Preparing to Become
Rabbanit Devorah Evron
A hush descends upon the synagogue. The sound of the shofar blasting is heard: tekia, shevarim, terua. The congregation immediately sings the wonderful piyyut: “HaYom Harat Olam – Today is the day of the world’s gestation.” This liturgical song compares the creation of the world to pregnancy and birth which, although rare in our prayers, is the central motif in the Torah and haftara readings of the two days of Rosh Hashana. We read about Sara and Chana on the first day and about Rachel who weeps for her sons in the haftara of the second day. The presence of these women is central to Rosh Hashana and the stories of their barrenness, pregnancies and births are a source of inspiration for prayer and beseeching during the Days of Awe.
The concept of repentance as a form of birth is expressed in the writings of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov in Likkutei Moharan 6: “…before a person returns to God, he has no being. It is as if he has not yet been created … But when he purifies himself in order to return to God, he prepares to become a being and he says, ‘I am prepared to become.’”
In other words, when a person is in a state of sin, it is as if he is barren; such a state cannot lead to the creation of spiritual life, to growth and fertility. In order for a person to impregnate him or herself, to become a being, to create new life and to grow, he must repent and do teshuva. The process of repentance is similar to that of a pregnancy, which culminates in a birth. A spiritual birth with the potential for spiritual life, which we are required to foster and cultivate throughout the year.
The transition from barrenness to pregnancy is not at all simple and demands much attention, effort and perseverance. Chana’s prayer, which is the haftara of the first day, is the source of many of the laws of prayer. It encourages us to pray for this transition and to ask for Divine assistance. The same applies to repentance. We must devote ourselves, paying attention and making the effort to face up to our sins and to correct them. Prayer assists us in this process. With God’s help we will succeed in our repentance and give birth to an inner spirituality which will accompany us throughout the coming year.
I merited to be born the day before Rosh Hashana. Each year I commemorate my physical birth on the eve of the festival and my spiritual birth on the day of Rosh Hashana. God gave us the wonderful gift of cultivating and fostering this spirituality throughout the year; we must thank Him for it.
Rabbanit Devorah Evron is Director of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL)