Purposes and Worlds
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?
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).
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”.