Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rosh Hashana roadblocks within the Jurassic Age and Eden

A picture that should have gone extinct.

"You're better than Maryland," an ex-boyfriend said, speaking of the university in which I attend.
"Please stop psycho analyzing me," I responded, with as much exasperation a Whatsapp message can relate.

It's comments like this, that one promises herself are inane, mistaken and above consideration. But it's also comments like this one that fires a girl up at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday, to read from the Halacha sefer that's become a packing list priority. It ranks above socks. Go ahead and call my bluff.

Two weeks ago my chevrutah and I finally culminated another chapter, this one on Messianic lineage, and embarked on a more tangy and tangible topic. Just thinking about the holiday conjures oven smells of fresh circular loaves, succulent cuts of London broil and apples drowned in dollops of runny honey, to ensure a sweet new year. Rosh Hashanah is approaching.

My chevrutah and I read a commentary that said crops, foliage, bodies of water and people are each judged before G-d during Pesach, Shavuoth, Sukkoth and Rosh Hashana respectively. The commentator brought references of various sacrifices and blessings that supported his approach, to which I squinted and admittedly, eye-rolled, but accepted nevertheless.

Then we reached a bit about the shofar, the ram's horn reminiscent of the animal that replaced Isaac in his act of selfless atonement. The shofar, traditionally blown during the coronation of an Israelite king, is blasted on Rosh Hashana as the Jewish People renew our vows with G-d as King of the Universe. Like the bass of a drum, shofar blasts pound the heart and echo through the ears, leaving a stamp-like impression intended to last a year.

Some things that make me say "Ma-Rabu-ma'asecha Hashem"
"How great are your deeds, Hashem":
 Venice Beach, CA 2014
Great Falls, MD 2014
College Park, MD 2016

The Torah commands that Rosh Hashana be celebrated on the 1st of the 7th month, which according to a reliable search, will be celebrated this year on October 3rd. Rabbis say Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of creation, which according to the Gregorian calendar would mark 5,777 years since the beginning of time.

I had to stop our learning, to scratch my scalp, to reconcile the chronological roadblock of the Jurassic age and Eden. I looked at my chevrutah and gave her the customary apology I typically say before sounding like a heretic.

"What exactly do we mean by 'creation' when we celebrate Rosh Hashana?," I asked. "Are we celebrating the instant light was created on the 'first day,' are we celebrating the instant mankind was created on the 'sixth day' or are we celebrating an Eden that occurred after hundreds of millions of evolutionary years?"

We didn't know.

In my initial research I found divergent and obscure opinions, one claimed that fossils are used as Divine ploys to test man. Another said that everything--Man, trees, animals--were created in their mature forms, so why couldn't rocks also have been created to appear millions of years old, in their mature form too? And if so, how do scientists know that rocks age at the same rate each year? Could they not have aged quicker during a period of tremendous combustion, such as the time of the flood?

We didn't know.

What I did realize though was that something in my gut felt wrong. Something in my gut felt wrong to say that Rosh Hashana is the exact sixth day of creation, when man was blown from dust. But then, how do I make sense of the biblical command to celebrate on the 1st day of the 7th month?

I believe that Rosh Hashana was arbitrarily assigned as a day to commemorate world existence and to reflect on our relationship with the world's Creator. I don't know if going back 5,777 years will drop me on Eden's doorstep, but personally, that doesn't affect my enjoyment of Rosh Hashana. Much like how I spent the fast of Tisha B'av this year watching biographies of Hitler, Anne Frank and reading through the journal I kept during my visit to Poland, even though the Holocaust has nothing to do with the destruction of the Temples. It's a day subsequent generations arbitrarily linked to the Holocaust to remember persecution. Likewise, I guess, I consider Rosh Hashana a day for Man to reflect on his existence and to come together as a people to coronate their king, even if it may not be the definitive 'day' Man was created.

Thankfully, my Chevrutah tolerates my borderline heresy and encourages us both to continue questioning. Not whether we sound like believing Jews, but how to make our belief more sound as Jews. And that's through questioning.

Still Orthodox, Still Frum, Don't worry Mom.