Second Day of Rosh Hashanah 5777: Here I am!
Rosh Hashanah might be the most Universalistic of our holidays. It is not a Jewish Holiday, even if only Jews celebrate it. We don’t get together to celebrate something that happened to us, the Jewish people, but something that happened to us, human beings. In Rosh Hashanah nobody tried to kill us and nobody destroyed something of ours. We were not saved nor redeemed. In Rosh Hashanah we were created! According to the Mishnah we have four “new years” in the calendar. Three of them are related to the whole World and only one of them is about us, Jews. Besides the first of Tishrei, the day of the creation of humanity, we have the new year for the trees on the 15th of Shvat and the new year for the animals on the 1st of Elul. Only the 1st of Nissan is about us, when we remember our deliverance from Egypt and we prepare for Pesach. In Pesach we turned from a small hungry family into a nation, and we were delivered from Egypt in order to receive the Torah and fulfill our destiny in the World, therefore Pesach is really ours, it is about us. Does it matter? Jewish or Universal? Those of us who try to build a distinctive Jewish identity will be happy to celebrate and emphasize everything that is special to us and that separates us, making us unique. Those of us who see being Jewish as first of all being human, worthy of being created in God’s image, will be happy to celebrate our humanity. Not every person is Jewish and that’s good. However, every Jew is called to be a person, to be a mensch, and he or she should try to be it. There is something in common between our two main “new years”. Both Pesach and Rosh Hashanah speak about the value of freedom, human freedom. In Pesach of course we celebrate our national freedom. In Rosh Hashanah, on the contrary, we emphasize human freedom, our personal freedom. Rosh Hashanah is our festival of choices, it is the celebration that remind us that we are not victims of chance, that in every situation we have free will and the possibility of choosing. Rosh Hashanah is our birthday, the day human beings were created and where do we spend our birthday? In court! Sounds like a sadistic joke. Rosh Hashanah has a few different names: Yom Terua, its name in the Torah, meaning the day we blow the Shofar. Yon Harat Olam, meaning the day the World was born. And in our Machzorim is mostly Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment. Why are we summoned to Court on this day? Especially in our birthday? We were summoned to speak about our choices. Whoever is not free will never see a judge. Therefore children are not summoned to court. We are free so we are requested to reflect on our choices once a year. And what does the judge ask us? I do not believe we will be asked about our kashrut and Shabbat observance, these are very important and dear to me, but it is not about this that we are in court. There is a famous story about a Chasidic rabbi called Rabbi Zusha, who was on his death bed. Suddenly he becomes very upset and afraid. His students, surprised, ask him why is he so afraid? Rabbi Zusha answered that he was afraid to meet His Creator soon. The students were surprised, because Rabbi Zusha was a great Tzaddik, a just and hoply man, as Moses, as Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Zusha said: “That’s the reason I am afraid! All my life I wanted to be just as Moses and wise like Rabbi Akiva. However, now I understand that when I am in front of the judge of the whole World, he won’t ask why I was not more like Moses, because we had already one of those. He won’t ask why I was not more like Rabbi Akiva, because we had already one of those. He will ask why I was not more like Rabbi Zusha? And what will I answer to that? We read today from the Torah the story of the Akedah, the almost-sacrifice of Yitzhak, Isaac. Maybe you noted that there is one word that repeats itself several times: “Hineni”, here I am. “Hineni” is the answer of Abraham both to God and his son Yitzhak when they call him. The answer is the same one to God and man. In fact, Abraham is the first one in the Torah that knows to answer without hesitation: “Hineni”, here I am. I want to propose that there is no answer worthier than this one. “Hineni”, here I am. It is the way that a person stands in his life, straight in front of the challenges of daily life, from the traffic jams of the morning to being exhausted by the evening. “Hineni”, here I am, finally the answer was given to the first question that human beings were asked, after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. “Ayeka?”, where are you? Adam didn’t know how to answer. He blamed the woman and she the snake. Abraham is the first that answers to the question. Here I am. His answer is short and to the point. Here I am. That’s the reason Abraham is the father of our nation. “Hineni”, here I am, reminds us to we are not requested to change our essence. The change that Rosh Hashanah is looking for is actually to get closer to ourselves, because sometimes we are afraid of being really us, to be honest with ourselves, to be who we are. There are times in our lives when we get far from ourselves, from the internal voice inside us, from the guiding line of our lives. And then comes Yom Hadin, Judgment Day; Yom Terua, the day of blowing the Shofar, the sound that must wake us up. Yom Harat Olam, the day the world was born, when everything is created anew and as new. And there is a voice… primordial… a familiar voice that asks us: Ayeka? “Where are you?”, where is the real you? This voice does not preach, nor blames. Simply it calls us to come back, back to ourselves, to our essence, to Him. Our answer must be Hineni, here I am, this is me! This is the reason Rosh Hashanah starts the 10 days of Teshuvah, translated usually as repentance, but actually meaning to come back! Hineni, here I am. On this day, the birthday of humanity, we are again asked Ayeka, where are we? Where is the real us? Let us say, like Abraham, with all our being, aloud and faithfully: Hineni! Here I am!