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The Possible World

The Possible World

What Happens on Rosh Hashanah

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Dear Rabbi,

I've been going to RH services every year since I was a kid, but frankly, I never really saw the point. All this "day of judgment" and "accepting G‑d as our king" business, if you ask me, seems kind of childish and antiquated. We guillotined all the kings two centuries ago. As for getting judged, I can't really say that sounds conducive to my spiritual maturity.

Answer:

Forget everything you were told in Sunday morning Hebrew School. Rosh Hashanahh is a birthday celebration. Whose birthday? The entire world's birthday. Like we say over and over in the High Holiday prayer book, "This is the first day of Your works" and "Today the world was conceived".

It's also the birthday of the first human being, the day on which human conscious was breathed into G‑d's creation. So Rosh Hashanah isn't just about reality emerging into being, it's about our human experience of that reality as well. The observed and the observer, if you want to sound quantum-hip.

Now, birthdays are not trivia in the cosmic scheme of things—especially birthdays of reality. Because each year, reality is provided a license to exist for just that year and no longer. The license expires and reality has to reapply again, year after year. So guess who's lining up at the counter?

Us: Hi, I'm applying for a reality license for the coming year.

Clerk: You have your identity with you?

Us: I think I lost it somewhere. It was one of those years, you know…

Clerk: Well, in order to have a reality, you need to have an identity. I can't just give you a license when even you don't know who you are. There could be outstanding fines and penalties on your account…

Us: Hmm. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that I lost that identity after all. Actually, it had really gotten kind of worn out and unreadable. So how about I just create a new identity for this coming year?

Clerk: For that, you'll need to speak to The Manager.

As it turns out, incinerating your identity is an effective strategy to bypassing the Rosh Hashanah judgment scene. And, in fact, it plays neatly into the theme of the renewal of humankind. Problem is, how do you renew your identity if you don't have an identity? Something like a person in a coma reviving himself.

So that's why you need to see The Manager—He being the One that grants all things their identity to begin with. But then, seeing The Manager about renewing your license on reality is more than a little paradoxical. It's comparable to Bugs Bunny walking in to a Warners Brothers corporate meeting where the obnoxious rabbit is on the chopping board:

B: Hi docs! I'm Bugsy and I'm here to plead my case. Over the past year, I've made children laugh, adults chuckle…

WB: Hold on! Who did you say you are?

B: Bugs Bunny. I've got my carrot to prove it. And I…

WB: That's impossible! We're sitting here deciding whether or not Bugs Bunny is going to exist this year or not!

B: Exactly, so that's why I…

WB: So if we haven't decided yet whether you exist or not, what on earth are you doing here?

As absurd as it sounds, that is precisely the scenario every Rosh Hashanah, as we plead with the Ultimate CEO for a renewal on existence. That's what it means to "crown Him as King": We're out to convince Him that He should continue running a world, a. k. a. reality, with us inside it, and He should really enjoy it, too.

Problem is: How does it work? How could it be? How can we convince Him to grant us reality if He hasn't yet decided to grant us reality?

Fortunately, the Rebbe asked this question as well.1 And he provided an explanation, building on the thoughts of his predecessors, chassidic masters and kabbalists such as the Maggid of Mezritch and Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch.

So, to understand Rosh Hashanah, let's go back to that very first day the world was born—and even earlier:

Back To Before

With the king they sat in his crafting there (Chronicles 1 4:23).

G‑d, you should know, is not the authoritarian, top-down dictator type. Sure, there are times when an Almighty Buck-Stops-Here G‑d has to do what an Almighty G‑d has to do. But in general, everything G‑d does, He only does after first consulting with His own creations. So when G‑d was about to initiate reality, with whom did he consult? Strange question, right? Very strange. But bear with me—this is going to get deep.

I didn't make up the question, the Midrash2 did, and it cites that verse from Chronicles above as an answer: He consulted with the souls of the righteous. As it turns out, inventing a world was something like inviting guests for dinner:

Husband: Dear, how do feel about having the Silverbergs over for dinner?

Wife: You mean you invited your buddy Joey and his wife over and you didn't even consult me? Who do you think is going to cook for these people?

H: I'm consulting with you right now.

W: Dear, I didn't marry you yesterday. If you're asking, it means you've already invited them.

