Essays For University Students on the High Holidays.
At this point in time of year you have something in common with the First Couple in recorded human history. Adam and Eve were both "freshmen;" he because of who he was, and she because she came from him. They didn't have an easy time - and neither do you. It's never easy starting afresh, whether it's your first year at NYU or your last, it always comes with mixed emotions.
How on Earth could I arrive at the comparison at all? Well, think again, slowly, what do you see?... So far nothing? Or is it a Shofar (Rams horn)? Get it? Fantastic! The new year at NYU roughly coincides with the New Year of the Jews: The Birth Day of the Universe, Earth, and Man and Woman... Rosh Hashanah.
Now that the stage is set, let me draw out the analogy as it applies to you now at NYU. The reason I am doing this is because I accept that the Bible can teach us many, many lessons no matter who, where, or what we are.
Also, an important teaching of Judaism is that "Kol hatchalot Kashot:" All beginnings are difficult, and therefore it figures that right now you're suffering from some shade of the blues, or whatever color you prefer to paint your hair, lips, skin, etc. There they were, boy and girl wonder, made by the Almighty Himself, besides themselves. Like you, they had good breeding, and came from a good home (Heaven itself). They were placed in a fabulous garden with no need for a stitch of clothing (perfect heating/ cooling system). You in turn find yourself in "The Village," one of the greatest creations of New York culture, and hopefully you will not go beyond (or is it less than) your shirt and pants. And, your A/C is great.
If everything is so great, so what's the problem now? Think!....Mmmm.
Well, maybe you feel you have too many instructions and tasks to fulfill. Okay. But, what about relationships and temptations? Now you're really talking.
Adam and Eve had your problems. You better believe it! So you want proof, eh? Okay, one, two, three, four:
One. Adam couldn't bear it alone. He was lonely. He needed companionship. This was solved by the creation of Eve, but her presence would prove fatal for both of them.
Two. Adam was given clear orders by The Boss: Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He and his wife couldn't follow instructions, and they blew the whole thing.
Three. Eve was foolish enough to allow herself to be tempted, seduced, and according to one Torah interpretation, date raped by a snake, not quite in the grass, but in a tree. He sure made a monkey out of her.
Four. Both Adam and Eve get themselves thrown out of Eden, and to add insult to injury they have to wea clothes. Goodbye dream land and hello reality.
For you, as you start Your beginning, the meaning of these examples is clear:
(1) Don't let your loneliness lead you to foolish relationships.
(2) Follow instructions, because basically you cannot beat City Hall.
(3) Don't let temptation get the better of you, and try to limit seduction.
(4) Don't get yourself thrown out of school, or out of class, or out of Judaism. We all need you and each other.
Finally, may you have a great year at NYU, and hopefully I'll get to see you at one of my lectures soon.
SHANAH TOVA (good year) - Have a Happy Sweet Jewish New Year.
GOING APE OVER ROSH HASHANAH: THOUGHTS ABOUT MANKIND'S BEGINNINGS
I'm trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between what Judaism teaches about the creation of the world and what most people assume about humanity's beginnings. What emerges is more of a chasm!
Here's the problem:
If according to the Bible, G-d created man as the climax of the six-day creation of the world, and if this is what we celebrate on the Jewish New Year, then how do I deal with Evolution, Darwinism, and dinosaurs? Put differently, how can I expel those messages I've received in school, in print, and in the movies, that I am the product of millions of years of evolution, and at the same time, understand Judaism's teachings that the world is 5,784 years old (by the Bible's count)?
It's our version of Creationism versus Evolutionism. Which side of the Scopes Trial is the truth really on? I know it's uncomfortable to think of Judaism on the same side of Fundamentalism, but there is no escaping the fact that if you dig deep into the classical Jewish texts, you will find that we are actually celebrating the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, on the day of Rosh Hashanah years ago!
What can be done about this? Can the twain meet? Must they meet? Do we say that Adam was a divine version of Neanderthal man? Was he from the Stone, Bronze, Iron, or Plastic Age? Did Adam paint pictures of oxen on cave walls as he conversed with his Maker? Was Eve his help-mate or play-mate? Was he hairy all over or did he shine like an angel?
If these questions don't bother you because...(a) you're a literal Creationist (which is unlikely) and you read Torah all day, or (b) you believe that gases fumed into one-celled animals over the course of eons,... then maybe now is the time to face up to the truth.
If I say that I am descended from ape-like creatures then I am a "human animal," a chimpanzee with an I.Q. above 100 and just a tad less hair (maybe). However, if I say that G-d created me in His Image (the Tzelem Elokim) with His own "hands", then I must be related to that image since we all are descended from that one man (according to the Bible).
If I'm just a high-tech gorilla then it's okay to function according to the "laws" (?) of the human jungle out there - nothing wrong with hanging out and hanging loose in this system. But if I am a descendant of a divinely created being with its divine qualities of mind and soul then I cannot simply be another Species of banana-eater. I am drawn to the Divine, the Truth, the Exalted, and the Holy because I am G-d-like, and yes, even godly!
You see, it truly is a chasm, and it deserves a little of your thinking time. Let this be the holiday season on which you go bananas over the awesome implications of the fact that we really are G-d's own children, not via a surrogate simian progenitor, but from a Man and Woman created 5784 years ago.
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.
He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.
Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]