Study and Theory/
Yom Kippur

Dotan Barom

Festivals of Tishrei

Alpaca Group, September 2006

"On Rosh Hashana Man was created and stood before the Master of the Universe."

The Zohar

 

Autumn has arrived. With its familiar chilly mornings and crisp air. A light drizzle two days ago was dismissed with a wave of the hand by the weathermen as a trivial episode of precipitation, not worthy of being considered the first rain of the season. A bland sky is suddenly awash with fascinating cloud formations, and the myriad pomegranate seeds and discarded apple cores attest to the land’s abundant goodness.

 

Traditionally, four different new years feature in the Hebrew calendar. The first three are fiscal years. Nissan is the beginning of the “civil” year, when a king’s reign begins. Elul marks the taking of tithes on livestock, while Shvat is birthday to the trees and resets the counter on produce tax. Tishrei, however, is Rosh Hashana – the manifestation of a new year on the timeline of history. From Rosh Hashana we begin the human year, and this day also marks the beginning of the annual planting season.

 

This leads us to two reciprocal questions: Why does Tishrei mark the start of the new year for Man? And what is the link between the human year and sowing seeds for crop growth?

 

The Midrash in Sefer HaZohar says: ""On Rosh Hashana Man was created and stood before the Master of the Universe." Rosh Hashana is the day of Man’s creation, and the cyclical nature of myths determines that every Rosh Hashana, Man is created anew. It’s a time of new beginnings, a time to look back on the past year and focus on self-introspection. We are given a chance to start over, but essentially we are on trial.

 

Yom Kippur is a time of purification, and the period preceding Yom Kippur starting from Rosh HaShana is an opportunity to make amends and work on our shortcomings. The convergence of Man’s yearly cycle with the start of autumn and the planting season is a message to Man regarding our internal sowing of plans and decisions for the coming year. After the scorching summer has left us bare and lifeless, it’s time to awaken, get to work and cultivate our seeds until we witness the fruit of our labor when Shavuot ushers in the harvest season.

 

In astronomy, Rosh Hashana falls out in the "Tishrei period," around the day of the autumn equinox. The Canaanites celebrated a series of new years at this time. Canaanite mythology tells of Ba’al, the rain and storm god, who conquered Sea-River, lord of the great bodies of water. Ba’al, representing agriculture and propagation, vanquishes Sea-River, who represents the chaotic forces of nature. The myth refers on the one hand to the return of the good rains at this time of year, and on the other hand, the beginning of the human year. Thus, Man creates order in the world and is then ready to begin a new year.

 

My wish for us all – is that we be able to create a better “self” this year. That we have the power to dream, and that this year’s blessed rain bring with it realization of those dreams. That we pick the right seeds to plant and nurture their growth until they develop into magnificent crops. And may the year ahead hold only good fortune and kindness for us all.

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