Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Worlds Created by Words--Happy Rosh Hashana 5768!

It's almost Rosh Hashana, the birthday of the world, or at least the birthday of the world with written language. This is the traditional time of self-evaluation, and repentance, with the hope that when God judges us, we will be granted another year, and a good, sweet one at that. In that vein, many people, myself included, use this pre-holiday time for reflection. And one of the things I noticed in my daily prayers is the emphasis on speech.

We recognize God in P'zukei d'Zimra, a section of praise in the morning prayers, as "He who spoke, and the world came into being...He who speaks and Who does...He Who decrees, and fulfills." Words, then, aren't just a means of communication, but the vehicle through which the world was created, and is maintained. It is through God's words that the world came into being--remember, "And the Lord said, 'Let there be light!' And there was light." Why didn't the bible just tell us that God created light? Why did He have to say it? Who was He speaking to? The Angels? Why should they be notified of what their Boss is going to do?

And then, later in our morning prayer, we humans respond to God's words creating us in kind, as "praised and glorified by the tongue of His devout ones and His servants." We then say how we're going to use our tongues--"We shall laud You...with praises and songs; we shall exalt You, praise You, glorify You, mention Your name and proclaim Your reign..."

Why should we do all this verbiage? God is certainly aware of His own grandeur. He knows very well that He's keeping us all going.

So, in my humble reflections, I remembered that saying the words creates the thing in the world (Rabbi Akiva Tatz has a great tape on this). And indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (devar) also does mean "thing." By verbalizing our praise, God is given honor. By just thinking the idea, without forming speech, the actual "thing" of honoring God remains abstract, intangible, deniable. Without speaking the words, their message, their concepts just don't exist.

OK, so why is all this esoteric stuff relevant? Because in these Days of Awe, this is the way we both repent--and clear ourselves from our misdeeds--and create for ourselves a good year ahead. By spending those interminable hours in synagogue praying--creating via words--we are weaving ourselves a much better chance for the nod from God.

We ask for forgiveness (in words) from those we've wronged. We confess (in slichot and viduy) what we've done wrong--and the list of stuff that needs forgiveness is awfully heavy on verbal sins. With those sins, we created negativity for ourselves and others in this world. By specifically using words in our sincere repentance, we hope to erase or undo the bad stuff we created and with our words bring positive energy into our force-fields. We repeat a list of God's merciful characteristics, with the hope that verbalizing these will actualize them.

That's why it's so important that in my own New Year rehabilitation, I work on lushon ha ra (literally, "evil tongue"--saying negative things). I need to focus on speaking carefully, uplifting the content of what I say. I have to remember that with my words I'm creating--such power!!

We are made in God's image, meaning we have the ability to create, not just architecture and artworks and novels, but to create futures and relationships in this world--with our words. By praising God we are creating for ourselves a closeness to Him--the more you give to someone (eg parent to child), the more you're attached. God, as the ongoing giver of everything, is completely connected to us. We, on the other hand, have our words as a means to be connected to God-- by being like Him, using words to create.

So, those are a few of the things I've been thinking about as we enter into this intense and indeed awesome time. May 5768 be a healthy, safe, fulfilling and sweet year for you and your family!

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