H: So let me rephrase that: Do you think we should have the Silverbergs for dinner or maybe we should not?

W: And if I say we should not, then what? Look, you want your friends over, do what you want. I'll leave some frozen dinners and stay in my room.

H: Okay, one more time: Dear, do you think we should consider whether it is a good idea to consider inviting the Silverbergs for dinner or maybe not a good idea?

W: You're getting better.

H: I mean, after all, why would we even consider inviting them? It would be so much work for you, and...

W: Well, he is a valuable friend at work, and you really need friends with your new position…

Basically, if it's already become a conscious thought, too late for consultation. Husbands need to consult before consciously knowing what it is that they are thinking about. Now—so we can explain how there are souls before anything begins to exist (i. e. in G‑d's preconscious state)—let's take that up to a pre-cosmic level.

G‑d: Dear souls of the righteous people, I've gathered you here today—even though there are no days yet, since I haven't created the earth, the sun or even time and space and rules of logic, but it's a figure of speech—to help me decide whether or not there should be a world. After all, you stand to be directly affected by this decision, since you will be entering within this world in human form and...

Souls: You created what?!

G: I didn't create anything yet, I was just consulting you guys...

S: And what were You planning to put us inside?

G: Hey, guys, now, easy. This is just a consultation session. I was only thinking about...

S: Which means that there's no point in consulting with us, since you've obviously already gone ahead and created this world.

G: Actually, I was first consulting...

S: Actually that's just the point. For You, potentially is actually, since as soon as You're thinking of something, the whole thing is there already—as Rabbi Moshe Cordovero points out in Pardes Rimonim. You couldn't even be thinking of this earth place with souls invested in walking meat patties without it all spontaneously springing into existence. At least, that's what makes sense to us. Of course, You can do whatever You like and decide that that makes sense instead. It's all up to You. So why bother consulting us? Thanks a lot, I guess you figure we'll really enjoy the challenge. But don't expect too much effort on our part.

G: But we're not there yet, I was only making a decision...

S: We really don't think You should be making any decisions at all, consultation or no consultation. You need to be concerned about that perfect, transcendental oneness reputation of Yours. Making a decision plunges You right into the realm of time and transience. Next thing you know there'll be Before Decision and After Decision. As Your loyal consultants, we can't let that happen without a waiver.

G: But I'm not doing that. I'm not pondering a world that is. I'm simply wondering about a possible world. It was always possible, since for Me, anything's possible, right? So nothing really changes.

S: Right, nothing really changes. You've got us inside it nevertheless. So here we are locked inside this world of possibilities...

G: That's just the point! You wouldn't want to be locked inside a world that is. That would be oh so dull. Iron clad determinism. A closed, predictable system with no escape valve. But a possible world, generated from My time-transcendent pondering of how it's possible for a world to be when it really isn't—now that opens endless possibilities and freedom.

S: Well thanks a lot for the freedom. Now You've got us scurrying around Your laboratory maze, smashing into the walls searching for just the right possibility out of, like You say, "endless possibilities and freedom." Did we ask for this? Did you imagine we really want this? At the very least, You should let us sign a release form. But no, You just go Your way pondering Your possibilities and letting them all happen as though we have absolutely no value in Your eyes. So tell us, what sort of pleasure do You get from a world of worthless characters?

G: Okay, I get your point. Let me rephrase the question: Dear souls of the righteous that would be in a world should I consider whether or not to consider that a world should be possible or not, I would like to consult You on the following issue: How would you feel about Me pondering whether I would like to ponder whether a world should or should not be?

S: Now You're getting there.

G: I mean, if I would be pondering a world, what sort of pleasure would I get from that? Why would I ever want to even consider whether I should consider whether a world should or should not be?

S: Well, for one thing, it would provide us the opportunity to become actual beings rather than just potential ones. And if You decide that actual versus potential is a neat thing, why, then You would also have a stake in the action. Rather than tainting Your supernal oneness, such a world would thereby be providing a great expresion of it in actual terms, full of juicy paradoxes such as Rosh Hashanah and the like. And…

Back To Now

So now you see how everything falls in place. Or maybe you don't. Maybe you're still wondering, "If G‑d hasn't created anything yet and there's nothing there but His perfect transcendental Oneness, what on earth are these back seat driver souls of the righteous doing there."

