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Friday, September 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

Following each instance of shofar blowing during the repetition of mussaf, and even on Shabbos when we do not blow the shofar, we recite a small paragraph declaring the gravity and importance of the day and including a short prayer as well. This paragraph begins with the words hayom haras olam, today is the [anniversary of the] conception of the world. This is in accordance with R' Eliezer in the gemara (Rosh HaShanah 10b) who asserts that the world was created in Tishrei. More precisely, he contends that the first five days of creation were before Tishrei and the sixth day of creation, the day that man was created was the day we know of as Rosh HaShanah.


There are two points I find puzzling about this opening phrase. First, the world includes all of the creations from the first day and on. Why would this day be referred to as the conception of the world? Perhaps the conception of humanity or of civilization would be more precise.


Second, the step in the circle of life one would probably associate with something new is birth. A fetus in the gestational period does very little on its own. Life, as we know it, begins with birth. Why is this day referred to as the "conception" of the world rather than its birth?


It should be noted that Abudarham actually addresses both these points. He answers the first problem by stating simply that the sixth day was the completion of the conception of the world. It was not a world until it was complete. He avoids the second problem by stating that the word haras can refer to birth as well as conception and quotes a pasuk in Iyov (3:3) to support that assertion.


Perhaps, when it comes to human life, birth is certainly the ultimate beginning whereas the gestation period is simply the preamble and preparation for that event. As a metaphor for creation, however, conception is certainly the pinnacle. The miraculous creative spark is conception whereas birth is simply a necessary step in the development of the human being, bringing it out into the world to fully develop. It is therefore more accurate to refer to the creation of the world as conception rather than birth.


Additionally, we might regard the metaphoric gestational period as corresponding to a certain block of time at the beginning of history. Perhaps Adam and Chavah's brief stay in Gan Eiden was humanity's incubation period, a time of unparalleled closeness between man and God. Following this short period, man was expelled as a fetus is expelled from its mother's womb, and forced to live the grueling life in this world as we know it.


The difficulty with this understanding, of course, is that getting booted out of Gan Eiden was not in the plans. It's hard to imagine a master plan for creation including Adam's sin and subsequent eviction. Perhaps the gestational period was the 2448 years that led up to the giving of the Torah and the "birth" of B'nei Yisrael as a nation, an event which we are told by Rashi on the very first pasuk of the Torah was the very purpose of creation. The experiences of our forefathers shaped us as a nation forever. On Rosh HaShanah, thousands of years ago, was when it all began.


Ironically, as I was going over the above, I happened upon a very recent video of HaRav Yitzchak Breitowitz on Ohr Somayach's YouTube channel and he discusses this phrase with a very intriguing spin. He points out that the word olam in Tanach is not a reference to the entirety of the physical world but rather, it is a temporal reference to eternity. He therefore understands haras olam to mean the conception of the new eternity we will be facing in our lives [as a consequence of the judgment.] Here is the clip.


A good Shabbos and shanah tovah umsukah to all!

Eliezer Bulka

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