Rosh Hashana and the encountering of God

Our tradition teaches us that on Rosh Hashanah we remember the creation of the world. In fact, one of the explanations Saadia Gaon gives for the symbolism of the sound of the shofar is as follows: Remembering the Creation of the world and the reign of God over mankind. On Rosh Hashanah we proclaim that the Creator is our Sovereign.
When we sing Avinu Malkenu, we recognize not only God as King, but also as Creator and our responsibility as His creatures in the preservation and improvement of this world

In the whole creation story, there is one phrase that never ceases to amaze me and shake my heart.

And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he was created.

(Gen: 1-27)

We never stop in order to think about the meaning of this verse. Maybe because we live too fast and there is no time for soul matters, maybe because we are afraid of the consequences this Torah affirmation could have on our lives.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Is it possible to be the image of God?

How is it possible to say that we, the finite and unlimited beings, are the image of an infinite being? In fact, the Hebrew word tzelem, image, in Aramaic also means “idol”.

Are we not a kind of idolaters reducing God to something like us? Because if I claim to be created in the image of God, isn’t that also to say that God is our image, something similar to us?

Kabbalists speak of God as the Ein Sof, the infinite.

Infinity is, for Jewish mysticism, absolutely impossible to define conceptually. It is impossible to really describe the Ein Sof, the infinite, for we are beings limited by space and time. However, the Torah affirms, and we repeat it often, that we were created in the image of infinity, in the image of God.

To speak of God as Ein Sof, of the infinite, and at the same time to say that the human being was created in the image of God, can seem to be two contradictory ideas and impossible to reconcile. However, Jewish mysticism can help us understand this and, better yet, the Kabala can enlighten us to make this seeming contradiction a source of inspiration for this new year that is beginning.

Before the creation of the, God in His capacity as Ein Sof – the Infinite, occupied all possible spaces. Nothing could exist because there was no room available for anyone or anything, God was the only possible space, the overflowing Makom that allowed nothing to exist.

In order for the world to exist, God turned in on himself to leave a free and empty space to house his creation. This is what our tradition calls tzimtzum, the self-restriction of God. God has turned in on himself. His being carried his powerful light, a light that no one has ever known. It is from this first light that God created the world in the space which he himself freed after the tzimzum.

The creative light of God was so powerful that at the same time that he created the world, it broke it into small pieces. The world we live in is a fractured world. Bereshit – Genesis, tells about the creation of the universe. Bereshit, the first letter of the Torah is the letter Beit. We live in the world of Beit, a fractured world.

The Ein Sof, however, resides in the world of Aleph, the letter Alef, a silent letter without sound, the letter of mystery, the mystery of the infinite of God. This world, the world of divinity, is innacible to us. Hence our frustration when we try to delve into the secrets of God. This is why many give up research and say they don’t believe in anything. And they call themselves atheists.

So what does it mean that we are created in the image of God, if we say that God belongs to the world of Aleph and we to the world of Beit, to a world that have no access to the world of divinity?

Every fractured piece of this world hides some of the light from the world of Aleph, Ein Sof, of God. That is, we are little reflections, little rays of divine light. God can recognize himself in the human being and the human being can reconnect with God as an image and likeness of the divine. We and the world of God are the same but of different magnitudes. We are fragments of God who seek God, the origin of our existence. God is looking for Himself in each of us. We are constructions of Ein Sof so that Ein Sof can manifest in this finite world of Beit.

God reveals himself in this world in a limited way through us. If God were to reveal Himself completely, there would be no s room in the world for anything to exist. In other words, any revelation in this world is a limited, self-limited revelation. In other words, for infinity to reveal itself, it must hide at the same time.

But we cannot forget that we are fragments of the infinite, mirrors of God, rays of divine light.

Judaism is not a theocentric religion, but on the contrary an anthropocentric religion. Every man and woman is a fragment of God. The only way to reach divinity is through the human experience of every day life.

We have a unique union with divinity. Rashi says in his commentary: Everything else was created by orders, for example: And God said: let there be light! May the earth be populated with vegetation! And that’s what happened every day of creation. However, God did not create the human being by an order, but rather, the human being was fashioned directly by the hands of God.

This magical and privileged moment between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a moment called teshuvah, that is to say back, but back to where? At our origin, this is the time to connect with the Creator, with Ein Sof. This is completely impossible, because as we said before, we are limited beings. But in our quality of receiving fragments of divine light, we can connect through our inner life to the source of life.

Our neighbor, our brother, our sister, is also a little mirror in which the divinity is reflected. One way to connect to the world of divinity, spirituality, Ein Sof, is to serve and love others.

Let us take this opportunity that the Hebrew calendar offers us. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the ten days of teshuvah, are a unique time in the year to deepen our “inner self”. It is not to be selfish. It is a necessity of our spiritual nature. Let’s deepen our spirituality. Let us be aware that our being has an intimate relationship with the first light from the Creator.

Let us not forget that our neighbor, like us, contains a small piece of the world of Aleph, of the world of spirituality, for we are created in the image and likeness of the Creator.

There are two ways to reach God in our lives: the oversight of our spiritual being and loving our neighbor. Hopefully these two principles enlighten us in this new year that we begin.

Shaná Tova!

Rabbi Haim Casas

 

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