Chassidus describes the truly amazing process that happens each Rosh Hashanah. On the first night Hashem’s desire to continue the existence of the world is ‘paused’ k’viyachol, and then renewed through our blowing of the shofar, at which time an ‘ohr chodosh’ comes into the world.
How can we understand this ‘ohr chodosh’ – this new spiritual energy that has until now never manifested in the world?
In our times, it’s quite easy to understand this in a different context – the pace of technology innovation in the world is such that the things available today were barely a dream (or perhaps science fiction) just a few years ago. So perhaps in that context the ‘ohr chodosh’ each year manifests as flashes of chochma or inspiration to create and innovate in ways never done before.
The gemoro states (Berochos 29a) that the prayers of three women were answered on Rosh Hashanah: Sarah, Rachel and Chana. The Torah reading on the first day is the story of the birth of Yitzchak, and the haftorah that day tells the story of Chana, mother of Shmuel Hanavi.
While these stories speak to the power of prayer and are suitable inspiration for the day, one has to ask: why were their prayers answered specifically on Rosh Hashanah?
Certainly we can say that as Hashem – through the blowing of the shofar – moves figuratively from the throne of judgment to the throne of mercy, it’s a great time for our prayers to be answered.
But when praying to Hashem for specific brochos, perhaps for longstanding issues such as parnoso, children and the continued delay of Moshiach, it’s easy to become despondent when year after year our prayers do not appear to be answered. We look back and wonder what we could have done differently or better.
However, when we consider this in terms of the ‘ohr chodosh’ that comes into the world each year, the view is far more optimistic. The new year, punctuated with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is not just a clean slate, but one freshly energised in a way never seen before. The ‘ohr chodosh’ is the ‘X-factor’ that can make anything possible, no matter how long we have prayed for it, no matter what has happened in the past, and no matter what menios v’ikkuvim may have existed in the past.
It’s therefore no surprise that the Kollel Chabad luach instructs that on Erev Rosh Hashanah “toward evening, one should dress in fine and important clothes, knowing that Hashem will make a miracle to judge us with the middah of rachamim”. As we approach Rosh Hashanah 5774, we should be happy, confident and optimistic that the coming year will bring all of this and more!