Rosh Hashana 2014 שנה טובה

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Each person is required to write his or her own 'Book of Life'. On the Day of Judgment, I simply ratify what has been written. - Midrash

Dear Friends, dear Partners,

The approach of a new year invites us to restropection to foster change and renewal in a better world.
On the occasion of Rosh Hashana, it is our pleasure to share with you some thoughts on new beginnings and cyclical time delivered by Professor Moshe Idel whom we are privileged to count among our friends.
We hope that you will enjoy reading them and that they will enrich you as they are enriching us.

May you all be blessed with a happy, peaceful, healthy and prosperous new year.

Joëlle & Gad

NEW BEGINNING

Many religious practices are centered on privileged moments related to the cyclical return of astronomically defined basic units of time, and this is indeed the case when it comes to the units of month and year. Circularity informs religious life, and it has also found its way into many secular traditions. The points of commencement of the longer units, the years, have long since been considered as formative moments that are flexible enough to be influenced by divine and human action. They are often linked to the celebration of a new beginning, and the common custom of exchanging wishes is part of the conscious and unconscious beliefs that by way of linguistic articulation, be it written or verbal, one can positively impact the nature of the processes in the coming year.

These beliefs – which stem from a magical view of the universe as being determined, at least in part, by human acts of an emotional and linguistic nature – are transformed into an interpersonal deed that conveys the sense of a special relationship with and sincere care for the well-being of others. We may assume, however, that beyond good intentions and politeness, these wishes create a much more positive disposition in both the persons who send them and in those who receive them. If we take into consideration the great influence of psychosomatic processes on human behavior, we may assume that the shift from ancient linguistic magic to secular forms of celebration in modern life did not totally obliterate the efficacy of positive exchanges of wishes, especially by inducing the feeling that new beginnings conducive to better developments are indeed possible.

It would be wise to remember that new beginnings automatically bring to mind the ending of the previous year and, by extension, its problems, which may not dissipate by the changing of the numeric year on the calendar; such moments of introversion may provoke some negative or pessimistic thoughts. We are encompassed to such a great extent by complex linguistic webs (both inner and external ones) that shape our visions of the world and our self-perceptions, which are quite difficult to extricate from them – that the modest contribution of a wish may reinvigorate those people in need of external reinforcement to walk down a more optimistic track. Paralleling linguistic influences in philosophical thought, today we accept much more the importance of language in shaping our universe. Wishing is, therefore, to a certain extent, also giving something freely, in the spiritual sense.

To take an example from a rather neglected motif in Jewish mysticism: Messianic figures undertook some form of activity in the Jewish New Year. This is obvious in the case of Abraham Abulafia in the 13th century and Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (Baal Shem Tov, or Besht) in the 18th century. Perhaps intending to break the cyclical time in order to bring some form of redemption, they, nevertheless, saw in this day a privileged moment in time. Interestingly, both intended to establish some form of dialogue or conversation with important figures: the Pope and the Messiah, respectively.

In the spirit of the above, I would like to wish the Matanel Foundation a Happy New Year.

Moshe Idel