At a recent political fundraiser, an acquaintance made an interesting comment. He said he was jealous that, although I am an American resident, I had my native country of Canada on which to fall back.
My buddy, a political junkie, was referring to the presidential elections in November. If they end with a detestable outcome, “I’m envious that you can run to Canada to save yourself and your family.”
He clearly wasn’t content with the divisive climate and hyperbolic nitpicking overpowering debates on ideology and exploration of the issues.
He then added, “I’m actually tired of even talking about it.” And I thought he was flattering me …
Let’s talk about another election cycle, I replied. Who are you voting for on Oct. 3?
This man, who lives and breathes politics, was puzzled. Was there really a race that he was not knowledgeable about? Indeed, there was.
Oct. 3, I explained, is also the first of Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar, otherwise known as Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year.
But instead of being called the beginning of the year, the day is titled “Rosh,” the “head” of the year. The reason being that the creation of the world didn’t happen on this day. The six days of creation — when heaven and earth, mountains and rivers, and every living thing came into being — started on the 25th of Elul, six days prior to Rosh Hashanah.
“So why do we celebrate Rosh Hashanah only later and what’s the meaning of its name?” my friend fittingly asked.
That is because the first man and woman were created on the sixth day – the 1st of Tishrei. When humans were introduced to the world, people were then given the awesome capability of intelligence, plus the power of speech and the freedom of choice.
Behavioral professor Dan Ariely entertainingly proves in his book “Predictably Irrational” that our decisions often tend to be foreseeable and predetermined (to the advantage of commercial enterprise). Yet humans still possess the gift of decision-making guided by morals instead of just animalistic survival or social norms.
Where does the election come in, my friend wondered.
At the beginning of creation, G-d* simply willed the universe into being. Once mankind was created, the first humans recognized the Almighty as G-d. As the Talmudic sages teach: The verse “G-d has begun His reign, He has clothed Himself in majesty” and other verses in Psalms were authored by the world’s first people on the very day they were created.
The anniversary of this exercise by Adam and Eve is Rosh Hashanah. On this day, as demonstrated by them, everyone has the opportunity to exercise his or her power of choice and cast a ballot to recognize and declare G-d as our ruler. As British Rabbi Jeffrey M. Cohen points out, reciting this each year constitutes an annual renewal of our allegiance to G-d and a reminder of our indebtedness to Him for every blessing we enjoy.
Kabbalah depicts G-d as going on the campaign trail to the corn fields and urban eateries during the month of Elul, before the universal election date. As mighty as he may be, the Talmud states “there is no king without a people.” So similar to political candidates, G-d becomes overly accessible, attentive and full of promises. To put in plainly, G-d is asking for your vote.
So is there freedom of choice in this “election,” my conversation pal asked, while people in the room hovered nearby around the bar stand and lavish buffet.
Sure, I replied. It’s really our choice what kind of life we create for ourselves this coming year. G-d will always be our source of vitality and sustenance, but we have the choice to have Him part of our life and to what extent. Like a biological parent and an estranged child, the genes and genealogy are forever part of the equation despite any hard feelings. Connection always remains even if the communication is faulty.
G-d is thereby in “need” of man — if you will — more than man needs G-d, Rabbi Cohen notes. For man has the freedom to deny G-d, whereas G-d is denied the freedom to give up on man, for that would run counter to His attribute as El rachum vechanun, “a G-d that is merciful and forgiving.”
I have full faith that the American people are resilient enough to survive any political calamity in November. But as a human being, who (and what) will you be voting for this Rosh Hashanah?
* The word G-d is spelled without an “O” out of respect to His holy name, as some practice.
Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin is the outreach director of Chabad Tucson, associate rabbi at Congregation Young Israel of Tucson and a newly certified instructor of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI).