Enjoy this excerpt from the new book Tears: Reclaiming Ritual, Integral Religion, and Rosh Hashana by Dr. Marc Gafni that will be published with Integral Publishers. An earlier version of this article was published in 2008 as part of a longer article. Tears is available on Amazon here.
Re-Reading Rosh Hashanah
In our readings of Rosh Hashanah over the years, it has seemed to us that the classical understanding of Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgment, true and important as it may be, misses something central about the holiday. It is worth recalling the observation of the thirteenth-century scholar and mystic Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides), that nowhere in the biblical text is Rosh Hashanah identified as a day of judgment. In the meditation of this Neo- Hassidic tract we would like to suggest a fundamental paradigm in our understanding of Rosh Hashanah. This shift will be rooted not in fanciful conjecture but in a close reading of the Rosh Hashanah texts themselves. This is the evolutionary mystical process which evolves the consciousness of the manifest god.
However, all of this in no way implies that we hold the notion of Rosh Hashanah being a day of judgment as in some sense wrong. Of course Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment. This expresses our relationship to God as a Divine other, God as second person – as we have seen; a critical face of the Divine. This is the core of the Hebrew belief in ethical monotheism. Ethical monotheism is the direct knowledge, through intense spiritual practice and the gifts of translucent illumination, that there is one God; one God who includes all of reality, who is all of reality. This God, who is ultimately empty of all that is not real, is the ultimate fullness and reality of all. This God is not at all impersonal. This God is personal, though not in the primitive Santa Claus sense where God is a cosmic vending machine for our every desire. Rather, this God is personal Plus, not personal Minus. God is far more than Personal but in no sense less than personal. God is Ayin and Sunyatta and God knows your name. The primary demand of this face of God is ethical behavior for which we are held accountable and judged in love. The time-honored virtues of compassion, charity, loyalty, honesty, discipline, joy, self-sacrifice and ethical action are the code of allegiance to this God. This is the face of the Divine that we glimpse in Biblical and Prophetic consciousness. This is the Rosh Hashanah of Judgment. However, this is not the end of the story. The Rosh Hashanah of judgment over actions deepens into a Rosh Hashanah of growth and transformation where we are called to reveal and evolve our highest spiritual and emotional selves. This is the realization of our very divinity
The Path of Tears
In the vision of Rosh Hashanah that we will unpack from hidden strains of texts in the classical sources themselves, God is as concerned with the evolution of our tears as with the rightness of our actions. Indeed, the former shapes the latter. At this level of Rosh Hashanah consciousness, we seek to learn the language of our tears. Tears emerge as the major currency of evolution in the deepening and transformation sought on Rosh Hashanah. At this level of consciousness, the human being is called not only to right action derived from obedience to the Divine will but to right action that emerges from the depth of one’s newly realized Divine center. And this Divine center is realized when one becomes a Master of Tears. These two levels of understanding Rosh Hashanah are not in discord. Rather they dance and deepen into each other in an ascending melody of realization.