes to physical war with the threatening forces around us, all of us must wage spiritual ‘war’ against selfishness and narcissism. We must declare and demonstrate in action that we no longer will tolerate injustice of any sort. With our souls stirred as our vulnerabilities have been exposed, as we are shaken – awakened from our complacent reverie as our conventional superficial security blankets have been pulled from us, we stand at a defining moment in history. Before us lies the unprecedented ability to open a new chapter and introduce a new reality where our material existence is not an end in itself but a means for the sublime and the transcendent, a seamless fusion of matter and spirit.
When my late uncle, Yosef Yitzchak Lipskier (known affectionately by us as “Fitzi”) was a young child he once woke up in the middle of the night frightened by the rumbling sounds of a violent thunderstorm. The trembling boy ran to his mother’s bed for comfort and protection. After calming the scared child, she told her son: “There is nothing to be frightened of except for G-d.” With that Yosef Yitzchak went back to sleep, only to rudely wake up again from the next round of thunder. He again ran to his mother’s side. “What are you afraid of?” his mother asked. “Didn’t I tell you that there is no reason to fear the thunder.” To which the boy innocently replied: “Well, I am afraid of G-d.”…
When we witness today’s trembling world, we either crouch in fear, or we see it as the divine hand; a step in the process of a new world being born.
When the child you love trembles, clutch him tightly to your breast and tell him: Don’t be afraid. The world is about to be reborn.
When the world is experiencing convulsions, know that it is preparing for a paradigm shift.
As the world trembles in this Rosh Hashana season, we should see these trembles as birth pangs preceding the birth of a new world. A time when there will be “no war nor strife,” all nations will serve one G-d with one consent, and there will be “no more evil and no more destruction…for the world will be filled with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.”
We now have our greatest opportunity to shine and fulfill our true destiny: to bring this world to Redemption.
May this new year finally usher in the world of true peace we have been waiting for so long. May the nations of the world — when their destiny is determined — finally recognize that the things that bind us, our love for our children, our spiritual truths and values, our divine callings, are stronger than the self-absorbed forces that divide us.
And from the global to the personal, from macrocosm to microcosm, may our communities, families, selves, be united in th same way — in recognition of the harmony within our diversity.
May it be a year of health, passion and purpose, a year of abundance, materially and spiritually.
May each of you be blessed in the the fulfillment of your specific area of need:
Those seeking their life partner — may you find, appreciate and hold on to your soul-mate with the least amount of aggravation.
Those in need of a blessing of children should give birth to healthy offspring.
Those needing nachas from their children should experience only joy and pride from them and be blessed with the ability to see the gifts in every challenge.
Those in financial need should be blessed with finding a respectable job which will generate abundant income.
Those suffering from an illness, disease or disability, should see a quick and complete recovery, even if it may require a miracle.
But above all remember the lesson of Rosh Hashana’s renewal: never to give up hope, never to resign yourself, no matter how difficult the challenge, you were given all the strengths to face any situation and come out stronger. A new year brings new energy, new opportunities, new possibilities. Make sure that you approach it with a new attitude (free of past misgivings) — creating the container to manifest a new beginning in your life.
Believe in yourself. Because G-d who is watching believes in you.
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