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Protecting Our Sanity from the Serpent’s Venom

Ophidiophobia (Fear of Snakes)

Rosh Hashanah is the day God created Adam and Eve, and on that very same day they sinned; they were seduced by the serpent to believe that by eating the forbidden fruit they would become like God.

The serpent’s venom affects its victim’s mind by contaminating it with delusions of grandeur.[1] While ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) is a fear that has been well-documented, our comprehension of the serpent that sojourns deep within our psyche needs to be further developed.

The sages state, “No-one commits a sin unless a spirit of folly [i.e. temporary insanity] enters him.”[2]Losing one’s mind, or a loss of attention to the outcome of our deeds, opens up the possibility of sin. As long as we are truly aware of the implications and consequences of our actions, we would never allow ourselves to transgress.

Rosh Hashanah―Our Spiritual Anti-Venom

There are three unique blessings in the long Musaf prayer we say on Rosh Hashanah. These three blessings include ten verses that express our coronation of God as King (מַלְכוּיוֹת); ten verses in which we ask God to remember our merits (זִכְרוֹנוֹת); and finally, ten verses that mention the blast of theshofar (שׁוֹפָרוֹת), the ram’s horn that will ultimately usher in the final redemption.

Coronating God: The Talmud teaches us that the entire body follows the lead of the head; the seat of the mental faculties that are most prone to the serpent’s venom. Since Rosh Hashanah is the head of the year, it also leads the entire year that will follow. By leaving all our grandiose thoughts of omnipotence behind, we can then coronate the truly omnipotent King of Kings on Rosh Hashanah. By keeping this in mind, we can then ensure that the entire year ahead will be free of sin.

Day of Remembrance: Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Remembrance (יוֹם הַזִכָּרוֹן) when we ask God to remember us only for our merits. Since everything that we ask of God also depends on our own efforts from below, Rosh Hashanah must also be associated with our own memories. The first thing to remember is our Creator, who conceived the world on Rosh Hashanah, as we say in our prayers, “Today the world was conceived.”[3] Furthermore, on Rosh Hashanah we are not allowed to mention sin at all,[4] so this is a good time to remember our own good points.[5] From a psychological point of view, Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Remembrance, is the most auspicious day to counteract the serpent’s venomous attack against our sanity; an attack which often involves a loss of memory.

Shofar: “Blast the shofar on the [new] month.”[6] The sages interpret the word “new month” (בַּחֹדֶשׁ) to mean “renew your actions,” and shofar (שׁוֹפָר) is from the same root as to “improve”[7] (שפר). Renewing and improving ourselves at the start of the year, counteracts the effects of getting stuck in a spiritual, snake-ridden rut.

To add a final thought: when we consider that the Hebrew word for year (שָׁנָה) shares the same root with “change” (שִׁינוּי), the name of this awe-inspiring Head of the Year (ראֹש הַשָׁנָה) takes on the new meaning of “mind change.”

Indeed, Rosh Hashanah is the spiritually auspicious time to change, renew and improve our mindset, and the perfect antidote to prevent the psychological decline that leads to sin.

Adapted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class on Torah and Psychology, Chile, 5769

[1]        See Body, Mind, and Soul, “Fear of the Snake” pages 113-118, where it notes that the fear of the snake is the fear of insanity. By overcoming the evil of the snake on Rosh Hashanah, we merit the revelation of Mashiach (מָּשִׁיחַ), the holy snake (נָחָשׁ), which both have the same numerical value of 358.

[2]        Sotah 3a.

[3]        From the Rosh Hashanah prayers after sounding the shofar.

[4]        See Shulchan Aruch HaravOrach Chayim 548:2.

[5]        See the Rebbe’s open letter to Jewish people in the press, Elul 5718.

[6]        Psalms 81:4.

[7]        Vayikra Rabah 29:6.

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