How to Change your Mind

Blog image - How to Change your Mind

The nature of Hebrew provides endless opportunities for one to invent hiddushim (innovative interpretation). Not only is this as fun and challenging as Wordle, but it can also show a way of seeing something new in the old and familiar. The purpose is not to arrive at a definitive understanding – in fact, just the opposite. The purpose is to reveal a new facet to be held and enjoyed and added to what we already know. 

Rosh Hashanah. The word rosh is related to the resh, the Hebrew letter for the “r” sound, the shape of which is reminiscent of the curve of neck and head. In fact, the most common usage of the word rosh is head. Rosh in this sense implies a hierarchy or order, whether it be in quality, time, place, or importance.  

Rosh also refers to beginnings: Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the year. The same word or root is also found in b’reshit, the first word of the Torah, which is usually translated “in the beginning,” but could even refer not to the creation itself, but to what existed beforehand and all that unfolded following it (ma’ase breshit).  

In modern vernacular, rosh can denote one’s “headspace,” as in rosh gadol (literally big head, meaning one who takes initiative, accepts responsibility) or the counterpart rosh katan (small head, one who plays it safe by going by the rules, narrowly defined). Rather than referring to a physical aspect, rosh in this sense is a state of mind, where we process all the stimuli that come through our senses and create a world through our own unique interpretations. 

Shana means, in its most direct sense, year, but it is the same root of the word shniya, which means a second (there’s a clear double entendre there but for the moment, we are talking about the seconds that make up a minute), Both words relate to time, which is how we measure or observe change, shinui.  

Sh – n – a is one of those slippery roots in Hebrew that can mean both a thing and its opposite. So, while there is a clear expression of change in this root, there is at the time the idea of shinun, or repetition. The emphasis on review can be found in this teaching: One who reviews (shana) a passage one hundred times is in no way like one who reviews it one hundred and one times. There is a commitment to learning in depth that assumes that there is always something fresh and new to be learned in the familiar, that there are meanings hidden in something you’ve already learned even a hundred times that can be revealed through an even closer reading, the hundred and first time (which then has the potential to be, in fact, the first time). 

Rosh is the beginning and, in implying an order, requires at least a second or it would simply be one rather than rosh, first. Sheni implies a difference from one, even though it might be identical, like twins, they are not. An infinity exists between one and two. Rosh (how we experience and understand the world) writes our existence, b’reshit, but time, shinui, gives existence direction and meaning expressed in the possibility of change we can make. Not always, and perhaps only within certain parameters, but the depths of our Hebrew language indicate that in the repetition of years lie seconds that allow us to change our minds, imbuing moments with significance that goes far beyond the moment. 

This is where I pause a second, smile a little, and say: I’m a teacher at AMHSI. We’re in the mind-changing business. 

Except that’s not our business. 

True enough that thousands of our grads will say that Muss was the most transformational educational experience in their lives. 

I say this with no false modesty nor in any way minimizing the skill and knowledge of our phenomenal educational staff: the hard work done here is done by the students themselves. They are the ones who change, adapt, and grow, and so much of it is the result of their efforts. We, the school, the faculty, the staff, set the rosh, the environment, illuminating new ways of looking at things, helping awake a Jewish identity that the students will define. We, the school, the parents, the board, should only be as open to change and development as are the students. 

We have this time of year every year in its predictable repetition calling for us to transform ourselves. Every time we get here there is a rosh, a first, a beginning. Every time we get here is a new year, a change, a chance to learn from repetition: A Rosh Hashanah of changing our minds. A timely Jewish message concealed in the language of our nation.