Rosh Hashanah Midrash


Rosh Hashanah Midrash


Judaism, Rosh Hashanah, Midrash


Midrash written by Sheila Michaels for Rosh Hashanah.


Sheila Michaels Collection, M373, Historical Manuscripts, Special Collections, The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries


September 16, 1993


Copyright not evaluated








Copyright Sheila Michaels, New York 1993<br />
16 September 1993<br />
	This holiday, which we familiarly call Rosh HaShanah, “Head of the Year”, or “The Head of The Change” – in it’s primary, literal meaning—is known in Torah (Leviticus 23:24) only as - followed by Hebrew letters The Memorial of the Trumpet Blast.  Not any blast but the sounding of Alarm.  Teruah signals the Israelites to resume their journey in the Wilderness.  It is also an alarm or war.  Whenever it is sounded, the Israelites must go forth, prepared to face hardship, the foe, or good fortune.  But when the trumpet of alarm is sounded and they go forth to unknown dangers, they’re not alone.  G-d promises Moses (Numbers 10:9) that when the Teruah is sounded for war, that the Israelites will : ‘be remembered of G-d, & saved.’ Which is a reason to call it “The Day of Remembrance”.  The rest is Commentary.  All the laws & customs of Rosh HaShanah over the millenia are accretions to these very small verses.  The revelation to Moses for our observation of this festival is that we are to observe it with Sabbath rest, & that it is known to G-d as the day of The Remembrance of the Blast of Alarm: the …Hebrew letters.  That is the name we are given for it.<br />
	This is sublime poetry.  The alarm signals the beginning of our journey, for in Judaism when we remember, we relive, as on Passover.  We set forth into the Wilderness ahead, while we remember the past journeys into the Wilderness.  A Sabbath is set aside for us as a time to relive and re-enact.  The alarm is sounded for us, we are alerted that it is time for the camp to set forward & begin our journey.  The signal is sounded on a day of Sabbath rest:  the Sabbath of the Memorial of the Trumpet Alarm.  This is a day of remembering & reliving our journey in the Wilderness – the Wilderness we entered after the Waters were parted for us.  The personal Wilderness we entered after our Mother’s Waters parted for us, & the collective Wilderness of the Jewish people after slavery when we became free & responsible.  When one is no longer a slave, but is responsible for one’s own actions, one enters a Wilderness.  The possibilities for mistakes are limitless.  One can abandon one’s moral precepts & fall into error or one can hew too closely to one’s precepts & fall into error: or one can miss the point completely & err through misunderstanding.  These are some of the great problems of living as a free being.  The Israelites erred in all these ways, & most of them suffered very greatly for it.<br />
	There is also—for those of us who survived to this day—the Wilderness of the immediate past year, personally & communally.  But, the blast of alarm is the signal to set forward, into the coming year, with blind faith that we will be led through the Wilderness before us.  Remember, though, that the entire
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generation which G-d delivered from slavery, died in the Wilderness.  Except for Joshua and Caleb, those who obeyed and those who rebelled, all perished in the Wilderness.  The signal is to move on, regardless.<br />
	In the Parasha’s for these two days of Rosh HaShanah, we have two stories of the rescue in the Wilderness of two of Abraham’s sons.  To save Ishmael, G-d addresses Hagar for the second time at a well in the Wilderness, & tells her to bless her son, for he will become a nation.  In the second, G-d saves Isaac.  There is the story in the Haftorah, too, in which Hannah vows to offer her child to the service of the sanctuary at Shiloh, if G-d will make her pregnant.  Her vow is accepted, & the child is given to G-d & bvecomes the last of the Judges.<br />
	But there is a more sinister story of another Judge, Jepthah.  G-d’s spirit comes upon him & he is able to conquer the enemies of the Israelites.  He vows to sacrifice to G-d the first thing which comes to him on his return, and that is his only child, his daughter.  We do not know her name.  She acquiesces, as did the innocents Ishmael, Isaac & Samuel.  Bud G-d does not intercede for  her.  She & her companions wander in the mountains, in their own wilderness for two months & then she returns & is sacrificed.  “Thus it became a custom in Israel that every year the Israelite women went to commemorate the daughter of Jeptha…for four days in the year.”  And Jeptha was Judge over Israel for six more years.  Not all who follow G-d are saved, but when the alarm is sounded, Israel must go forward.<br />
