“One mention of remembrance counts for both this and that.”
The new moon, like Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time for both looking forward at the promise of a new beginning, and backwards through remembrance of how we have lived our lives. And like the new moon, Rosh Hashanah is very much a time of remembrance and hope. It is when we review our past year’s page in the Book of Life and open a new one for the months ahead. The words that most resonate with me from the liturgy that I have repeated many times over the course of my life are “On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.”
Today’s Daf Yomi debates how to best observe the wonder of the new moon and the promise of Rosh Hashanah. There are two views to consider: do we mention the new moon during our Rosh Hashanah prayers, or do we say a separate one? Can we say one prayer in remembrance for both the month and year ahead since both are days of remembrance? There is a variety of opinions on this matter, with Rabbi Dosa taking the bold position that the new moon should be mentioned in a “conditional manner.” The sages agree with Rabbi Dosa on the use of a “condition” during an ordinary new moon, but not during Rosh Hashanah “because people might come to demean the day.”
The discussion is extended to a scenario when Rosh Hashanah occurs on Shabbat, as is true this year. Does one recite the nine prescribed Amida blessings that are usually recited on the Sabbath, plus an additional blessing added for Rosh Hashanah? There is a difference of opinion, with some rabbis saying nine is sufficient, some suggesting ten, and even eleven if the prayer for a new moon is factored in. Rabbi Zeira ends the escalating debate by saying that the “new moon is different,” because “it does not require a separate blessing.” Finally, the discussion on whether one says a separate blessing for the new moon is decided by Rav Hisda and Rabba who declare that “one mention of remembrance counts for both this and that.”
Rabba considers if it is appropriate to say the blessing of time during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The blessing “who has given us life” is recited to celebrate new experiences or the acquisition of new possessions, like the wearing of new clothes on Rosh Hashanah. If this is customarily recited during holidays that require pilgrimages, would it apply to the Jewish High Holidays which are not “pilgrim festivals?” Unlike the more joyous festivals, these two holidays, when the book of life is reviewed and sealed, and it is determined “who shall live and who shall die” are somber days. We are told that Rav Huna who was consulted on the matter “did not have an answer at hand.”
Life is as uncertain as the new moon and the year that will unfold before us. Although Rav Huna did not have the last word on the matter of saying the blessing for newness during the High Holidays, he reminds us that there is not always an easy answer “at hand.” The mystery of the Talmud is that often it presents contradictory points of view, concludes the argument without a resolution and allows the uneasiness to stand.
There is so much that is unknowable right now about what our lives will be like in the months and years ahead. Will we have a viable vaccine this year or early next year? Will it be safe? When and if the vaccine becomes available, how will it be dispensed to everyone in the world? What will life in a future post-pandemic world be like? Will there be post-pandemic life? Will there be a time when I can move freely in public venues without fear of the virus? Will the book of life include new adventures, or will I live the rest of my days through remembrance of my past? When the book of my life is written will it say “she stayed home?”
Shanah tovah everyone. Please find joy in the celebration of the New Year wherever you can.