Rosh Hashana: an invitation to our deep purpose
What is the meaning of Rosh Hashanah? What does it mean to celebrate the birth of the world – Yom Harat Olam?
For me, birth connotes purpose. What have we taken birth for? What is our deep purpose in the world? How is this related to the sovereignty of the Divine? That’s also what we do on Rosh Hashanah – we crown the divine as Sovereign.
There is no other sovereign than Mystery. Some may call it Divine. But it is not worth losing layers of magnificent reality because of our alienation from concepts about God. Let’s just call it the Unknown. Are we willing to face towards the mystery, possibility and imagination of that which we do not know?
And it is sweet. This sweetness is embodied through our tradition of eating apple with honey. Tasting the sweetness of creation. Sometimes some of us have more easy access to the sweetness because of privilege. Even with privilege, sometimes we need to do work to get to the sweetness. Sometimes we need to chew and chew our experiences until we can extract the sweetness from them. It could be that we are not open to accepting and seeing the good that is around us. The more we open to it and create the pathways in our own beings to receive love and the good, the more that it can enter us from the outside.
But we create the pathways.
So we have the birthday of the world, connecting to our deep purpose, the sovereignty of the divine, and the sweetness of creation. How can we make meaning of these concepts in our lives, in our engagement with the world?
I have just returned from a four-day listening trip to Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and Ramallah with prominent Jewish leaders from the US with the organisation I work for called Encounter. We are a non-partisan educational organisation who understand that Jewish leaders cannot have an accurate picture of – and relationship with – Israel without engaging with Palestinians, the people with whom we are destined to live in the land.
We ask Jewish leaders to lean into their discomfort, to listen resiliently, to ask their most difficult and challenging questions, and to let themselves be moved and transformed through their contact with the “other”.
In whatever configuration it happens politically, neither Jews nor Palestinians will be going anywhere. It’s my deep prayer that the recognition of this inevitability will birth safe and sustainable life opportunities for all people.
It can be easier for diaspora Jews to be allies for folks around social justice, leaving Israel aside. And it’s hard to work out how to show love for Israel across a range of very challenging circumstances. Ahavat Israel – the love of the Jewish people – is at the core of our work. It is not about alienating any relationships but about keeping relationship at the centre. How do we build trust in all our relationships, reinforcing our sense that our love can be robust? Our love does not need to be protected or guarded against any truth.
Connecting to our deep purpose is a purifying fire that allows us to be courageous and to exercise discernment.
What are the different faces of love in all of our relationships? What is the most loving “no” you have ever said? What are the different faces of this love of Israel?
This morning, I literally dreamt about a new song. We were in East Jerusalem. There were beautiful Jewish people there with instruments. I was wanting to sing a new song but they were coming up with Hava Nagila and it felt too sentimental. Like we hadn’t yet come across the song we could sing that represented our full capacity for song and for newness.
And I’m in the middle of reading Tales of Power by Carlos Castenada. Don Juan is training the protagonist in being a warrior. Being a warrior is what Rosh Hashanah calls forth from us. Castenada describes how we see what we believe and how we have to learn to see more than what we already believe – that’s another element of making the divine, or making mystery, sovereign.
Don Juan says:
Your knowledge of the world told you that in the bushes one can only find animals prowling or men hiding behind the foliage. You held that thought, and naturally you had to find ways to make the world conform to that thought…It is rather the habit of making the world always conform to our thoughts. When it doesn’t we simply make it conform.
Making the Divine sovereign means that our understanding is not finite and is always subject to updates and openings and recalibrations. It’s an invitation to not know, to get caught in that temporary holy confusion that signals to us we are learning something new. Thank goodness for that. If we don’t get stuck in one idea of what things are, then things can continue to reveal themselves to us. Because things are not static and we even re-experience the same things in different ways then the sweetness of creation can be constantly revealed to us and tasted and felt in our bodies. It may be a sweetness of the new, or it may be a sweetness of the old that has been chewed and chewed until the sweetness was extracted.
May we all make Mystery sovereign this Rosh Hashanah. While the familiar falls away may we be held in love as we find our new ground and ever after.