Right. And this is really the original question: How can we be involved in our own emergence into reality?

The simple answer is: In the real thing, that thought of "what sort of pleasure would I get out of a possible world"—that is the primordial thought from which the souls of the righteous are conceived. As the Magid of Mezritch taught,3 that is the Imageo Dei—the image that inspired creation, the thought of a breath of Himself returning to Himself from within a distant place called world. With that image He consulted and determined to ponder a possible world. And that image is the essence-core of the human soul.

It is a thought He thinks within Himself, without extending beyond Himself in any way, about nothing more than, "what shall I decide should please Me?" And so it is called His child—just as a parent looks at a child and says, "that is me, but that is not me. That is me as I have left myself and entered the world outside of me."

Every Rosh Hashanah, that seminal thought of creation rises to the fore. After all, as far as He is concerned, He never really decided that there is really a world here—just as His honored consultants advised Him. It's all a possible, contingent world, in continuous renewal by virtue of whatever pleasure He is receiving from it at that moment. And since, for Him, a year is but a fleeting moment, the beginning of the year is that nanoment in which His decision is made once again.

And so, on the night of Rosh Hashanah, the divine pleasure channel goes flat and the world falls into a coma. Reality as we know it barely continues to exist, receiving only enough vitality to keep it from biolysis. Our souls see the red alert, knowing that the only way to resuscitate the patient is by awakening the very core of reality, and that the key to that core lies in the core of our own souls, that primordial thought by which we were conceived. For the core of all truth lies not in the formulas of the mathematicians, not in any phenomena our eyes or our tools can measure or observe. It lies under a crack in the human heart.

That is why we blow the shofar: Because that inner core cannot be expressed in any prose or poetry, not even in a soulful melody. Nothing of any form can reach those depths. Only in the primal scream, the raw cry of an animal's horn, broken and shattered into scattered fragments of heart piercing sound, there the soul awakens. And it says, "Here I am, Your dear child as You first imagined me, returning to You from within Your world with all my heart. And I bring with me all the artifacts of this world in which You have placed me, as an offering of love."

And G‑d takes a whiff of that fragrant offering, opens His eyes and says, "Neat world, isn't it? Let's play it again."

"Rise G‑d of Judgment with the teruah, G‑d of Compassion with the sound of the shofar!"—Psalm 47

"When the Jewish People blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, G‑d rises from His throne of judgment onto His throne of compassion, and He is filled with compassion towards them and transforms all judgments to compassion." —Talmud

Footnotes
1.

For almost all that follows, see Kuntres Rosh Hashanah 5751and the sources listed there.

2.

Ruth Rabbah 2:3

3.

Ohr Torah, Genesis

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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David Rankin New Zeaand August 24, 2017

Psalm 90, 10 tells us that our natural life span is 70 years, and this has come to be recognised as 'a generation'. This Rosh Hashanah is the last one for the 'first generation' that saw the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948.
I wondered if there was to be some sort of celebration to mark this special milestone.. Reply

suzy hander woodland hills, ca February 23, 2014

Obinna, The Jewish New Year means continuity. It's a comfort to spend time with family, friends and creation. However, the dream world and the place we are now may be like one. Did Adam, Moses and Abraham live in VR? Does it matter? L'Shana Tova could be space time, or where you want to be right now. I like the idea of The New Year.
I really enjoyed reading your comments. Reply

Laura Weakley Marietta, GA September 29, 2011

Elohim This was extremely funny, and a good explanation of who the Elohim is. At the same time you taught some profound information which I hope induces through your humor, others to want to learn about. Very, very well done! Shavuah tov, in all worlds! May this new year bring blessings, peace, hope and joy through the sweetness of Adonai's love! Reply

Vicki Haskes Phoenix, Arizona via ourjewishcenter.com September 28, 2011

Thank You For always offering wisdom and acceptance, learning and inspiration. I found this article on "The Possible World" by Tsvi Freeman to hit a chord in me which has reverberated that crack under my heart. L'Shana Tova Reply

obinna okonkwo buea, cameroun September 29, 2008

reality this whole thing about reality is confusing, more so if you are a dreamer like me, you cannot help but wonder which is reality- the dream word, or the place we are now, which i call virtual Reply

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