Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Autumn Leaves and Rosh Hashanah Thoughts

Tomorrow night begins Rosh Hashanah 5772,  the Jewish New Year.  As I wrote in a previous post, it comes in the fall in the Northern Hemisphere.  This year it is rather late, due to the cycles of the Hebrew Lunar Calendar.   Because there are no major Christian holidays at this time, many people have never heard of the Jewish High Holy Day cycle of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkot, the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles, as the KJV mistranslated.)  However, these holidays are much, much more important on our calendar that Hanukkah, which everyone has heard of because it comes near Christmas. 

Fall blackberry leaves
By Yonassan Gershom
Pine County, MN
In the natural world, the leaves are already turning fall colors here in Minnesota.  It might seem odd to begin a new year in the fall, when everything is going dormant.  Why not start in the spring, when new things are being born?  However, there is a spiritual reason for this.

The Jewish New Year, unlike the secular New Year, is not a time of parties and revelry.  It's a time of repentance and serious introspection, the Day of Judgement when God opens the Book of Life and looks at the karma of the world.  So it is appropriate that this holy day should come when the natural growth cycle is ending and old leaves are falling off, when we are looking over our past deeds, rather than focusing on the future.  This is a time to shed old behaviors, to bare our souls before God the way the trees are baring their branches.  A time to repent of our old mistakes and promise not to do them again.
Autumn Oak Leaves
By Yonassan Gershom
Pine County, MN

  Another symbolism connected with Rosh Hashanah is wearing white clothing, because of the verse, "Though your sins be scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18)  So once again, the brilliant red leaves falling off the trees are a reminder of the negative behaviors we seek to drop at this time of year.  They are beautiful for the moment, as temptations often seem to be, but they do not last very long.  At the same time, those falling leaves can, if composted properly, become fertilizer under the winter snow, for a better crop next year.  In the same way, understanding our past deeds becomes food for thought -- mental fertilizer if you will -- for improving our lives in the future.

Rosh Hashanah always comes at the dark of the moon, then the season moves toward greater light.  Much of Jewish symbolism focuses on moving from darkness into light.  Our days begin at sundown, based on the story of Creation in Genesis ("It was evening and it was morning...") where the very creation of the universe went from darkness to light.  So, as we move from Rosh Hashanah, the Judgement Day, toward Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the moon is getting brighter and brighter, until on Sukkot, the Harvest Festival, it is full.  In  the same way, we go from the somewhat depressing prospect of examining our past sins, toward making amends during the Ten Days of Repentance, until we receive forgiveness on Yom Kippur.  After that, we move forward together, to celebrate in the sukkah during Sukkot, the Feast of Booths - which I shall tell you more aobut in a future post.

Meanwhile, wishing everyone Shanah Tovah -- may you have a blessed, prosperous, and peace-filled New Year!
Flaming Fall Oak
by Yonassan Gershom
Pine County, MN


Shunraya said...

Perhaps we can see an added symbolism of the timing of Rosh Hashanah. Autumn is a time of quiet, when all the crops have already been planted and are nearing harvest.

We can't help but be reminded that the deeds, words, and thoughts that we have sown amongst each other are also coming to fruition. It's no wonder that sometimes we wish for a time machine that would allow us to go back and uproot some of these seedlings of ours before they take root.

As time travel goes, this season offers one of the more meaningful travel packages.

Shanah tovah!


Yonassan Gershom said...

Indeed, there are so many weeds I need to pull out of my soul right now -- or plow under!