In the autumn, the leaves fall – hence in North America, autumn is referred to as ‘Fall.’ Note: ‘Fall’ – not ‘The Fall.’ ‘The Fall’ is the way in which Christianity understands the expulsion of the first human beings from the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Each and every human being thereafter, according to Christian teaching, is born, bearing the ‘original sin’ committed by Adam and Eve. This is not the way that Jewish teaching understands the story. This year, we begin the cycle of Torah readings again on October 10 with B’reishit, the first portion, which recounts the tales of how the world came to be, including the creation of humanity. From a Jewish perspective, the Garden of Eden was humanity’s kindergarten; the location of humanity’s childhood. The first human beings had to leave the garden because they had to grow up – and growing up involved, as it does with all children, transgressing parental rules and boundaries. Adam and Eve did not ‘fall’, they went out into the world and learnt what it means to work in order to eat and to endure pain and suffering.
So: ‘Fall’ does not feature in British English vocabulary, and ‘The Fall’ is not a Jewish concept. Nevertheless, Jewish teaching is concerned with ‘falling’. We read in the second blessing of the daily prayer, Ha-T’fillah, literally, ‘The Prayer’ – also known as the Amidah, ‘standing’ [prayer] – that God ‘supports [the] falling’ – someikh nof’lim. Beginning, Attah gibbor l’olam Adonai, literally, ‘You are mighty forever, Eternal One,’ the blessing expresses God’s powers: You ‘sustain the living with love, enliven the dead with abundant compassion, support the falling, heal the sick, release captives, and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust.’ We all ‘fall’ at one time or another: we ‘fall on hard times’, we ‘fall ill’, physically and/or mentally – these are, indeed English expressions. As with the actual experience of falling, all the ways in which we can and do fall are disorientating. The notion that we are supported when we fall expresses a deep human need to be accompanied and held in our distress and anguish. The Eternal One is not a magician with a wand, who conjures away our torments. The power of God is in the powerful all-encompassing acknowledgement of the unavoidable trials of life. Wherever we are, at any time in our lives, whatever happens to us, whatever mess we get ourselves into, even in the deepest pit of despair, that acknowledgement is available to us. It begins, when we acknowledge ourselves and one another. Ultimately, we are all walking alongside one another on the perilous journey of life. When we recognise this, we know that all we have to do is turn to one another to find the support we need when we fall, and to be the support that another person needs when they fall. As the leaves fall, and the season turns towards winter, may we all find and offer that support. Shanah Tovah!