May It Be God’s Will and Why Not Your Will?

“May It Be God’s Will…” Why Not “May It Be Your Will…?”

Every year, we select a theme for Rosh Hashanah to share with friends and family during the dinner celebration. This year our theme is why does “May it Be God’s Will…” blessing repeats over seven times? What did the scribes intent when they framed each blessing with “May it Be God’s Will…” and not May it be Your Will…?

Background

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated in every corner of the world on this very day. Some Jews had begun preparing even weeks in advance for this sanctified time.  During the month of Elul (August), the shofar is blown daily to call upon people for introspection so that they renew their commitments with God to improve themselves as they commence this fresh start.

Rosh Hashanah marks many beginnings.  It marks the first day of Tishrie, the first month of the Jewish calendar. It marks the beginning of reading the first book, Bereshit, the creation story.  It marks the birth of humanity; it marks the first sin and its consequences. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Yamim Noraim, the ten days of atonement, appeasement, and affirming to renewal of one’s soul. Rosh Hashanah personifies a joyous sense of accountability which we display to learn from our mistakes to avoid repeating them in the new year.

The renewal of oneself is a central theme in Jewish life through Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. The duality of Tikkun Olam is emphasized in solo and collective responsibility so one can contribute their personal growth to the collective good. Each person is called upon to discover their merits with intent, then to contribute them for their communities benefit and that of the world.

The Process of Being Better

The how in ‘being better’ or ‘doing better’ are alluded to with ritualistic symbols at the Rosh Hashanah ceremony. This year, while I was revising the second edition of The Soffer Rosh Hashanah Haggadah, I was perplexed by the repetitions and variations of the Yehi Ratzon [May it Be God’s Will…] blessings, which are recited over different foods during the Rosh Hashanah dinner.

The structure of each blessing starts with “May It Be God’s Will to …” and ends with a call to action.  Each prayer is a plead to God’s Will to grant us the power to:

  1. Renew unto us a good and sweet new year (apples dipped in honey)
  2. Decimate our enemies, haters, and evildoers (dates)
  3. Get rid of our adversaries (beets)
  4. Decrease our verdict and proclaim our merits (carrots)
  5. Proclaim our merits and you [God] hearten us (Gourd)
  6. Increase our prosperity and productivity (green beans)
  7. Increase our merits (pomegranate)
  8. Become leaders, not followers (fish head)

In pursuit of understanding the repeated Yehi Ratzon prayers, I searched for patterns and principles. I closely examined the order of the prayers. I wondered why the scribes sought to frame the message as “May it be God’s Will…” instead of “May it be Your Will…”  What was the purpose? How could these prayers make life on earth better? After much reflection, it became evident that the scribes understood the inner workings of the human soul and mindset.

When people are confronted with adversities, vulnerabilities, or uncertainty, courage and motivation (Will) are essential. When courage and motivation are absent, one is stagnant, stuck, and in the dark, entangled in ambiguity. Such confusion generates anxiety, often resulting in a deterioration of mental health. The converse is also true: When people attain a meaningful purpose, one’s Will strengthens. With personal confidence, one’s purpose extends beyond the self: Everything we do and say is motivated by purpose, and service for the benefit of others is stronger and more fulfilling than serving personal benefits alone. However, to commit the righteous and ever-so-rewarding deed of helping others, one must first strengthen their inner-self and increase their merits to actualize their full potential in the mission of Tikkun Olam.

The order of the Yehi Ratzon escalates from intention setting to manifesting action. The first blessing establishes the purpose of the new year, and the preceding ones guide us to gain the courage to “get rid of” and “cut off” adversaries. Such actions liberate us and channel our energies towards betterment. The next stage of the Yehi Ratzon calls for “proclaiming our merits” to align ourselves with people of similar values. Asserting our “merits” enables us to understand the obstacles and opportunities towards one’s purpose towards the betterment of others. As a result, when one shares a similar mission with other people to benefit the world, there is exponential increase in energy, motivation, productivity, prosperity, alluded to with the symbol of the pomegranate.

