The Jewish holidays are far beyond just observing traditions. They are interlaced with the present time much closer than we think. Jewish holidays are a trajectory of the nation’s destiny, a cardiogram of our common heartbeat.
Jewish holidays’ symbols convey the information that otherwise would be lost in the impenetrable labyrinths of history or distorted beyond recognition. The importance of the Jewish holidays extends far beyond! Our holidays deliver messages not only about our past but also our future.
5776 Years Ago
The first of the fall Jewish holidays, Rosh HaShanah (the head of the year), is the Jewish New Year. It denotes spiritual awakening. It appeared the moment people sensed an aspiration to things that are beyond their everyday routine.
The name of the first human being is Adam. He was the first one who ever thought about the meaning of life. The day Adam realized his strong desire to know what his purpose in life was is marked in the Jewish calendar as Rosh HaShanah. It is quite possible that it is the only event in ancient history for which the exact date is known. It happened on the 1st of Tishrei (September-October), 5776 years ago.
Since then, Rosh HaShanah is not just a day on the calendar; rather, it is a developmental milestone. On this day we give an honest report to ourselves about how we lived and what we were supposed to reach during the previous year, and the coming judgment.
Getting to the Essence
Today, when the entire world is overwhelmed with a new wave of anti-Semitism, it is essential to understand what awaits us in the future. As never before, it is crucial to once and for all break this spiral of centuries of exile and unbearable sufferings that accompanied the Jewish people throughout history. The prophet Jonah’s story is always read on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It helps us better understand the situation we are in now. We’ll get to this story a little later.
At the Festive Table
Rosh HaShanah symbolizes our aspiration to upper values, benevolent existence, sharing with and caring for each other. This is why there is a tradition to eat fish heads. It symbolizes our inclination to stand at the head of all positive changes.
Pomegranate with its many juicy seeds reminds that we are also like “seeds” and that it is high time for us to “ripen.” Our unity should result from our joint efforts. It will give us a qualitatively new boost.
We dip apple slices, an ancient symbol of “transgressions,” meaning detachment among us, in honey to “sweeten” (correct) the lack of unity among us.
How can we achieve this unity not out of fear, troubles, or despair, and sincerely desire to get closer to each other? How can we feel like we all are one family not only during wars that force us to involuntarily keep together, but also in the time of peace? For that, each one of us has to rise above our own self-interest to balance our fragmented nature by aspiring to establish positive, good relations between us. This is exactly what Kabbalists mean when it gets to description of the Jewish holidays.
Yom Kippur comes after Rosh HaShanah, and for the Jews this is the most sacred day of the year. On this day we fast and pray. And the main part of the prayer is the reading in the book of the prophet Jonah. In fact, the code for the salvation of humanity is concealed in this book, even though the plot of the narrative resembles an adventure novel.
Jonah receives a task from the Creator: he must help the inhabitants of the city of Nineveh overcome mutual hatred and implement the principle “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In his time, the patriarch Abraham realized this idea and established the Jewish people on its basis. How he achieved this is a separate subject in itself. Now something else is important: the Jewish people succeeded in doing something that, in principle, is impossible.
“What would have happened to the human race if Abraham had not had the higher foresight and had remained in Ur, if had kept his ideas to himself and would not have created any unique Jewish people? Without a doubt the world without the Jews would have been radically different from the world of today.” (Paul Jones, English historian.)
Today, more than ever, not only the Jews and Arabs, Russians and Americans, but the entire world requires, if not love, then at least, an elementary mutual understanding. But today, as in the past, similar ideas are unequivocally accepted as completely impractical. So it is not surprising that Jonah decided to escape across the sea. It seemed to him that in this way he could shirk the task that was imposed upon him.
We too, like Jonah, sometimes try to take refuge in the daily routine from the big “impregnable” problems.” Others will deal with them and we will deal with ours. But from time immemorial, a reminder comes that there is a special mission for the Jews, and it is impossible to escape it.
All of Us Are in One Boat
The ship upon which Jonah sailed was caught in a violent storm. The sailors worked hard to survive: They threw everything that was not necessary overboard, prayed to their gods, and understandably they began to search for who was to blame. And Jonah, meanwhile, goes to sleep, as if everything happening didn’t concern him.
Only then, having no choice, he admitted that he had fled from the task that was imposed upon him and asked the sailors to throw him into the sea. This means that Jonah was even ready to die, just so he wouldn’t have to carry out what he was assigned. But even this didn’t help. A gigantic fish swallowed the fugitive, and three days in the belly of the fish forced him to agree to carry out the established task.
Today, when the world has become a “global village,” all of us are apparently sailing in one boat on a stormy sea, and the nations of the world, the “sailors,” blame all the crises, wars, troubles and disasters on the “only Jew” onboard, the Jewish people.
But we are still sleeping, like Jonah. Immersed in daily business, trying not to notice that the nations of the world hate us more and more; we hope that everything will somehow calm down by itself. But every new wave of anti-Semitism shows more clearly that our fate is as unavoidable as was the fate of that fugitive due to whom the storm broke out. And if the crew of the boat first tried to save Jonah, today, “The sailors of the world ship” are just waiting for the right moment to throw us into the sea. We don’t even need to ask this “favor” of them.
The Beginning of the Changes
The Jewish holidays are more than just history. The Kabbalists established them in their time and through the symbols of the holidays they conveyed their message to us, their descendants. The message directly touches upon the fate of the Jewish people.
Rosh HaShanah points to the need for the desire for higher values and the establishment of good human relationships.
Yom Kippur reminds us that escape from carrying out this role cannot continue forever. In any case, we must acquire these values and pass all of this on to the other peoples, even if, like Jonah, we don’t want this.
We see today how hatred between people and between nations, pollutes our planet more and more. Everything we do, from new technology to social revolution, ultimately leads to a new disaster and makes the hostility between people more acute.
This problem can be solved only with the help of the Jewish people. After all, the idea of unity, equality, and mutual guarantee (Arvut) is its foundation. The people who followed Abraham lived according to the law of love, with a feeling of closeness to each other.
The world is not waiting for scientific discoveries or achievements in literature and art from the Jews, the world is waiting for the Jewish people to reach unity, and by providing an example for the rest of the nations, the method of Abraham will be transmitted to them. And this will bring peace and tranquility to all peoples, which will free the Jews from anti-Semitism and will put an end to all their troubles.
From KabTV’s “Holidays. Rosh Hashanah” 8/6/15