	At the same time we are told that when the Alarm is sounded, G-d will remember us.  We have to go anyway, & so this should give us some comfort.  It’s as if your Mother were saying, “It’s going to be all right:  Everything’s going to be All Right.”  So that no matter what you know, rationally, you are reassured.  And when the times come for you to say to your Mother, “It’s going to be all right,” & you know --& she who washed your diapers definitely knows—that you cannot save her from death.  But it is still comforting.  For the poet of Song of Songs covered this when she wrote: “Love is Strong as Death.”  What she says to her Beloved is: “Set me a seal upon your heart, as an amulet upon your arm, for Love is Strong as Death, Passion as relentless as the Netherworld.”<br />
	The word for seal & which I also translated as amulet is the same word, chotam.  The signatures of the ancients which they pressed onto clay tablet & seals, were engraved with precious stones which they wore, & kept always upon their persons.  They were used to sign their contracts & oaths, & to seal up & identify their goods.  They were an intimate part of the person’s identity, as we know from the story when Tamar clears herself of fornication by producing
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Judah’s signet seal.  .  The signets usually were carved with scenes of stories of the deity whose name was part of that of the owner.  In Judaism we have names which carry out G-d’s title: Adoni-jah, Emanu-El, Samu-El, El-eazer.  Our Ancient Near Eastern neighbors had similar names, often incorporating those of their protecting deities.  For this reason among others, the signets were a protecting amulet as well as the extension of the wearers identity.  When the poet asks her Beloved to set her as a seal & amulet, she is offering her identity & her protection: for her Love is Strong as Death, her passion as obdurate as the Kingdom of Death.  The beloved must believe in her & in her love.<br />
	Among the ancients who were also our ancestors, before they became Jews, there were many stories of the warrior deity rescuing her lover or her brother from the kingdom of the dead.  In one of them the divine warrior is said to yearn for her brother: “As the heart of a cow for her calf, As the heart of a ewe for her lamb, so was her heart set toward her brother.”  If you have ever noticed an animal’s desperation & urgency to return to her young, you understand the power of the image.  It goes beyond the pressure of milk, to the nature of Love, itself.  The warrior seizes Mot—which is also the Hebrew word for Death—and she annihilates Death.  But in a later story Death is reborn & her brother who is the Master of the Canaanite gods, submits to Death.  Like the poet of Song of Songs, it was the power of her love which galvanized her to overcome Death itself.  Love is strong as Death.<br />
	What the poet tells her lover is that she too will struggle against Death, that the frenzy of passion, born of life, is heedless of death’s dominion, that there is nothing which can stop it, or overwhelm it.<br />
	That love, that passion, has also been the story of Israel’s yearning for G-d, over the millenia.  It is a passion which saves the lover & the beloved at the same time.  For G-d has said that it is the memory of that love & devotion which caused Israel’s redemption.  At the sound of the Alarm, the Israelites followed G-d into the Wilderness.  Death in slavery & death in the Wilderness were both certainties; but to face the unknown in the Wilderness was harder.  And this is something which is demanded of us every year.<br />
	Now we have reached another day of Remembrance.  A day of the Memorial of the Trumpet of Alarm at which Israel followed G-d through the Wilderness.  G-d has promised to Remember Israel on the day of that sounding of the Alarm.  Again & again, G-d has promised Israel, through the prophets Jeremiah (2:2), Hosea (2:15), that Israel is holy to G-d because: “I well remember you, the kindness of your youth, your love as a Bride, following me in the Wilderness, in a land not sown.”  It is Israel’s love for G-d, which saves her: the devotion she has shown, as the betrothed, the wife of the
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Covenant, following G-d into the Wilderness.  This is what G-d remembers at the sound of the Alarm, that Israel’s love is strong as death.  And this is what Israel remembers, that the sound of the Alarm is the signal to move on & follow G-d into the Wilderness, & to know that whatever happens, “It’s going to be All Right.  Everything is going to All Right.!”<br />
Gut Yom Tov.


“Rosh Hashanah Midrash,” Online Exhibits at Southern Miss, accessed April 18, 2024,

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