Rosh Hashanah and the Paradigm of Loving-kindness

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Illustration, Leo Etelman.
Illustration, Leo Etelman.Credit: Leo Etelman

More than anything else, the fundamental principle of Rosh Hashanah – the day according to Judaism on which the world was created: “This day is the birth of the world” – is benevolence. “Your mercy will be built forever,” say the Psalms. The very act of creation is an act of loving-kindness.

God – being, by philosophical definition, perfect – does not need the creation of the world for herself. The purpose of the world is the world in itself, its very existence, development, growth, the possibility of the person to exist in it. This is the paradigm that Judaism offers to the world through Rosh Hashanah. The day, says Judaism, even before it is a day of repentance, forgiveness or justice, is a day of creation, of formation, of rebirth.

The creation of the world, the entire world, the entire foundations, cannot truly exist if it does not emerge from this paradigm of loving-kindness, if it does not recognize that its basic role is to maintain, grow and raise those who exist in this same world. A person’s aspiration on Rosh Hashanah is not to repair the past, but to recreate the future – the internal and external – in which they live. The greatest tiding of Rosh Hashanah encloses is the unimaginable possibility to recreate the world – and of course ourselves– time after time. This is loving-kindness.

It’s not just kindness in the understanding of some act or another, but kindness as a point of origin, as a viewpoint, as a framework through which we view reality, from which everything is derived. Grace and benevolence as the possibility of searching, making mistakes, asking questions – falling and getting up, and falling once again. Mercy and goodness with the meaning of patience, granting time, complexity. After all, this is exactly the meaning of the justice of Rosh Hashanah – a judgment at whose foundation stands the aspiration to give more and more opportunities, to believe in people, to enable them to find the path. Judgment at whose foundation stands the right, mercy and the recognition of humanity.

After all, this is exactly the idea of the attribute of mercy – long-suffering patience – that is attributed to God. God is “slow to anger,” postpones the judgment, the end, delays the harsh judgment to allow people to add more and continue to exist. As it arises from this essence of Rosh Hashanah, of loving-kindness, for God, man is not a passive slave who exists only for as long as he does God’s bidding, and is thrown to the dogs immediately after he strays from the path. Man is a full partner in the process of creation.

But the possibility of being reborn, to build the world; the understanding that the world depends on humanity at least as much as the person is dependent on the world; this benevolence is what makes the person a partner of God and not just a “consumer” or God’s slave – as much as they empower humanity, its place in the world, in doing so, they also fill them with awe. This is the awe of Rosh Hashanah. Not fear of God but fear of man himself. Awe of the freedom they have, and the freedom of choice. This awe, which is just an awareness of the loving-kindness, a recognition of the path, the complexity, the incredible value of trial and error, of faith – can calm us a bit. It would truly be a missed opportunity if this text falls into a superficial discussion of belief in God, or not, etc. Nothing is farther from this text, from the message it wants to send, than that fruitless, irrelevant discussion.

In our broken time, the idea of the “paradigm of loving-kindness” – of seeing reality through a view of long-suffering patience, out of inclusivity of the complexities, out of coming into being, out of a deep recognition of the unknown, out of faith – which is likely the most relevant key to enable us, as individuals and society, to move forward toward the most critical challenge awaiting us in the new year, in the whirlwind of the disintegrating frameworks: To heal ourselves anew.

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