One of the themes we encounter on Rosh Hashanah is the idea that Hashem created the world, and the First of Tishrei is the anniversary of this noteworthy beginning. In the Ashkenazi tradition, even on Shabbat when we don’t blow the shofar, we say the tefilla, HaYom harat olam, ….
Similarly, in the introduction to the Shofarot section of the Musaf Amida, we find this line: Zeh haYom techilat ma’asecha, zikaron leYom Rishon, translated: This is day when you began creating, a remembrance of the First Day, …”. This birthday party has its noisy horns, festive clothes, and signature foods to be sure. However, the creation theme effectively compliments quite closely the theme of Teshuva, of repentance, and starting again.
Rabbi Sacks, in his essay that fronts his Koren Machzor, speaks of cultures of shame and cultures of guilt. In a culture of shame, there is no method for the absolution of sin. Mistakes cling to you and haunt you for life. In cultures of guilt, such as the Torah system of Judaism, we have a means of reviewing the past, processing what we have done, resolving to do even better in the future, and then entering the next phase without the previous phase weighing down the prayerful penitent. There is a healthy taking stock of the past year’s decisions, and the individual moves forward, reborn with something resembling the clean slate of a fresh new world.
The truth is that most human affairs are messy, and we don’t clean up quite so neatly. The opening parshiyot of Sefer Bereisheet which we will read right after Chagei Tishrei, right after Simchat Torah, help us understand the transition with more depth. Hashem first created the world. During Noach’s time he destroys what was in the past and he RECREATES the world, but not from scratch entirely. Hashem takes a capsule from the imperfect past and brings it forward to the next phase of the world, a phase in which he hopes humanity will set their affairs in a much better fashion. The past is literally destroyed, but essential elements of what was inform the upcoming, and improved, future.
At AJA, we aim to bring forward the essential elements of the seventy years of our predecessor schools’ past, and to reaffirm the goals and values that AJA itself has represented coming up now on one decade of service to Jewish Atlanta. Wishing everyone a healthy, productive, happy, and sweet New Year. May Hashem grant us the good wishes of our heart.
Ketiva VaChatima Tova, a Shana Tova U’Metuka!
Rabbi Avi Levitt is Head of School for Atlanta Jewish Academy.