Question: Can/should a birthday be a source of self-reflection? If so, why and how?
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905) was a leader of the Gerrer sect of hasidim. He is best known for his commentary to the Torah, Sefat Emet (literally, The Language of Truth).
Here is a selection from one of his teachings on Rosh Hashanah that discusses the dimension of renewal that we may feel on Rosh Hashanah:
"The people of Israel must celebrate Rosh Hashanah because the world is renewed....This is a kindness of the Creator, may He be blessed, that He renews life every Rosh Hashanah...Similarly, God renews creation...And on Rosh Hashanah, there is an even greater degree of renewal of the days of the year."
The idea that God constantly renews the world may be difficult to take literally for a number of reasons.
Question: Do you think there anything from this teaching that we can use to give us greater insight into Rosh Hashanah. If so, what message(s) regarding Rosh Hashanah can we gain from this teaching?
Background: Sarah, conceived Isaac at the age of 90. Rachel, Jacob's wife, went many years without any children. She finally gave birth to Joseph (she later died while giving birth to Benjamin). Hannah lived later, at the end of the period of judges. She was childless for many years before giving birth to the prophet Samuel. Joseph was sold by his brothers into servitude and wound up in Egypt where he was eventually falsely accused and sent to Pharaoh's prison. According to this passage, Joseph was released from prison on Rosh Hashanah.
Background: Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees with Rabbi Eliezer and believes that the world was created in Nissan, the month during which Passover falls. (The medieval commentators who create the commentary Tosafot believe that, according to Rabbi Yehoshua, God decided to create the world on Rosh Hashanah but didn't do so until the month of Nissan.)
Question: What would Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Joseph being answered on Rosh Hashanah suggest about this day?
Background: Genesis 2:7 states that God gives life to Adam by breathing into his mouth.
1. According to the Midrash, what exactly was created on Rosh Hashanah? What would this suggest about the meaning and significance of Rosh Hashanah?
2. How does the Midrash connect creation and judgment on Rosh Hashanah?
3. The Hasidic leader Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger (1847-1905) in his Sefat Emet (The Language of Truth) writes: "On Rosh Hashanah, the power through which God creates Adam is renewed--'And He blew the breath of life into [Adam]' (Genesis 2:7).
In what way does this teaching build on the themes of the Midrash above?
1. What does the image of us passing before God like sheep suggest about Rosh Hashanah?
2. How is the Mishnah using the prooftext from Psalms 33:15 to suggest this idea about Rosh Hashanah? Do you think it has anything to do with the idea of the world being created on Rosh Hashanah?
3. What would it mean for God to consider (or understand) all of our actions?