As a New Year Approaches
While Jewish tradition actually knows of multiple New Years, the first of Tishrei is commemorated as Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is associated with the creation of the world; “today is the birthday of the world” is a refrain within the traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of both individual introspection and broad, collective visioning. A twin focus on the individual and the larger world reflects complementary aspects of Jewish life and thought. Similarly, Jewish particularism and universalism are both expressed in the liturgy of the High Holidays.
One prayer in particular of this season – within the amidah of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – expresses a vision of universal possibility: the hope that humankind be “united in one fellowship,” wholeheartedly seeking to act in ways consistent with God’s will. The term “one fellowship” – agudah achat, in Hebrew – evokes association with the Biblical verse, drawing upon the same Hebrew root word, “lo titgodedu,” literally, “do not cut yourselves” (Deuteronomy 14:1). The Talmud understands this to mean “do not form separate groups,” a caution against discord and divisiveness – the opposite of one fellowship.
This Rosh Hashanah comes at a time when no one need be reminded of our shared vulnerability. At the same time, however, in national and international politics, as well as within Jewish communal life, there are deepening divisions and chasms separating people and groups of people from one another.
As we reflect on our own lives and envision the future of the world of which we are part, may this Rosh Hashanah inspire us to create and model paths leading to fellowship around worthy pursuits. May the recognition of common vulnerability lead to shared commitment to lifting the other who, no less than any of us, is part of the fellowship of humankind. Shanah tovah; may it be a year of health and goodness for all.
Dr. Gil Graff is the Executive Director of BJE