“This is the day of the beginning of your creation,” we read in our Yom Tov prayer books. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah marks the day of the creation of Adam and Eve, and on that very day they proclaim God as King of the Universe.
And yet, as we know from the very first story in the book of Genesis, the glory of that day is short-lived. Within hours, Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Their eyes are opened. They become aware that they are naked and they are ashamed.
In a recent essay in a secular-oriented Jewish weekly, a woman describes a modern re-enactment of this tale. Her faith in God is shattered when she reads the book Cosmos and discovers a “mind-defying universe where distances are so vast that they are measured in light years.”
She is sorry to have read it because now she knows “God’s terrible secret, that this universe is large, and that He pounds out worlds like matzo balls, as many as He pleases, without so much as glancing at Earth.”
Though she had once felt close to God, she no longer knows how to integrate a personal God into her world.
“I tried to understand God,” she writes. “I mean, we humans have always wanted a God that is all-great and all-powerful, but not quite like that. Just enough so we could pretend He is a lot like us and we are enough like Him, and that the universe is not much larger than our minds.”
The god she had created in her own image has been shattered.
The loss of her innocence is not unlike the loss of innocence we all experience as we travel from childhood to adulthood. Once upon a time, we knew that our parents were all knowing and all powerful, that they loved us more than anything, and that we were perfect in their eyes. We knew good people were rewarded and bad people were punished so they would mend their ways. We knew God had created the world and that He listened to our prayers.
And then one day, sudden as a death, we lost our innocence. We learned that our parents were not perfect and neither were we; that truth, if it existed, would not be simple, but convoluted and twisted and complex. We no longer knew if we mattered in this unfathomable world, and how God could really know us or wish to do so.
Like Adam, like Eve, like countless people who have crossed this earth, we taste the fruit and are banished from Eden.
But that is not the end of the story. All of our history is a journey to find redemption and recapture what was lost.
We cannot remain childish in our understanding but we pursue always the wish to be childlike in our knowledge. While a simplistic faith cannot sustain us, we still seek a place where our faith is simple.
There is a chassidic tale of an ignorant shepherd boy who came to the synagogue and, unable to read the prayers, pierced the heaven with his heartfelt cries and whistles. We do not envy his ignorance. And yet no matter how sophisticated and subtle our understanding, we long to be able to utter a prayer as sincere as his shepherd’s call.
The true Jewish “coming of age story” is not about loss, but about search. The search for a teacher, for a mentor, for a deeper and stronger faith – one as sure and unquestioning as the faith of a child, and yet bold enough, brave enough, to heal our fragmented world.
Perhaps that is why the Jewish New Year begins in the fall. As the gold and glitter of summer dims and fades, as the days grow shorter and the leaves crumble, there is a death of innocence. And yet from amidst the death, new life springs forth.
The shofar is simple ram’s horn, an instrument without subtlety or gradation. The sound, say the chassidic masters, is like the call of a child. It is blown on Rosh Hashanah in a rhythmic sequence. First a tekiah – a long, simple cry. Then the shevarim, a broken call, with three shorter blasts. Then the teruah, with nine staccato sounds, like a sob. And finally a longer tekiah, which goes on and on with a slow exhaling of breath.