I often watch the moon when I take the dog for a night walk, and listen for the owls. When the full moon of the month of Elul begins to wane, Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, is truly at hand.
Rosh Hashanah is called ‘the birthday of the earth’, the day when ‘all who enter the world pass before God’, the ‘memorial to the first day creation’.
These descriptions are deeply resonant, and baffling. I experience them as full of meanings, without ever imagining that I can fathom what they actually mean, or even that such an ultimate meaning exists.
So I let my imagination and my conscience loose among them. Often this takes me to the haunting lines which conclude Yeats’s poem Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
I think of Rosh Hashanah as the day when we ponder God’s dreams, and what we have done with them.
I don’t know if it makes sense to speak of God as a dreamer. But sometimes I think this world itself is God’s dream, how it could have been and how it yet might be, with trees, birds, animals and people, a place where you can look out and say as God did in that first week of creation, ‘Behold, it is truly good’.
I think the dreams of children are God’s dreams: the dream of playing with the sand, safe in mother’s shadow; the dream of when that donkey touched its damp nose against your fingers; the dream of a time when there was no fear; the dream of the days when all the family were still together; the dream of not being hungry any more, or cold, or frightened, or alone.
I think the dreams of parents are God’s dreams: the dream that their children will always be healthy; the dream that their children will be loved and loving, cheerful and carefree; the dream that they will always be able to protect their children, and that, if and when they can no longer do so, there will be others to love them in their place; the dream that the dreams of their children will never become nightmares, wakeful hours of lonely anguish and fear.
I have watched my dog dream, seen his paws twitch and his legs move back and forth as if he was chasing an imaginary stick. I think the dreams of all life are part of God’s dream: the dream of space to run unrestrained in sheer delight; the dream of clean air and pure water, of sunshine and rain which bless the land, and do not drown it or burn it.
I wonder if God weeps or smiles amidst these multitudes of dreams. For we, humankind, have rarely trodden softly on God’s dreams. And God, who is considered infinitely rich, is also poor, because God’s dreams have been delivered into our power: ‘But I, being poor, have only my dreams’…
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur exist to fill us with wonder at the utter beauty of this earth, God’s dream. They exist to fill us with shame at what we have damaged; with sorrow on account of the lives we have wronged; with resolve to be more aware and more courageous; and with contrition so that we become healers and, in so doing, become healed.
They exist to fill us with love for all this tender life, exposed to so much hurt.