Purposes and Worlds

la-shana-tovaA Rosh Hashana reflection piece by Joel Lazar, Melbourne Community Education Coordinator.

When Rosh Hashana arrives each year we are granted, as individuals and a community, the opportunity to make space for reflection and renewal. Above all, as the year comes to a close and the cracks of a new one open up, we are compelled to ask: What are we here for?

 

Reflection

Reflecting on that question we begin piecing together each day of the year that just passed. Which days were worthwhile? Which were no more than a sequence of breaths – continuing to live just so that we can continue to live? On top of these questions, I will ask myself: “On which days can I say that I acted with purpose”? Those moments would be a testament to my rising above my base human weaknesses: consuming goods with little thought, letting relationships slip by, not extending my hand when it was asked for (or even when it wasn’t). In the words of A. J. Heschel, I would ask: On which days did I ‘pray with my feet’, working with others to reverse suffering, empower and ennoble?

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first chief Rabbi of Palestine, comments on the following Rosh Hashana prayer:

Text: “My God, until I was created, I wasn’t worthy. And now that I have been created, it is as if I have not been created.”

Commentary: Before I was created, all that infinite time until I was created, surely there was nothing in the world that needed me. For if I were needed for some purpose, surely I would have been created! And since I was not created until that time (when I was born), that is a sign that it wasn’t worthwhile for me to be created until then. There was no need for me until the moment I was created, only then came the moment in which I was needed to fulfil a certain task to perfect the world. And if I had focused my actions on the purpose of my being created, I would then be worthy. However, because my actions have not been directed toward the effecting of that purpose, I have not arrived at my purpose of being, and I am still not worthy, as before (I was created).

Renewal

In these words, Rav Kook provides a blueprint that shows us the potential that can be found in the process of self-renewal. That if every man, woman and child is filled with unique purpose, and if a person cannot yet say ‘I am worthy’, then something is inhibiting them from realising their basic humanity. They might be crushed under the yoke of poverty; they might be chained because of a lack of access to courts and justice; they might be drowning under a torrent of prejudice for being different – an Other or a Stranger. They might simply have never been told: ‘you are worthy’.

The Talmud states: ‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world’ (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). To save a life is to give a person a new chance at living; and every time we work to renew a  life, we renew the entire world. We take up the mantle as builders of worlds.

JAA wishes all of its partners, volunteers, staff, supporters and the Jewish people a happy New Year of exciting renewal; a year devoted to discovering our own potential and creating a space in which others can secure a purposeful life for themselves – a life about which they can proudly say: “I am worthy”.