Rosh Hashanah

“An angel of the Eternal One called to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’. And he answered, ‘Here I am’” Genesis 22: 11


Liberal Jews mostly keep one, rather than two, days Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, on the day of Rosh Hashanah, they can choose between Genesis 21 (read on the first day in Orthodox synagogues) and Genesis 22 (on the second day). It is the custom of my community to read the latter, the Akedat Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac.

Among the many layers of interpretation, Abraham’s response to God’s calling is probably one of the most profound: Hineini, “Here I am”. One should indeed start every day by saying to God, “here I am”, but at the beginning of a new year, this response is even more compelling.

Here I am, with my humanity, with my strengths and my weaknesses, ready to listen to Your voice and do Your will. That readiness begs the following questions.

What are we? How do we conduct our lives? How do we use that God-given freedom of choice? How do we engage with one another? With respect, or with disregard?

It is often said that Judaism focuses on the here and now, and that our conduct is measured by the criteria of a robust and positive ethics. But what does it say about human nature?

Humanity is diverse, ever evolving, and it cannot be contained in one single definition. However, our actions define our nature more than our words. In a way, Judaism embraces the ambiguity and complexity of human nature, and acknowledges that it changes over time — even in one’s lifetime.

We are all unique, we walk along our paths in this world, trying to make sense of it and to understand where we stand. We often stumble, err, make mistakes, and sometimes we need to assess where we are.

How precious then is this period of the High Holy Days. It teaches us what being human means. The whole purpose of life is to learn and to grow. For those who believe that death is not the end, it is the assurance of a long process of discovery and learning; and for those who don’t, the assurance of a fully-fledged and satisfactory life.

May you be inscribed in the book of life, a book that records your achievements, your successes, but also your failures. A book that celebrates your journey as a human being.



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