THE FAMOUS ROSH HASHANAH PRAYER KNOWN AS HAYOM HARAT OLAM DOES NOT REALLY MEAN “TODAY IS THE DAY OF THE WORLD’S CREATION” AS WE THOUGHT AND AS IS SO COMMONLY TRANSLATED, BUT RATHER, IT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH…PREGNANCY.
By Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun
One of the most famous prayers on Rosh Hashanah, recited following the sounding of the Shofar during the repetition of the Mussaf, is Hayom harat olam. These words are usually translated to mean “Today is the day of the world’s creation” and indeed according to tradition, the creation of the world was completed on Rosh Hashanah. But upon examining the Hebrew word Harat we are directed away from the common meaning of these familiar words.
Every word in Hebrew originates from a Shoresh, a root. The shoresh of a word is typically a three letter word from which the prime meaning of the word arises. The Hebrew word Harat has its origin in the three letter root Harah (ה.ר.ה). There is another Hebrew word that shares the same root (ה.ר.ה), the Hebrew word for pregnancy, Herayon.
This, of course, brings us to a new understanding of the prayer Hayom harat olam. It does not mean, as we thought and as is so commonly translated, “Today is the day of the world’s creation,” but rather, “Today is the day G-d has (figuratively) become pregnant with the world.”
This discovery in the verbiage is of significance.
Pregnancy is a long and winding process but in its basic definition it is the time during which a fetus develops inside a woman’s womb. Although the gestational period is marked with extraordinary and very complex biological, chemical and physiological milestone, “achievements” for the developing fetus, it’s after all, only a process of potential. No matter how miraculous, astounding and sensational a pregnancy is, if the fetus does not make it to the proverbial finish line, it is over.
There is a beautiful lesson to learn from this.
Hayom harat olam tells us that G-d is carrying us through a spiritual gestational process, and just like a pregnant woman’s body provides the fetus with its every need through the blood supply via the placenta allowing it to reach full term, HaShem too arranges that we all have that which we need in order to reach our full capacity. But we are all potential lives living through the process of trial and error trying to get it right. G-d wants us to realize our potential so we can be born unblemished and achieve spiritual bliss and bounty.
But there’s even a greater and more important lesson to learn here. Although the existence of the fetus is an existence of potential, this potential holds the promise of life! It holds the prospect of humanity! All G-d wants us on Rosh Hashanah is to recognize that we have potential. He wants us to know that we are full of prospects because once we know and deeply believe in that, we will find the wherewithal to succeed.
G-d is not looking for you to atone for all your sins in one or two days. That’s impossible…and also quite a shallow, superficial and rudimentary understanding of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Who can truly say remorse has overwhelmed him to the point of complete reflection and penitence? Who is the chosen one to pronounce “I have extinguished the fires of vanity?” Who can claim to have brought forth a spiritual and emotional cleansing of every human weakness, vulnerability, negative impulse and flaw of character? The Days of Awe are not for the devout and pious only. They are not for the “intelligentsia.” They were established for us, we the people, the ones dragging our knuckles and carrying our clubs. They were declared for us. They were meant for the poor and the wealthy, the scholar and the unlettered, the religious and the uninitiated, the famous and the unknown. We all stand equal before G-d.
G-d wants only one thing of us, that we identify, acknowledge and appreciate our potential.
Potential is understanding that we’ve come a long way but not as far as we can still go. Potential is having hopefulness, confidence and optimism. A wise man once said, “Optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live differently.” HaShem wants to see that on Rosh Hashanah you’re an optimist with an attitude that believes in change.
Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in this world”. We can all scale the highest mountains with easy grace if we understand how great we really are and how much greater we can be. We can be in perfect rhythm with G-d. We can be in perfect rhythm with the world around us and we can be in perfect rhythm and harmony with ourselves.
How reassuring is this message of prospect and potential when we consider the words of Anna Frank: “How wonderful it is that no one needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
My wife and children join me in wishing you and your loved ones a Shanah tova umetukah and a wonderful 5776!