Every Rosh Hashanah, we read, "let us relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening." The liturgy goes on to explain how, on Rosh Hashanah, all of our fates are being determined by G-d. The future of the world is being dictated. We are being judged.
Every Rosh Hashanah, we read, "let us relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening." The liturgy goes on to explain how, on Rosh Hashanah, all of our fates are being determined by G-d. The future of the world is being dictated. We are being judged. To make this a little more tangible, Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, a prominent rabbi in the old city of Jerusalem, explains how we should read our daily newspapers. Instead of reading, "The stock market prices hit an all-time high", we should read "On the previous Rosh Hashanah, Hashem decreed that on this day stock market prices will reach an all-time high." Also, instead of reading "A terrorist killed 10 people today," we should read, "Last Rosh Hashanah, Hashem determined that on this day a terrorist will kill 10 people." If this is the truth, then why do we not feel it? Why do we not read a newspaper like this? We would all approach Rosh Hashanah much differently if we believed with a full heart that our fates were being decided on that awesome day. We may give these ideas lip service, but our hearts do not seem to be in agreement.
Our problem is that we are all in a fog. Hashem placed us in a material world where, from birth, we are blocked from spirituality and immersed in the physical. It takes much work in order to be able to overcome the fog and see the truth of G-d's constant providence over everything. The Talmud (Tractate Baba Metzia 83b) tells us that this world is similar to night. The Mesillat Yesharim, the classic 18th century work on Jewish philosophy, explains that there are two types of errors that darkness causes people to make. The first way darkness causes people to err is that it does not allow people to see the obstacles in their path. The darkness of this world causes people who do not check themselves and examine their deeds to think they are walking securely, but at the end they will fall and be lost without ever experiencing any fear. The second error, which is worse than the first, causes distortion causing one to think that a tree is a pole and a pole is a tree. So too, the darkness of this world causes us to think that good is evil and evil is good. It is not enough that our ability to see the truth is clouded, but we find rationalizations and substantiations proving that our evil plans and theories, which will distance us from G-d and harm our souls, are really good for us.
So how do we get out of this stupor? We simply have to think. Our sages teach us that we must take an accounting of all our deeds. We must all think about our purpose in life and why G-d put us on earth. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 3:1) tells us, "Know these three things and you will never come to sin: Know from where you come, to where you are going, and before whom in the future you will have to justify all of your actions in life. From where do you come? From a putrid drop, (a very humble beginning). To where are you going? To a place of dirt, worms, and maggots (a very humble end). Before whom in the future will you have to give justification for your deeds? Before the King of all kings, the holy One, blessed is He." Each and every one of us will have to give an accounting of everything we did in our lives before our Creator.
When we contemplate these matters, we will realize that it simply does not make sense to sin and defy the will of G-d. The Talmud tells us that people only sin when they have a temporary bout of insanity. We have to be crazy to consciously flout the will of the Almighty. The darkness of this world is what causes us to follow the rest of society in the pursuit of money, power, and physical pleasures, ignoring Hashem's bidding. We are blinded to the higher purpose in life. Only when one examines his deeds and realizes that the only true pleasure is subjugating one's self to G-d's will can one break out of the darkness and into the light.
Torah is compared to light. It leads us through the dark world to the truth. G-d gave us the Torah in order to give us the ability to feel through the darkness and reach the transcendent and Divine. The Hebrew word "Torah" literally means instructions. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, renowned dean of the Aish HaTorah Institute in Israel, explains how whenever someone gets a gift, he receives instructions. If you were to give someone a refrigerator, it comes with a small instruction booklet. When someone gets a more complex gift, like a car, it comes with an entire manual. G-d gave us the most complicated gift of all - life - and gave us the Torah as our instructions on how to use life properly. It teaches us to leave the darkness of the mundane and physical, and to emerge into a world of spirituality, truth, happiness, and sanctity.
Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance and is a time on the Jewish calendar specially designated for reflection and repentance. The blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is our call to repentance. Maimonides, one of the leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, explains that the blowing of the shofar says to us: "Wake up you people from your sleep and arise from your slumber. Examine your deeds, repent, and remember your Creator. All those who forget the truth, immersing themselves in vanity and emptiness, look into your souls and improve your ways." The sound of the shofar is a call to arms to the Jewish people to wake up from their stupor and remember G-d and His commandments.
The Slonimer Rebbe, a well-known Chassidic rebbe who just passed away a few weeks ago, points out that the Torah, when it commands the Jewish people to blow the shofar, does not simply say you must blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Rather, the Torah states, "You shall have a day of shofar blowing" (Numbers 29:1). The Slonimer Rebbe explains that not only does this mean to blow the shofar, but the entire essence of the day is shofar blowing. This means that the essence of the day is the message embodied in the blowing of the shofar, not just while hearing it, but the entire day. Rosh Hashanah is an opportune time to wake up from our spiritual slumber.
On Rosh Hashanah, all Jews are imbued with an enhanced ability to repent. We are all able to stop our sleepwalking through life and to truly see the light. Rosh Hashanah is a time to once again coronate Hashem as our King, and to allow the truth of Torah into our lives, the same way our ancestors have been doing for thousands of years.
So, when we are successful on Rosh Hashanah in renewing our relationship with G-d, what can we do throughout the year to keep our relationship with Him active in our everyday lives? We can all take upon ourselves to engage in Jewish stud, acts of kindness, and prayer. Even if one commits to include just a little more Judaism in his or her life, small steps can make a tremendous difference and have a long lasting value.
Mitchell Scher, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently studying at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington.
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