At sundown, Rosh Hashanah begins. It’s the Jewish New Year, but more broadly it’s the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Tradition holds that the entire universe was created so that God could then create mankind to occupy it.
If the world exists so that we may live in it, we must surely be accountable for how we live in it, how we treat ourselves and each other and our surroundings. This too is part of Rosh Hashanah. The two most common images used to describe our relationship to God portray him as a king ruling over us, and as a shepherd tending to us. Shepherds and kings both hold the power of life and death over their charges.
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time.”
So says one of the holiday prayers, in which we acknowledge this aspect of our relationship with the Creator.
I certainly don’t think we’re meant to see God as the Grim Reaper, or an actuary, tallying our merits and marking the errant for death. There is equally an emphasis in the liturgy on repentance and atonement, and God’s forgiveness, and his boundless love for us. But what most of the world has forgotten is not that we are mortal, but that our mortality is within the domain of a greater power.
It is a mark of our decadence and arrogance that we have written God out of the equation. When doctors decline to care for a premature baby because they’ve decided his life isn’t worth living; when the elderly are denied care because their quality of life calculation is too low; when babies are aborted because their arrival doesn’t suit their parents’ schedules; when patients are euthanized, even with their consent, because the care they are getting doesn’t ameliorate their suffering – we are not only taking it upon ourselves to end another’s life, harming them, we are perverting our relationships with God, society, and ourselves.
May we all learn to hold life as dear as God did when He created a glorious world for us to inhabit, replete with smoked salmon, apple challah, flannel sheets on a cold night, bonfires in the fall, and the giggle of a toddler. Shana tova!