The Talmud tells us that on Rosh Hashanah, Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were remembered. What exactly were they remembered for? What they all had in common was infertility. And God remembered them and bore them children. While none of these women are part of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, each is mentioned in the Torah and Haftarah readings.
Remembrance (zichronos), kingship (malchios) and shofar blasts (shofaros) are the main themes of Rosh Hashanah. So where does barrenness fit into any of this? Yes, we are pouring our heart out to Hashem, davening for good things for the coming year. And for some women that includes getting pregnant. But what about the majority of the Jewish people: all the men, children, women with no fertility issues, and those past conception? How is this concept related to them? How can they find meaning in these passages?
As I was mulling over the symbolism of barrenness and fertility, I remembered the Hebrew word for birth is “nolad.” While nolad usually has the straightforward meaning of “birth,” sometimes it is used more metaphorically. In Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers), our sages ask: “Eizehu chacham? Ha-ro’eh et ha-nolad.” “Who is wise? The one who sees the outcome.” Or in other words, wisdom is about seeing where things will go or what potential something has.
Which brings me back to all of the people praying on Rosh Hashanah who are not looking to get pregnant. Perhaps this theme of barrenness, which is answered with children being born, is to remind us that each of us has a latent potential within that we hope God will help us bring forth.
“Today the world is born,” the machzor tells us. What a perfect day for us to dig deep, to consider why we were put into this world and beseech the Almighty to help us actualize our mission here. A childless woman will feel the excruciating pain of longing for a baby. Do we feel a profound longing to achieve our personal greatness? Do we feel an emptiness inside until we achieve it? Or do we get caught up in the day to day trivialities of life and even forget to consider what our purpose might be?
Rosh Hashanah is meant to be the day that we remove the understandable distractions of life and call out to the Master of the Universe for an extra measure of help. Just as the Almighty remembered our foremothers, so too, He will remember us, so that we may make our mark, so they we may achieve our potential, so that we may fulfill our destiny.