Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rosh HaShannah: The Turning of the Year

New Mexico Sunflowers in Rock Garden

     "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, they  shall never hold their peace, day or night."  Isaiah 62:3

This morning we awoke to a sunny and cool, early fall day, mists rising from the ground, and the sky in the south and east milky white in contrast to the deep blue New Mexico sky to the northwest. After a week of wind, clouds and rain, we were happy to see the sun. As the Catron Kid went riding on Chapo, the Engineering Geek and I started out of the front gate with three of the dogs, anticipating a Shabbat walk along the western fences of Freedom Ridge Ranch. The cool morning turned into a warm and sunny day as we climbed up the mesa to the northwest, greeting the other two horses, grazing up there in the high pasture.

We noted how the year is turning, talking about some of the things we want to do this coming year on the ranch: putting a windmill and solar combined tower up along the ridge behind the house, divide the high pasture, and divide the front pasture, get the solar completely installed, and take more walks like this one, enjoying the beauty of the place.

Early fall on the Continental Divide is different in appearance from what I grew up with and even from what we experienced in the East Mountains. Here, instead of bold oranges and browns, with the grass of soft wheat color, we see water in the stock tanks, and pooling in the draws and washes, a gift of the late days of a good Monsoon. The grass is green from the water, and the sky soft blue, like spring in more conventional parts of America. The boldest colors come from the yellow Black-Eyed Susans and New Mexico Sunflowers, the orange and pink of Globe-Mallow, and the blues and purples of various clovers, gilias and penstemons, and the rare orange-red of Indian Paintbrush on the high mesa tops and along the washes in the canyons. Fall steals into this high country on the heels of the late summer wildflowers, color dotting the gray-green of the range subtly, as the days grow shorter and sunshine replaces the late-afternoon Monsoon rainfall. The days grow shorter, the shadows deepen and the nights grow even cooler.

And with the turning of the year, we mark the New Year for Years, Rosh Hashannah, which falls on the first day of the seventh month in the Jewish Calendar. As the heat of summer fades, we welcome a new beginning just before the harvest: 5773. As we took our walk, we savored the peace around the Sabbath noontide, and we did not speak of our fears and concerns, heightened this week by the world's slide into chaos, and threatened Israel's complete isolation as it deals with the threat of annihilation.  It is easy, way out here, to move with the turn of the earth, the comings and goings of the herds and flocks, and the blowing of the wind. It is quiet, and the nature of the place and its solitude knows not of human strife, chaos and wars. New Mexicans outside the three cities we have in the state are accused of being provincial, and we are, being far removed from the goings on beyond our mesas and mountains. "The mountains are high," we say, "And the king is far away."

But even without television (we have one, but we don't get broadcast TV --or radio--in our canyon), we do hear of what is happening "out there," although it seems far away. So inevitably, when we returned from our two hour hike up the mesa and around and down, and turned to the Haftarah, the perils our country and our people face stared up at us from the printed page, the words of a prophet writing  more than two-and-a-half millennia ago. There is nothing new under the sun in the affairs of men, I thought, though that idea comes from a Megillah we will read later in the fall, at Sukkot.

Perils for Israel, deserted by the President of the United States, her Prime Minister snubbed and denied a meeting even as the her people prepare for war, and the Jewish People across the world face new threats from a very old prejudice. We fear for the safety of that tiny country where our prophets and kings once walked. And we fear for the integrity and safety of our own country and its people, and for our people everywhere.

But this Haftarah that complements Parashat Nitzavim in Torah, is the last of the seven haftarot of consolation. And in it, Isaiah--writing to a people in exile--speaks of victory and restoration. And so it speaks to us now, and to our great concern in the midst of a world sliding once again into chaos. It says to us, war and destruction are not outside out experience, and yet we are still here. We have stood on the edge of danger and peril before, and yet we are still here, able to reason in the face of our fears, to annul the plans of our enemies as necessary:

Who is it coming from Edom, with crimsoned clothing from Bazrah?  Glorious in apparel, stately in greatness of his strength? I who speaks in victory, mighty to save. . . .
. . . I have trodden the winepress alone, and there was no man with me;      Yes, I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my fury, and their lifeblood is dashed against my clothing, and I have stained all my raiment. For the day of vengeance that was in my heart, and my year of redemption have come.        And I looked and there was none to help, and I beheld in astonishment and there was none to uphold. Therefore, my own arm brought salvation to me, and my fury, it upheld me.  (Isaiah 63: 1; 3 - 5)
This year, as Rosh HaShannah approaches, and greetings come to us from Israel, we hear a message very different from earlier years. Then we heard greetings that were upbeat, anticipating the happiness and contentment to come. "It's gonna be a good year!" Now we hear echoes of Isaiah from Latma, from the IDF: "We are not afraid. We are ready, we are standing guard. The Eternal is riding with us. Others tried to destroy us, and where are they?" 

As we come again to the turning of the year, we find ourselves deeper into the Fourth Turning and closer to the crisis. The outcome of the crisis and the shape of what follows very much depends upon the decisions that we make about how we will face what is coming and what we choose to do. It is a fearful Rosh Hashannah this year, knowing that Israel stands alone, threatened with nuclear holocaust; remembering the High Holy Days of 1973 (5733) when Israel was also fighting for her life, alone, while Jews the world over spent Yom Kippur listening to clandestine radios in services, hands clenched, hoping and praying for her survival. This year, once again, we will find ourselves praying for the peace of Jerusalem, hoping against hope that Israel will be able to remove the growing threat without starting World War III.


And in the coming year, may all of us find those points of light, those moments of happiness and those days of contentment in our lives, and those transcendent moments of joy and beauty in the world, that remind us of why we hope and why we work to make each moment, day and year of our lives fruitful and full of goodness and plenty.

Kayn y'hi ratzon!

And may 5773 be a good year for us.

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