By Rabbi Yossi Lew | Chabad of Peachtree City
Have you ever observed parents holding their newborn for the very first time? It usually takes place moments after birth.
The infant is either crying, trying out its eyelids, or moving its lips up and down. The baby is utterly helpless; it does nothing consciously. And unless an adult takes full and total control, this infant will be unable to survive.
Thank goodness, parents feel an attachment to this infant like nothing they have ever felt previously. They will dote on this infant: They will dress it, clean it, feed it, play with it, talk to it, and sacrifice nights and days for the welfare of this child. They will do this with love and total devotion and commitment.
They will not, however, receive any type of compensation. The infant will continue to cry exactly when it feels like it, will be fed whenever it feels like eating, and will return every single effort of its parents with a straight, blank stare.
Yet this will not diminish the parents’ love, and everyone around will declare how “cute” and “adorable” this baby is.
The child may turn out to be an Abraham, a Moses, a King David or a Queen Esther. The infant can grow up to change the world or to be a kind, sweet and helpful member of humanity.
The infant can also grow up to be pure trouble, or worse.
The birth of a child, therefore, seems to mean very little in the scheme of things. It is impossible to know the outcome of the investment by the parents; the greatest and the worst all came into the world the same way.
But the parents are normally overcome with deep emotion at birth, shedding at least a tear or two.
Because, for the parents, this child is an extension of themselves. It is their essence lying in their arms. And when it comes to essence, nothing can get in the way.
The joy upon birth, which is impossible to describe, requires clarification. Both materially and spiritually, the infant was seemingly better off while developing in the mother’s womb.
Its body is completed months before birth. It is protected from damage and from the elements and is fed constantly. Not a moment of crying or discomfort is present for the fetus in the womb.
Similarly, the sages of the Talmud describe the soul of the fetus as being taught the basic elements of the entire Torah while basking in a spirit of sanctity in utero.
In the scheme of things, birth seems to be a more appropriate time of concern than celebration.
The answer is, indeed, about the essence — of the parents and the infant. From the moment of birth, the infant’s life begins to function in its intended manner: body and soul. Even a newborn must begin to use its own physical faculties for life to endure. The infant’s life is now its own.
True, the child will need decades of guidance, help and assistance to blossom into his or her full potential. At the same time, from the moment of birth, the essence of the complete person begins its revelation.
Birth is a celebration for the infant and the parents because only at birth, when freed from the total dependency on the mother, can the true essence of the child begin its revelation. This is also the source of celebrating a birthday each year. It is the progress of this element, or the resolution to make progress, that ultimately is being celebrated.
According to the above, Rosh Hashanah, the day marking the creation of the world, carries a tremendous and powerful significance: Although the year is in its infancy, it is precisely at Rosh Hashanah when the entire year can be shaped and directed. It is a new slate. New energy is introduced, with untold potential.
How will this coming year be remembered?
This question is particularly pertinent to every human being, the highest form of creation: On the day of Rosh Hashanah, 5,777 years ago, the Almighty blew a divine breath into a clump of dust from the earth, creating the soul, the life, of the first human beings.
Each year, this history comes back into play: What will the human soul do with the renewed energy and potential beamed into this world to create a “new year”?
Even more pertinent is the above to the Jewish people, who are commanded by the Torah to celebrate and commemorate Rosh Hashanah.
The two days of Rosh Hashanah contain the call of the shofar, surrounded by many extra prayers, customs and foods. It is a birthday celebration, containing opportunity to focus on the birth and emergence of new potential in all matters pertaining to Judaism.
When thinking back, this past year seems to have been more shaky and troubling than any in recent memory — for all humans, but especially for the Jewish people.
The Middle East continues to be plagued by barbaric viciousness. Europe has been beset by terrible terrorism as well. The Far East has seen its issues, including passenger planes disappearing. The challenges in Africa continue to be exacerbated by sectarian and religious violence.
For the Jewish people, troubles have exploded during this past year. Vicious attacks in Israel and elsewhere. A dreadful campaign, specifically on college campuses, to delegitimize Israel, including boycotting its products. This is all on top of the continued threat to its existence that Israel faces each day, especially intensified by the developments of this past year by an implacable enemy in Iran.
The world, led by the spineless United Nations, holds Israel to different standards. Condemnation continues to pour out of that sorry institution against Israel but never against dystopias like North Korea and Sudan.
When approaching the birth of a new year, with its potentials and hopes, it would help to turn back to the birth of a child and the joy and celebration of its essence.
With that in mind, here is a thought.
While Israel’s being held to higher standards is fueled by pure lies, ignoring of facts, and, first and foremost, by rank anti-Semitism, nonetheless a positive point is present in all this: Each Jewish person is bequeathed an inheritance. This is the Torah.
Most of the world is familiar with its contents and is aware that Jewish people are expected to follow what it says. The Torah presents a true higher standard for matters pertaining to body and soul. Standards for food, for modesty and for treatment of one another are highlighted. Standards in how to worship the Almighty are also expected.
While anti-Semitism and ignorance must be eliminated, the positive side of the higher standards should not be ignored. At Rosh Hashanah, the birth of the year and the anniversary of the birth of all humans, each Jewish person is expected to do something, anything, toward the effort of reaching out and maintaining the higher standard.
My family joins me in wishing everyone shana tova u’mesuka — a good and sweet year.
May this coming year bring each of you good health and prosperity, both material and spiritual, nachas (good news and pleasure) from your children and grandchildren, and much success in all your endeavors. And may it be a peaceful year, a year of growth, and a year of inspired life for all Jews and for all people in the entire world.
Rabbi Yossi Lew is the co-director of Chabad of Peachtree City.