The threat of the climate crisis and the challenge of climate justice has seeped more and more into my psyche of late. With that in mind, I have been struck this year, while preparing for these supposed highest of holidays, by how very human centric they are.
On one level, we honor today as a birthday celebration. Tomorrow, or Jewishly, later today after we wake up, when we blow the shofar, we will recite: “Hayom Harat Olam. Today the world is born. Today all creatures everywhere are present.” And we might think, today is the anniversary of creation! The day in which the universe and all its life was created! Let us honor the beauty, resilience, diversity, and amazement in all of the natural world! And yes, let’s please do that. We do not roll and stroll in nature to throw bread and rocks in a natural body of water for nothing.
And, according to at least one stream of our tradition, Rosh HaShanah - the birthday of the world, actually falls on the anniversary of the 6th day of creation. According to a midrash in Vayikra Rabbah, the 25th of Elul, a day of nonconsequence on the modern Jewish calendar, or, this past Wednesday, was the anniversary of the beginning of the 7 days of creation. This would make today, Rosh HaShanah, the anniversary of the day humans were created - the 6th day of creation. The birthday honey cake is for you and me, in particular.
And I ask: humans - where are you? Or, put differently, where is our humanness, our humanity? Where are we?
This question - where are you? - was first asked a Jewish 5780 years ago today in the garden of Eden. And perhaps it bears repeating today. Those first humans, created in the divine image, were almost given it all. Genesis 2:9 recalls the abundance: “and from the ground Adonai caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food.” We know that the tree of life and the tree of knowledge were among these trees, yet, G-d told them, these were the only two off-limits. If you want to be here and benefit from what has been created for the thriving of your life, there are rules to follow. But on the same day humans were created, so too was missing the mark. So too was rebelliousness. So too was deception. So too was exile. Those first humans defied G-d’s only ask and ate from the tree of knowledge, despite G-d’s warning that, if so, they would die. But the humans received a second opinion. The serpent - haNakhash - tells them “you are not going to die, but [when] you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.” The humans had two conflicting opinions and made a choice. Thus agency was born. On this day, 5780 Jewish-conception-of-years ago, agency was born.
When confronted with the decision to eat from the tree of knowledge, God asked them: ayeka? Where are you? For upon hearing the sounds of God in the garden, the humans, in all their freshly born dignity, hid.
And of course this is why today is not just the Day the World was born, but also, the Day of Judgement. The day all beings pass before the creator and our fate for the year ahead is judged. For today, 5780 years ago, just as agency was born, so was missing the mark. So was responsibility. So was accountability. The first humans, or at least this story about them, laid the groundwork for teshuvah. Our actions have consequences now, and for time to come.
It is in these Days of Awe that our trajectory for the entire year ahead can be aligned. How we communicate with friends, family, and strangers; how we care for our body, mind, and soul; how we relate to the children and the elders in our lives; how we show up, when, where, and why.
More than the year ahead, we might choose to put some stock in the concept of a decade - 10 not being an unimportant number in Jewish tradition nor for the mathematical patterns of the universe, nor, at this point, for climate scientists. For as today is the Head of the Year, it is also the first day of the 5780s. For some of us, the other 80s, the 1980s, can be remembered for many things, among the most benign, synthesized music and big hair. But it was also a time that deeply intensified and ingrained mass incarceration, income and wealth inequality, and climate degradation, again, to only name a few.
The 5780s offer us renewal. Offer us vision. What will these 10 years bring? Some of what offers, no doubt, will be what they will be. Kacha ze, goes the Hebrew expression - translated roughly as “it is what it is.” Some of what it offers, meanwhile, will be made so because of our agency today.
On the precipice of this destined to be monumental 10 years, I ask: where are you? Where are you hiding? What did you do for which you are avoiding responsibility? And I suggest, that Rosh HaShanah and these 10 days leading us into Yom Kippur are inviting us out of hiding. To take ownership and fess up. To practice acting differently. For as this year that has just begun comes to its end, and we stand here, please G-d, a year from now together, I pray none of us are asking ourselves when it counted: where was I?