Towards the end of today’s daf (Beitzah 6b) we encounter the halachic position of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov that, even once hatched, a chick is not considered fully alive until it opens its eyes, and since we are about to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, I thought I’d dwell on the message of sight – both in terms of what God sees of our life, and what we choose to see in ours.
In terms of God, a central message of the Rosh Hashanah Machzor is that God ‘sees’ all that we do and that none of our actions are hidden from God. אֵין שִׁכְחָה לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶֽךָ וְאֵין נִסְתָּר מִנֶּֽגֶד עֵינֶֽיךָ – ‘there is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your Glory, and there is nothing hidden from Your eyes’. Similarly, we beseech God אָבִֽינוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ מְחֵה וְהַעֲבֵר פְּשָׁעֵֽינוּ וְחַטֹּאתֵֽינוּ מִנֶּֽגֶד עֵינֶֽיךָ – ‘Our Father, our King! Blot out and remove our transgressions and sins from before Your eyes.’
Yet in contrast to God whose ‘eyes’ are always open, the prayers and teachings concerning Rosh Hashanah refer to humanity as those who have yet to wake up or open their eyes. We are like Yonah whose eyes are closed and is asleep to the storms of the world and who is then challenged with the words, later echoed in our selichot, of מַה לְּךָ נִרְדָּם – ‘why are you slumbering’? In fact, as the Rambam explains, a purpose of the shofar is to wake us, up as if to say: עוּרוּ יְשֵׁנִים מִשְּׁנַתְכֶם וְנִרְדָּמִים הָקִיצוּ מִתַּרְדֵּמַתְכֶם וְחַפְּשׂוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂיכֶם וְחִזְרוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה וְזִכְרוּ בּוֹרַאֲכֶם – ‘Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator.’
Understood this way, Rosh Hashanah is about opening our eyes in order to help us fully live our lives; it is about knowing that our deeds are ‘seen’, and that for us to fulfil our mission on earth, we must look both within us and around us and identify how we can improve ourselves and our world.
And how does Rosh Hashanah and the new year begin? With hadlakat neirot – the candles that we light and that we look at – which remind us that through our open-eyed endeavours in the coming year, we can be a force of good in bringing warmth, light and comfort into our home, and in sharing that warmth, light and comfort with others as well.
Wishing you all a Shana Tova!