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On the High Holidays

We approach a new Jewish year again, the year 5783 in the Jewish calendar. Many religions have different year counts, they usually count from a specific time that is important for their religion, whether the time their prophet entered a certain city, when someone important was born, Independence Day and so on. So, what are we the Jews counting 5783 years from?

The creation of the world of course. We don’t really have the date written down somewhere, in the Torah when we have the years it’s usually referring to something specific, like the second year of when the Israelites left Egypt or the third year of this king, but the Bible never gave us this “Jewish Year calculation”, we, or the Rabbis had to go back themselves and calculate the years based on the events and come up with this number.

But why was it so important to have a fixed year for when the world was created? In the times when we still had kings, it really wasn’t important, because contracts and important dates were written down based on the kings year, “in this year of this king on this day and that month…” these were dates that everyone knew. The Mishna in Rosh HaShana starts off with, ”The first of Nisan is the New Years for the kings”. The years always had to start from a specific point, if the king became king in Adar, even only a few days before the end of the month, at the first of Nisan his second year would start being counted, keeping set dates, was and still is important in order to keep order in the world, what happened when, before what, after what on so on.

But once we had no more kings, we had to come up with a new way to calculate our years. Some used the counting from when the temple was destroyed, but the Greek calendar which was used in second Temple times stayed very popular among Jews, in Egypt it was used at least until the 16th century and some Yemenite Jews still use it today, that year is 2333 now by the way.

How many years ago the world was created isn’t mentioned at all in the Tanach and barely even in the Mishnah or Talmud, the first period that started mentioning the years from the creation were the Rabbis in the Ge’onim times (7th – 11th centuries), but the use of it as a “date” probably only started after that.

While in the Temple times, there was a sense of responsibility for the rest of the world, on Sukkot there were sacrifices made for the nations of the world, but I think this responsibility takes on more of meaning once we were actually scattered around the world, once we really had to part of the world around us and not just close ourselves in our Temple, protected by our king, surrounded only by other Jews.

That’s when counting from the creation of the world really takes off, we become part of the general population which we are forced to live amongst but at the same time maybe take over a higher amount of responsibility for the world around us, which is something we should keep in mind while approaching our New Year, to remember our responsibility towards all that it’s around us and everything that was created from the beginning.

May we have a happy and sweet new year, Shanah Tova umetuka!

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