The Birthday of Creation

A Rosh Hashanah Sermon
by Rabbi Benjamin H. Englander

Tradition teaches us that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of creation. "Hayom harat olam."

In our traditional literature, the rabbis have contemplated the manner of creation.

Rabbi Eleazar said the world was created from the center. Rabbi Joshua maintained "Min hatz'daddin nivra -- The world was created from the sides." On the other hand, Rabbi Yitzchak said that God threw a stone into the ocean and from it the world was formed. Finally the Wise Men (Chachamim) said, "Mi-Tzion nivra ha-olam -- Out of Zion was the world created," and they quote a verse from the Psalms, "God, God, the Lord hath spoken and called the earth. From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, out of Zion the perfection of beauty God hath shined for thee."

In this cryptic passage we find an analysis for the various approaches to Jewish life. All organization communal effort is dedicated to the preservation of the Jewish People, but the same problem is approached differently by the various organizations.

1) Nationalistic approach: "Mi-Tzion nivra ha-olam." The panacea of Jewish survival rests in the securing of the Jewish State. There is much merit to this claim. It undoubtedly will be a dominantly contributing factor, but in itself, not decisive. Even in our brief experience, we have found limitations.

A. The yishuv does not understand nor can they appreciate the mentality, the problems, and the difficulties of the galut. Discussion at the World Zionist Congress showed that Israelis underestimate the American Jew and his position.

B. Variations exist in culture and climate. We admittedly remain one people, yet we will be distinctive because of our different environments and developments.

2) Another approach to the solution of the problem of Jewish survival is that of Rabbi Yitzchak: God threw a stone into the waters and the world was formed. The fatalist, the man who blindly accepts the indestructibility of our People, need not plan. Haphazardly, we can continue to plod along the path of history.

3) The vast majority of our Jews today are peripheral. They engage in all kinds of activity on behalf of Jews (relief, defense, social), all of them secular programs in a Jewish environment. They try to solve the problem of Jewish survival min ha-tz'daddin -- from the sides. They create Jews without Judaism. This point of view does not offer the necessary stimulus to make up for the Jewish deficiency.

4) One sage teaches that "Mi'emtziato nivra ha'olam -- The world was created from the center." To solve a problem, most of us believe, one must go to the very core of it. Our problem in Jewish survival is caused by the fact that our distinctiveness and our individuality has worn thin: The barrier of separation of the Jew from the rest of the world has been destroyed.

None of us wants the segregation of the Jew, but we can not escape the historical truth that our spiritual refuge was invaded when the Ghetto walls crumbled, and that in turn brought about the process of assimilation and created the very problem of Jewish survival. "Ni'hiyeh k'chol ha-goyim -- We will be like other Peoples" became a reality. With the removal of the danger of physical destruction at the hands of pogromists and Jew-baiters, we now face the dangers of spiritual self-liquidation. In brief, our problem is that in securing our physical well being, we have surrendered our spiritual security.

How can we restore the deficiencies in Jewish life? How can we build up the daily details in the pattern of Jewish living? How can we restore the fiber of our high moral ethical and cultural standards? Only by making the faith and the teachings of our forefathers a functional part of our day-to-day living. The home and the synagogue are the centers from which the Jewish world can be re-created and the entire gamut of Jewish living reconstructed.

1. We must make our home not merely a domicile, but a mikdash m'at -- a small sanctuary, a home characterized by Jewish observances (Jewish books, Jewish objects), and thereby restore a sense of Jewishness to our families.

2. Festivals and, particularly, Sabbath observance must once again become an integral part of Jewish life.

To the Rabbis, the Sabbath was the source of all blessings. They taught that if two Sabbaths were observed, scrupulously, the Messiah would come. Achad Ha'am, in our own day, taught that "more than Israel has preserved the Sabbath, the Sabbath has preserved Israel."

We are aware of the economic pressures, but within the maximum of our ability, we should try to make the Sabbath meaningful in our lives. There are areas in which we can be effective: It should not be made a shopping day and occasion for bargain hunting; Jewish merchants could work through their associations and chambers of commerce to avoid making Friday night the shopping night.

On the positive side, we could focus our attention upon home ceremonies, such as candle lighting, the Kiddush, the Sabbath and festival family dinner, and synagogue attendance for religious worship.

The revitalization of Jewish spiritual living will give purpose to our striving, and meaning to our struggles.


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