By Udi Hammerman
We all know Rosh Hashanah, right? Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and also called the Day of Judgment. We stand before God, ask for mercy, and pray with a full heart. Isn't it? Well, let's just see about that…
Rav Matis Weinberg points out beautifully that our classic view of what Rosh Hashanah is, really isn't so simple at all... First of all, we think of Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgment. Really, however, it seems quite out of place to have a day of judgment at the beginning of a new year. Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to have it at the end of the year? It seems logical that exactly as a year ends our actions should be judged. Not at the beginning when nothing has happened yet.
It's also intriguing that in the Torah Rosh Hashanah is never mentioned as a Day of Judgment at all. The Torah calls Rosh Hashanah: 'יום זכרון יהיה לכם' a day of Memory for you, that's all… there's not a word in the Torah about it being a day of judgment. The Memory mentioned in the Torah is also not memory in the sense of God remembering our sins and judging us, as we so often think of it. We can clearly see this by looking at the passages of זכרונות, of Memory, in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah. There we see that the verses which discuss Memory on Rosh Hashanah are speaking memories of Love, not judgment!
"זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך, אהבת כלולותיך, לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה"
"I remember to you the loving kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown." (Jeremiah 2:2)
"הבן יקיר לי אפרים ... זכור אזכרנו עוד נאום ה"
and, 'Is Ephraim a son who is dear to Me?... For whenever I speak of him, I still remember him, I will surely have compassion on him,' says the Lord." (Jeremiah 31:19)
So we see that the Memory of Rosh Hashanah is not a memory of judgment and past sins, not to mention that there is barely any asking for forgiveness in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah. That is only on Yom Kippur when we say Slichot & י"ג מדות - the prayers of forgiveness including the 13 attributes of Mercy and entreat God to forgive us!
Well, what's going on here, then!? In truth, in order to understand the judgment and the memory of Rosh Hashanah, we must try and understand the underlying concept at the root of this holiday - the concept of דין/Din, which incorporates within itself all of the other ideas we've been discussing. Rosh Hashanah is called יום הרת עולם, the day of the conception of the world. What does that mean? Why not the day of the Birth of the world? Well, actually, Rosh Hashanah is the day where God dreams the world into existence. When we have a dream, about our lives, about something we want to create or to accomplish, our dream is perfect. It is the way we would want everything to work out according to our Will and Desire! That is what Rosh Hashanah is! It is that day when God dreamed what the world would be. That is a day of Din.
Din, which we so often translate as judgment, is really much more. It is the desire of God that the world be perfect. This is the place that we touch on Rosh Hashanah. We don't ask for forgiveness, because the day is not about forgiveness. That comes later, on Yom Kippur, when God sees that the world cannot exist through Din alone, and that, like any relationship with another, there must be an element of Rachamim - of mercy, kindness and forgiveness in his world.
On Rosh Hashanah we remember the Dream. Memory on Rosh Hashanah is the Love that God has for us that inspired the creation of the world. It is the consciousness of what this world is meant to be! We blow the Shofar and say that God is the King of the world! We declare that we are a part of this Dream, of this desire. Later, on Yom Kippur, we will analyze ourselves and see whether we are doing the best jobs we can to be part of Gods dream or not, but either way that comes later. The first step of Teshuvah (repentance) is Rosh Hashanah. It is recognizing where our 'Rosh' or head is, in other words, it is about defining ourselves, making a stand. It is about saying: 'I am a part of this'.
The Talmud in the tractate of Rosh Hashanah says that God opens two books on Rosh Hashanah, the book of Tzadikim, of righteous people, and the book of Reshaim, wicked people. Anyone who is not yet a Tzaddik or a Rasha has but a few days to fall either into one category or the other, but there's nothing in between. You can either be a Tzaddik or a Rasha… nothing in between! Isn't that strange? That's not how the world works!?
In real life, there are so many levels and gradations of human beings. But that is because Rosh Hashanah is not about those gradations. It is about declaring where you want to be. There are only two paths to walk. Do you want to be on the side of Good, of caring about the world and your fellow men or do you want to be on the side of Evil, selfishness and caring only for yourself? This is the question that we are asked on Rosh Hashanah. And this is the question that we try to answer.
On an environmental note, as well, we must ask ourselves this Rosh Hashanah, where we stand. Are we committing our lives to trying to make this world a better place? Are we committed to taking care of our planet and our land? Or are we only living for our own comforts, not thinking of the bigger picture as we go through the daily motions of throwing out our trash, washing our dishes or buying food at the supermarket? This is a time of defining oneself, one's goals and one's purpose. It's always true that we may have occasional moments of weakness where we don't conserve as much water as we possibly could, where we don't put in the little extra effort to clean up our surroundings or try and be more careful about what we eat or buy… but the question on Rosh Hashanah is where do we see ourselves? Are we willing to take a stand for what we believe in?
This is just as true for our own personal dreams as well. Rav Kook says that repentance is the bridge between our dreams of the kind if person we want to be, and the reality of who we are right now. Let's think about who we want to be this Rosh Hashanah. Let's think about what are our dreams. What are our truest desires... and then we can all start making them come true!