INSIGHT

5761 - #2

The Renewal Of Autumn

Rosh Hashanah, the start of a new year, marks renewal and, thus, as we contemplate the new, it would seem appropriate for us to look at ourselves and also make new personal inroads. The connection of tshuva, repentance, to this time period seems apparent. The timing of Rosh Hashanah and this sense of newness, however, seems strange. It would seem to be more appropriate for this focus on tshuva to occur in the Spring when newness and a sense of rebirth fills our being.1 Furthermore, it would seem that, as Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of the world, its place also would be more connected to the Spring. It seems strange to think of the world as beginning with the season of Autumn.2
The place of this period of tshuva within the harvest cycle also seems alien. The time to contemplate repentance would seem to be at the beginning of the farm year, not at its conclusion. It is at the time of planting that one would seem to be most unsure, most concerned about the future of the crop and thus most open to reconsider his being and behaviour in recognition of Divine Judgment. At the time of the harvest, the time of Rosh Hashanah, what exists, exists. The concern for repercussion is lessened; the stimulus for change is lacking. This would not seem to be the opportune time to foster tshuva.
Mishneh Brura 664:2 states that on Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Succot, we are judged concerning rain and the Divine Judgment for the year receives its final seal. We are thus informed that the tshuva period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur concludes with Hoshana Rabba and the prayer for rain.
3 Concern for the future is thus part of the fabric of this tshuva time period. Even as one celebrates the harvest, the concern for next year's crop is on one's mind; there is apprehension about the rain necessary to ensure a bountiful harvest. The time is actually opportune for tshuva. Furthermore, in focusing on tshuva at this time we recognize the need to consider the long term. Even as the present is fine, one must be concerned about the future. Even as one celebrates today's harvest, one must be concerned about tomorrow. The focus on tshuva during this time now seems appropriate. It also teaches us to understand tshuva and life in the greater context.
The contemplation of tshuva within a larger framework may also assist in understanding the creation of the world in Autumn and the projection of newness within this time period. For the new to emerge, the old must expire.
4 Change does not mean just the onset of the new but the conclusion of the old. For Spring to occur and the new to emerge, the old had to cease. Before Spring there must be Autumn. Tshuva is not just a statement about the future; it is also a statement about the past. It is not enough that one adopts new behaviour; one must confront past behaviour and mark its end. As Rambam, Hilchot Tshuva 1:1 states, to accomplish tshuva one must have remorse for past sins, not just refrain from future sins. For there to be a change in the individual, there must first be an end, a separation from the old before there can be a commitment to the new. Renewal begins with a conclusion of what existed prior. It is Autumn that begins the renewal process. The timing of Creation informs us of life's inherent dynamic nature for, even at its very onset, the world marked an end that must precede a beginning.
Yet, while these perspectives may add to our understanding of tshuva and shed some light on this time period, there is still a lack. While one should contemplate the long term and see the larger picture, it is the immediate that is still most powerful. The human being in experiencing nature at this time feels a process of winding down. It is the harvest and its celebration that dominates this time period within the agricultural cycle. Notwithstanding what has been presented, Autumn and the harvest still do not seem to be a time for tshuva.
For most, it is true that tshuva is motivated by an anxiety about the future. We are concerned about Divine Judgment and Punishment. Yet, it is the harvest that should motivate tshuva. Repentance, the desire to change, to grow, to connect with God, ultimately, should arise from appreciation and from love. It is the very pleasure of the harvest, not the fear of famine, that should motivate us to make a commitment to change, to become better manifestations of our essences.
And what better time to make this commitment than the beginning of the time period that forces us to focus on ourselves. Spring/Summer are times of activity; times when one goes out, lives in the greater world. Fall/Winter are times when one is bound more to the home, to the inside, to the realm of the passive. It is not surprising that the school year begins in the Fall. Autumn is the beginning of the time of study, of introspection, of personal contemplation. It is the beginning of the New Year. The harvest is over and we are thankful. We must now look at ourselves and initiate the renewal of our beings.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Notes

1 T.B. Rosh Hashanah 10b,11a actually presents a disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua as to whether the world was created in the month of Tishri or in the month of Nisan. Rabbi Eliezer&127s view that the world was created in Tishri and is so marked by our celebration of Rosh Hashanah on the first of Tishri, is the one that dominates the liturgy of this day and our consciousness. This discussion builds upon this view.

2 When considering the relationship of Jewish concepts to the seasons, the Land of Israel is the benchmark. Thus, for example, the reference to Passover as the holiday of Spring specifically refers to the necessity of celebrating this holiday during the Springtime in Israel.

3 See further Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, The Book of Our Heritage, Tishrey -Hoshana Raba.

4 Of course, this need not be understood in a black and white definitive form that implies no connection to the past. The cycle of the tshuva movement may be much more fluid than implied in a harsh presentation of change through a sharp break with past. What is ultimately being contemplated is that tshuva is not only a look forward but a look backwards. It does not only consider the acceptance of the new but the need to move from the old. See, also, Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, Change Completely or Stay The Same?, Nishma Journal 10.


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