Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Rosh Hashana 5764

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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The Days of Awe - Renewal and Reassessment


Dr. Miriam Faust
Department of Psychology

In the annual cycle of months, two months, Tishre and Nissan, are considered months of "beginnings". Rosh Ha-Shana, at the beginning of Tishre, marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Jewish Calendar in present use. But nowhere in the Torah is there any reference to Tishre as the first month of the year nor does the name "Rosh Ha-Shana" appear, although in the Mishna (Rosh Ha-Shana 1,1) the "first of Tishre" is considered the new year for certain matters. The title "First of the Months" (Rosh Hodashim) is reserved in the Torah for the month of Nissan (Exodus 12:2) and in the Mishna Nissan is also considered the new year for certain matters (ibid.).

The special attitude to Tishre and Nissan as two very significant points in the annual cycle, both connected to new beginnings, is voiced in the dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua on the date of the Creation. While R. Eliezer's opinion is that the world was created in Tishre (Bavli, Rosh ha-Shana, 10b), R. Yehoshua claims that Nissan is the first of months (ibid. 11a). For the Maharal, this dispute represents different approaches to the basics of life. He writes that Nissan and Tishre are the main months of the year, but while Nissan expresses the life force and vitality of the year at the emotional level, Tishre expresses the holiness and spirituality of the year at the intellectual level (Sifre ha-Maharal, Hiddushe Aggadot I, 94-97).

According to this interpretation of the dispute, it can be understood that the two months - Nissan and Tishre - represent new beginnings on two essentially different levels. The month of Nissan opens the first half of the year, that is "the heart, where vitality resides" and therefore represents the "return of the life force to the world" (ibid., 95), whereas Tishre, which opens the second half of the year, represents other aspects of beginnings relating to intellect, holiness and the attribute of judgement in the world and is symbolized by "mind".

Contemporary studies dealing with development models of the life cycles typical of adulthood may shed light on these different viewpoints regarding Tishre and Nissan as especially significant periods symbolizing different processes in the annual cycle. These studies point to two critical time points in the cycles of human life, each of which can be considered a different sort of beginning. The location of these time points is surprisingly parallel to the relative location of Tishre and Nissan in the Jewish calendar and the Maharal's characterization of them.

A survey of life cycle studies[1] presents different approaches to the developmental process of human life. Some see it as a linear movement, steadily advancing from stage to stage with no repetitions, while others relate to it as a series of regulated cyclical processes that repeat themselves. According to the cyclical models[2], man throughout his life experiences cyclical periods of relative stability on the one hand and passages and changes on the other. These cyclical periods characterize him in each of his life roles, and are related to a constant drive to change and start anew. This drive is motivated by personal needs and is present in every person, although in different degrees, dependent on his personality.

A comprehensive study of hundreds of subjects identified six main areas that characterize man's interaction with the world and examined the typical process of developing relationship systems in the subjects in each of these areas. The main life roles reported on by the subjects are: their relationship with themselves, their spouse, their family, their work place, their friends and their community. It was found that in each of these roles people go through cycles that develop on a set path that is clearly recognizable beyond the different responses and frames of reference of each subject. The typical path of development was cyclical and included four distinctive stages: (1) Initiation; (2) Adaptation; (3) Reassessment; (4) Reconciliation.

Every one of man's interactions with the world requires the best of his intellectual and emotional resources in different processes, according to the stage of the cycle in which he finds himself at a given point in time. First he must invest all his resources to initiate the interaction. Once the relationship pattern exists, he must devote his best efforts to adapting to the new situation. Once adaptation is complete and the new situation becomes familiar and habitual, he moves on to the next stage - reassessment of the new relationship pattern. This stage of the cycle involves a new, more objective look at his life in the relevant area, based on a deeper understanding that allows for a more realistic evaluation. This is the most critical stage of development, personal growth, and striving for change. In the last stage appears reconciliation, when the person is already aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the situation in which he finds himself and knows what can be changed and what must be accepted in order to move on.

The Jewish yearly cycle marks the beginning of a regulated cycle of renewed interaction between man and his G-d, between himself and his world. It comprises twelve months, the first of which, Nissan, represents the stage of "initiation". This is a month of new beginnings both in Jewish history (Pesah, the Exodus) and in nature (Spring). This month opens the first quarter of the year that also includes Shavu'ot, also connected with beginnings of both historical and natural significance (Receiving the Torah, and the time of reaping). Then comes the second part of the annual cycle, a rather static period, without special events and holidays or dramatic changes in nature, and it can be described as the "quiet" part of the interaction cycle - the period of adaptation. The third stage, that of reassessment, begins in the month of Tishre. This is again a dynamic stormy stage that includes the High Holidays, days of looking inward, repentance, and the need to make accounts in all the life roles. The annual cycle concludes with the stage of reconciliation, during the Winter season, also a relatively quiet time in the yearly cycle of religious events and changes in nature.

Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur fall in that period of the year that begins the third quarter of the annual cycle. This is the time when a person undergoes a process of reassessment of all aspects of his life, a process may motivate him to change, repair his life, and evolve-- a process equivalent to Teshuva, repentence. This is a stage of accounting, when the person must draw upon intellectual and moral strengths in order to assess his situation correctly. This reassessment should motivate him to make changes, i.e. to repent, but it should also lead him towards the later stage of reconciliation with what he cannot change.
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[1] Kerka, S. (1991). Adults in career transition. ERIC Digest, no. 115.
[2] See, for example: Hughes, J., and Graham, S. (1990). Adult life roles. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, vol. 38, no. 2.