The Talmud teaches that there are four New Years: one for the trees, one for the months, one for tithing of animals and one for the years. The New Year for the years, Rosh HaShanah, also marks the anniversary of the creation of the world. In addition to the themes of repentance, self-reflection and prayer that we traditionally think about during the Yamim Noraim, we also are given a time to mark and celebrate God’s work in creating the world. As we contemplate our actions, both good and bad, during the past year, we also turn our thoughts to the world around us, and our role as the stewards of Creation.
Rosh HaShanah provides a sacred time to renew our commitment to our covenantal partnership with God and consider our obligation to help perfect God’s creation. In a midrash from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) Rabba 7:13, we learn that, “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” During the Yamim Noraim we recall the God’s words to Adam charging us with the holy mission to care for and tend to creation.
“Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon observed, ‘Why does Scripture at times put the earth before heaven and at other times heaven before earth? To teach that the two are of equal value.’” (Genesis Rabbah 1:15) At the time of year when we turn towards God and ask for forgiveness, we also remember, as this midrash teaches, that the earth is just as important as heaven. Just as we take the time to reflect upon what we have done to offend God and seek to mend our ways, so too we should take this opportunity to recognize all that we have done to harm the environment and consider what we can do to repair the environment and prevent further harm. There is no better way to celebrate the creation of the world during Rosh HaShanah than to recommit ourselves to preserving it.
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