Office of the Chief Rabbi

Rosh Hashana Message 5774

In his message for the Jewish New Year, the Chief Rabbi explores the etymology of and biblical reference to the word ‘Haman’ to stress that we should be happy with what we have, and reflects on his first year in office spent visiting communities around the UK.

“In our prayers for the High Holy Days we say Simcha le’artzecha vesasson le’irecha – Give joy to the land and elation to the city of Jerusalem. Following a traumatic and difficult summer it is our fervent hope and prayer that the New Year ushers in peace and security for Israel and the entire region.

Aspiration for happiness is central to our Jewish psyche. We are encouraged to celebrate what we have in a key passage in the Book of Genesis, which we will begin to read on Simchat Torah.

The Talmud (Chulin 139a) asks a surprising question: where can Haman be found in the Torah? Surely nowhere! The answer is mystifying: he appears in the Biblical account of the Garden of Eden.

‘Aspiration for happiness is central to our Jewish psyche’

We read: “Hamin ha’etz…”. With these words, God confronted Adam and asked whether he had eaten of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The Hebrew Hamin has the identical spelling to Haman. On this basis the Talmud declares “This is where Haman can be found in the Torah”.

As we often find in our sources, a creative interpretation of the Hebrew language is the vehicle for an insightful teaching – in this case about inner peace and happiness. The entire Persian nation paid homage to Haman. Only one person, Mordechai, refused to bow down to him. Instead of being content with what he had, Haman fumed and obsessed about the one thing he lacked – Mordechai’s submission.

The Torah provides us with a guide to all situations that confront us in life. In asking where we find a phenomenon like Haman in the Torah, the Talmud answers by identifying him with the precedent of Eden. Instead of being happy with their bountiful blessings, Adam and Eve were miserable about being forbidden the fruit of one single tree. This destructive dissatisfaction led them to lose their paradise.

‘This destructive dissatisfaction led them to lose their paradise’

A year ago, as I took up office, I called on you to ‘Come with me’ on a journey. During my first year in office, I have enjoyed immensely the privilege of visiting the majority of our communities in the UK. I have been deeply impressed with what I have seen. Our congregations boast spiritual and lay leaders of the highest calibre. Many dedicated and selfless men and women give contributions of inestimable value to their synagogues through their deep and unwavering commitment. We are blessed with warm and hospitable synagogues that stage beautiful services and provide a welcoming home for wonderful people, some of whom might otherwise be forgotten.

Unlike Haman, we recognize and rejoice in our many achievements and take pride in the work of our hands.

While feeling gratified and fulfilled we should not, however, be complacent. There is far more that we can and should be doing to breath new, fresh and exciting life into our synagogues and community centres. With this in mind, I look forward to being your active partner on this journey, in our quest to build on our attainments to date in order to achieve even greater success in the years to come.

Valerie and I extend our warmest wishes to you all for a happy, joyous, healthy, peaceful and successful New Year.”