In the early morning light, I slip outside to take stock. I notice the trees that suddenly seem overgrown and in need of thinning, their branches reaching skyward, littering the roof with piles of dry leaves. I see the flowering bushes grown unkempt and blowsy, their branches heavy with a riot of fuchsia and yellow, now fluttering to the ground. I notice the cactus dangerously inching onto the driveway, the Bird of Paradise in its last flagrant blooming that needs to be cut
Fall arrives, and with it the coming of a new year, and time to reflect, refresh, renew.
I sense it in the coolness of the early morning air as the long hot summer readies to depart. I feel it in the almost imperceptible waning of the sun as the morning light seems to delay its coming and as night seems to hasten its approach. And I see it in the trees and shrubs and flowers in need of pruning as I take my early morning walk.
The days are growing shorter, but eager anticipation for fall’s arrival deepens, an impatience for the crisp freshness of its days, the invigorating chill of its evenings. But fall is a season that bodes both beginnings and endings, as nature shows us. Spring and summer with their promise of new growth and bounteous yield give way to the fall harvest and then the prospect of winter’s fallow fields and cold comfort. And Rosh Hashana brings hopeful contemplation of a new year, even as it evokes life’s evanescence and with it, our own mortality.
The earth turns, one day to the next, the seasons change, the Jewish year cycles one year to another, reminding of the inevitable passage of time, the inexorable pace of our days.
But there is a reassuring order in nature’s progression and in the procession of holidays that mark the Jewish year. It cycles from one Shabbos to another, one holiday to the next, one new year after the other, the structure of its calendar imparting a satisfying roundness to our lives, as Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls it, as earthly and heavenly forces converge in a continuous circling.
So it is that we celebrate Rosh Hashana as fall arrives, looking back at the year past, and ahead to the year to come, reflecting on our actions, on where we have missed the mark, on where we can do better. We seek forgiveness, we repent, we pledge to change. We see where we may need to cut back, where we may have been reaching too high, or not high enough. We see where we have become mired in the underbrush, where we need to trim our overfull lives, or even plant new seedlings. We see the promise of renewal the holiday holds out to us, the potential for growth, if only we can change.
The piercing blasts of the shofar exhort us to try, the round challot studded with plump raisins entice us to start, the tart slices of apple dipped in honey encourage us to go on, as
we ask for yet another good and sweet year.
And nature reminds of the wondrous possibility of starting anew.