Erev Rosh Hashanah 5773 / 2012

Post date: Sep 17, 2012 1:23:07 AM

Tomorrow, we will read “Hayom harat olam,” often translated as “today is the birthday of the world.” That's not exactly right. "Hayom harat olam" is more accurately translated as "today, the world is conceived."

This is not just a nuanced difference, conception versus birth, nature versus nurture. For once conception has occurred, all that is natural has already been set in motion. Once that zygote, that initial cell, has been formed by the union of DNA strands from the male and the female cells, every natural talent, every predisposition, good or bad, every life expectancy has already been created. And the rest is left for us to nurture.

Imagine a child adopted by parents who have little or no knowledge of the birth parents. They can provide a rich environment for that child with many different opportunities for them to discover that child’s special talents, special needs, their quirks and dispositions, whether that child is a tactile, auditory, kinetic or visual learner, what causes that child to panic, what that child loves, what causes that child to be inspired.

Imagine that same child in a home without that level of interest, in which people laugh at the child’s fears, ignore bullying behaviors, and don’t encourage their natural talents.

We can take a child who has special needs and advocate for that child. For special physical or psychiatric care. Or we can refuse to acknowledge that child’s problems; we can let those problems fester into something horrible.

This is the world we inherit on the day of its conception.

So when we say, the world is conceived, we are really challenging ourselves to play our part, to nurture that world into something that can achieve its potential. That we even have a part to play in nurturing the world is itself a remarkable concept. How is it that we imperfect and mortal beings can dare to say that we are somehow responsible for how the world turns out? And yet, our Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, of pulling together the broken shards containing the light of Divinity, says that is exactly our role. God’s creation is not complete until we human beings fulfill our role. Conveying that message to the world is what we Jews were chosen to do. And the mitzvot, our commandments, to live in integrity, to do tzedakah - acts of justice, and hesed, acts of loving kindness, it is through observing these mitzvot that we Jews deliver that message, through our example.

When we say, the world is conceived, we are really challenging ourselves to play our part, to examine and understand the world in which we live and the people among whom we live, to learn what works and do more of it, to determine what does not work and do less of it, and like that parent, to love and nurture that world. That is the challenge of “Hayom harat olam.”

That challenge is not only to do good things, but also to prevent bad things. Will we fight for justice for all, or will we fight only when we have something personally to gain? Will we listen to the cries of those who are disenfranchised who have no one to advocate for their needs? If, Heaven forbid, it came to that point, would we be ready to let our children lay down their lives in order to defend the freedoms that we say we cherish?

We need not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of this task. In the words of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it" (Avot 2:21).

Over the next few days, we will have opportunities to take stock. But as we look to the year ahead of us, our liturgy tells us to imagine the possibilities! We stand here now, at the moment of conception, when everything is possible! Hayom harat olam. Today, the world is conceived. And it is our awesome and solemn duty to nurture that world. To love and care for it. To enable it, and us with it, to achieve our incredible potential.

Shanah Tovah u'metukah

Samuel Asher