It was nearly mussaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. I sat in the back of the shul, anxiously shaking my leg, tapping my siddur and trying hard to prevent my then toddler from pulling down my entire shirt. With every passing minute my frustration was building; as there was no sign of my husband. My husband had agreed to daven that morning at the hashkama minyan in order to allow me to be inside shul to hear to the haftorah. The only part of Tefilla I cared to be at that Rosh Hashanah was the haftorah from Sefer Shmuel which told the story of Chana and her infertility journey. Despite the shul being full of people, the only “personality” I felt like I could relate to was Chana.
The story of the haftorah, which ultimately ends with the hopeful message of the birth of Shmuel HaNavi, chronicles Chana and Elkana’s yearly trip to Shilo, during which Chana would pour her heart out praying for a child. Each year passed and Chana was still childless, while she watched those around her, specifically her sister, “be fruitful and multiply”.
Chana and her tears, Chana and her hope, Chana and her desperation, Chana and her inability to find words to express her emotions. This is what I could relate to.
Over the course of that year we had uncovered what several doctors believed to be potentially irreparable damage to my uterus and the notion of even having another child was now feeling like a pipe dream. Having a child without assistance was plainly impossible. It was a lot to take in and, despite having already undergone a surgery and several failed hormonal cycles, I hadn’t really processed what it all meant.
And suddenly it was Rosh Hashanah. On the one hand this figurative smack in the face, look in the mirror, confront your reality kind of day, and on the other hand this day of tefilla that was supposed to be filled with letting go, surrendering to God and believing He can make anything happen. Caught somewhere between those two feelings, I felt so alone.
During the tefilla on Rosh Hashanah we quote the pasuk from sefer Devarim that says:
“עיני ה’ אלוקיך בה–מראשית השנה, ועד אחרית שנה”
If you look carefully at the language it says from the beginning of “THE year” until the end of “year”. I once heard a powerful idea that in the beginning of the year we feel determined, hopeful, with our new year’s resolutions in hand, that this year will be “the” year, different than last year and often by the end we see and feel that we may not have lived up to our expectations and that it has just been another year.
In the past I used to take some mussar from this every Rosh Hashanah, but this notion of “the” year took on a whole new intense meaning during our infertility and neonatal loss journey. Each Rosh Hashanah I found myself hopeful, begging God, please let this year be “the” year, and simultaneously letting the tears roll down in mourning of another year that has passed with more frustration and loss. Rosh Hashanah and the season of the Chagim in general became this weird marker of being forced to acknowledge what the past year had been, and to anxiously await what the coming year would bring. I imagine to myself that Chana’s yearly pilgrimage to Shilo felt similar to her.
In the time that has past, and in the ups and downs of my own personal experience, I have come to appreciate the fact that sitting beside me in shul on Rosh Hashanah are actually probably lots of people just like me. Not necessarily on a journey to have children, but on some sort of a personal journey that no one else can understand is hers and hers alone. One of the main things my experience has taught me is that I have no idea what the woman next to me in shul is thinking, praying, mourning, hoping, thanking, but that I’m sure it is something that it is unique and challenging for her.
This Rosh Hashanah I resolve to be a little kinder, even if just in my head, towards each of these women, because at the end of the day, our tear-laden, Chana-modeled tefillot are basically all the same: “please, please Hashem, I beg of You, make this year THE year for me.”
Cheryl Burnat is an olah from North America; She lives in Jerusalem with her family.
Photo courtesy of Rivka Levine