The Kabbalah of Rosh Hashana:
From Tears to Transformation
"Today the world trembles / Today the world is reborn"... from the Rosh Hashana prayer service.
At sunset on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, G-d will remove some of his light from the world. He will still remain present in a basic way, of course, or the world could not sustain itself. But that presence will be remote, withdrawn.
Then He will wait. The next move is ours.
At around midday of the holy day, when Jews in every corner of the world acknowledge His sovereignty with prayers and the blowing of the shofar, G-d will once again agree to be our King. He will recommit to His relationship with our world. And when He does so, it will be with an entirely new level of light and power. Entirely new possibilities – possibilities that never existed before - will enter the world. We will advance one giant step closer to our ultimate destiny.
But the first move has to come from us. We must renew our contract with our Creator if the world is to continue to exist.
Once each year, the world must choose G-d.
From Tears to Transformation
Why the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn? What power does this primitive instrument have to bring down such an intense and essential light?
More than a simple horn, the shofar is an instrument of transformation. Its sound is like a heartbroken cry, and its power is the power of tears.
Living in a physical world, subject to the many stresses and challenges of life on earth and subjugated to the relentless demands of our body and our ego, we are not even remotely aware of our own true potential. Our soul, with all of its unlimited awareness, insight, creativity, love and power, is trapped and suppressed.
But when our defenses break down, when we come face to face with our essential smallness and vulnerability within this vast universe, we cry out to G-d.
And this cry – this intense awareness of our own limitations – is what sets us free. A broken-hearted cry can release your soul from its prison and leave you open to something completely new.
This freedom, not coincidentally, is also connected with the trumpet-blast of the shofar. In fact, it is the blast of ‘the great shofar’ – the shofar of Redemption - that will herald our ultimate freedom and transformation at the End of Days.
Weakness and power. Smallness and greatness. Isolation and unity. Slavery and freedom. How do they go together? And how is it that the very same sound can symbolize both?
A World of Opposites
Kabbbalah explains that everything that exists is made up of opposites. The opposite of darkness is light. The opposite of evil is good. The opposite of death is life. The opposite of slavery is freedom. Wherever one is found, so is its opposite. They define each other. Without one, the other could not exist.
However, these negative states have no intrinsic reality. Darkness is not a permanent condition. Just like the first step in throwing a ball is to move the arm backwards, the darkness is actually a prelude, a gateway, to a far more powerful light.
That’s why tears can be so transformational. Paradoxically, it is only in realizing our smallness, weakness and aloneness – the limits of our ego-based existence - that we create an opening to expand beyond our perceived limits and become who we were truly born to be.
This possibility for transformation is intensely present on Rosh Hashana, when the world begins anew.
On the Threshold of Redemption
On this Rosh Hashana, in the Hebrew year 5766, transformation is not only more possible but more necessary than ever before. This is true not only for the Jews who celebrate this holy day but for the entire world.
Every year on Rosh Hashana the world waits, suspended in the dark space between the old light and the new. Between two ways of being there is always an empty space, a space of transition. In this space we have the opportunity to let go of the old – the pettiness, the resentments, the past mistakes, failures and fears. We can embrace a brand new way of being; a more passionate sense of purpose. We can commit ourselves to a new level of kindness, respect and compassion for the people around us – those we already love, and those we could love if only we stopped being angry, defensive or afraid.
Rosh Hashana is also called the Day of Judgment. G-d's Book is open, and the destiny of every human being hangs in the balance.
In opening ourselves to life, we create the greatest possible opening for G-d to inscribe us in the Book of Life for a year that is good and sweet in the truest sense.
But this Rosh Hashana has an even more awesome power. On this Rosh Hashana the world waits at the threshold of Redemption. In these unprecedented times an intense level of darkness hovers over the earth. Our world is shaking. Terror, war, mind-numbing natural disasters and crisis in the Middle East cast a threatening shadow over our lives. These times are frightening and challenging. But this darkness is nothing more or less than the gateway to an entirely new reality.
Our Times in Ancient Prophecy
These chaotic times were foreseen in great detail millennia ago by the sages of biblical times. A full discussion of these times in prophecy is way beyond the scope of this article. But read the words below and see whether or not you think they describe our world today:
Insolence and self-centeredness will increase, there will be oppressing inflation,
people will be addicted to the good life and the costs will be high, moral standards will dissolve, morality and wisdom will be denigrated, there will be unbridled irresponsibility on the part of authorities, centers of learning will turn into centers of immorality, poverty will increase, the young will denigrate the old, families will disintegrate, leadership will be impudent. The world will see a succession of troubles, epidemics of terrible diseases, and international confrontations. The face of the generation will be ‘like the face of a dog’. Just as dogs are not embarrassed by anything they do, so too people will lose their sense of embarrassment.
The Greater the Darkness, the Greater the Light
Against this challenging, chaotic backdrop, we are being called upon to expand beyond our boundaries, to strengthen our relationship with our Creator and to actualize our own potential as partners in Creation.
We are living through the time of transition between exile and Redemption. Out of the breakdown of the old and unworkable, we have the opportunity to create something completely new.
In fact, it is our destiny.
Rosh Hashana: A Time of Choice
This Rosh Hashana each one of us has a choice. We can choose to stay unconscious, trapped within the prison of our fears, confusion, resentments and longings, remaining passive victims of circumstance. Or we can use this opportunity to begin to fly. To align ourselves with our destiny. To learn to be free.
Freedom is a lofty concept, but it’s lived in the choices you make each moment. In your relationships. In your spirituality. In your commitment to a life of joy and fulfillment. In your awareness of G-d’s nurturing presence in the intimate details of your daily life. In remembering that you’re here for a purpose and doing something each day to make that purpose come alive.
If you could create a new future, one not based on your fears and past failures, who would you be? How would you behave? What would you dare to create? Who would you thank? Who would you listen to and what would you share? What would you do to enhance your connection to G-d and your own essence? What part of you that you’ve given up on would you start to nurture? What dreams might you make come true?
Rosh Hashana holds within it an awesome power. The light of the past is withdrawn and the light of the future has yet to come down into the world and into your life. The Book is open. What will you choose?
(*Since the Torah forbids the erasing of G-d's name, it's customary to avoid writing it out