The Yehi Ratzon prayers conclude with the courage to be a leader and not a follower. The very last prayer speaks on one’s courage and will to be committed to God’s commandments. Such a blessing can be interpreted as the courage to be true to oneself and others. Despite the simplicity and sensibility of the Ten Commandments, human beings struggled to follow them. Therefore, being a leader requires a critical mind and commitment to restraint. The affirmation of God’s commandments are not only a display of divine power unto humans but a practical method by which to hold oneself accountable for personal growth and collective, long-term betterment.

Rosh Hashanah’s Dichotomies

Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays establish a safe environment for families and communities to embrace the dichotomies of sweet and sour, anxiety and excitement, struggles and strengths, and hardship and harmony. Bees and honey are a symbolic reminder that life is bitter-sweet, and that to be better, one’s must appreciate both sweet and bitter and manage them on the path toward a more enriched life.

As stated in the Yehi Ratzon, “God’s Will,” we are left to wonder what this means on earth. Who is God?  What is God? How can he help us achieve our purpose here on earth?

The torah scribes state, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created him.” Hence, all mortal beings are a part of God. God is everything that surrounds and fills our world. Therefore, “May It Be God’s Will” can be understood as ‘May It be our will’ to fill our world with people who possess Godly qualities to be better for oneself and serve others.

 

Restraining ourselves from breaching God’s commandments doesn’t only require the renewal of a commitment with God per se. It entails something deeper— a commitment to the faculty of courage and willpower that God has endowed human beings to follow his commandments. It is the courage to be honest with ourselves and others; the courage to accept responsibility and not pin blame; the courage to treat others with dignity and respect.

 

The biblical story of Adam and Eve depicts Adam’s failure to take responsibility for his actions; he blames Eve for eating from the forbidden tree. Adam lacked courage to own-up falling into the serpent’s seduction. Adam failed to restrain himself. He failed to acknowledge his personal responsibility, vulnerabilities, and mistakes. This violated God’s commandment, “do not lie.”  Adam’s sin posed grave consequences onto him and his surroundings.

 

Foreseeing potential consequences of our actions and taking responsibility for them requires an effort of courage that stems from an affirmation of values and principles. On everyone’s journey through life, there are uncertainties, unknowns, and unexpected events. The confidence to take responsibility, enables one to can knowledge about themselves in various situations. With such knowledge, one gains power to persevere through challenges, and with this power we are imbued with unparalleled resilience. Desired outcomes and feelings of self-worth are almost guaranteed under this renewed commitment of courage.

 

Human beings possess an innate need to be stimulated, learn, and grow. To display our intellectual growth, we need the courage to overcome fear of rejection, shame, resentment, hatred, jealousy, and rage among other painful feelings. Negative emotions are just flags—signals to wake up and shift your paradigms. This new year is precisely the time to acknowledge one’s challenges, to embrace one’s feelings, and to transform that obstacle into an opportunity.

 

To trust in this commitment, one can ask themselves the following while reciting the Yehi Ratzon Prayers this Rosh Hashannah:

  1. What is my purpose and what are my passions?
  2. What is the challenge hindering me from achieving my purpose?
  3. What behaviors shall I accept, reject, or change towards my purpose?
  4. What competencies do I need to achieve my purpose?
  5. Who shall I be aligned with to achieve better outcomes?

This new year, we understand that “May it be God’s Will” implies that the courage to repair oneself with renewed hope for a better life requires the connection of the community you surround yourself with. It requires you to align yourself with people with the same values and purpose. As all people have a part of God within, having created us all in His image, He wills us to improve oneself and each other in a universe in which we are inevitably connected. So, this new year, we commit to exhibiting courage, motivation, and love to infuse compassion and humanity to repair the world.

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