Rosh Hashanah 5777
The holiday of Rosh Hashanah contains a paradox. On one hand, we are taught that Rosh Hashanah is the judgment day of mankind. The righteous are granted another year of life, the wicked are slated for destruction, and the average are given until Yom Kippur to mend their ways and merit another year (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16b).
We should be begging G-d for another year of life in the hope we can influence our judgment for the better. G-d's court is convened. Our books are open. This is our big chance to pray for life.
Yet if we look at the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, such prayers are almost entirely absent. We spend the day proclaiming G-d as King and yearning for the day when all mankind recognizes this. As wonderful and inspiring as these prayers are, they seem to almost miss the point of the day. We almost do not even ask for a good year for ourselves! Why do our prayers seem to so poorly reflect what is going on in Heaven?
Starting Fresh – Press Restart!
On Rosh Hashanah we are doing something more fundamental than simply begging G-d for life. We are restarting our relationship with Him. We are casting our past aside and starting fresh. We are not asking G-d to forgive us and grant us life in spite of our less-than-stellar past. We are ignoring all that and starting completely new – on today, the birthday of the world.
How do we do this? By redefining ourselves and our relationship with G-d. We declare G-od as King over the universe – as well as King over us. We identify with the purpose of the world – that all mankind will ultimately recognize and devote themselves to G-d. We want to be a part of that mission; we want G-d to be King.
Identifying With the Purpose
Rosh Hashanah is more than just a day of Judgment. It is a day of Accounting. G-d created the world for a purpose. Every year on the world's birthday, G-d reviews the state of the world to see if it is inching closer to or drifting further from that purpose. The purpose of the world is that mankind recognizes G-d and makes the world a reflection of His glory. G-d judges each of us on Rosh Hashanah not just based on our deeds, but based on how much we were a part of that grand mission. By identifying with and praying for G-d's Kingship to be revealed, we demonstrate that we want to be a part of the world's purpose. We restart our relationship with G-d and redevote ourselves to Him. True, we might not have been perfect this past year, but we know what the world is about and we want to be a part of it. We want another year of life. We want to make the world a better place.
Living for G-d
But are we simply sweeping our past mistakes under the rug, pretending we are nothing but pure, unsullied souls? What happened to that baggage that all of us do carry?
The answer demonstrates the true beauty of Rosh Hashanah. We are not just forgetting. We are doing something far more profound. We are growing out of our own perspective. Instead of worrying about our own judgment, about what sort of year God will grant us, we look beyond that and think about G-d. We declare our deep yearning that the world recognizes G-d as King. We want all mankind to acknowledge and devote themselves to G-d. G-d is judging us today, deciding if we will be granted another year of life. But we forget it all and say one thing: “G-d we care about Your honor. We want Your Name to be magnified among man.” Now that is a true sign of a relationship with G-d! We put our own worries aside – the fact that our own lives are literally on the line on this judgment day – and we look up to G-d. We state that what really matters to us are Him and His honor – not our own individual fates. G-d is all that matters. And with that grand admission, we can start our entire relationship with G-d anew. We live for Him – and nothing can be more precious to G-d.
Certainly, there is more to it than that. If we really do identify with G-d's mission and so deeply want His Name exalted, we do have some owning up to do. We have made mistakes over the past year. And Yom Kippur will be the time in which we will make amends for them. We will live up to our newfound devotion to G-d in our actions as well.
But that is for next week. On Yom Kippur we will examine our lives and ensure we are living up to our lofty ideals. Hopefully we have committed throughout Elul or at the least, during the coming Days of Repentance, to examine ourselves and resolve to do Teshuva and to improve. But on Rosh Hashanah, we do one thing only. We declare our allegiance. We state that we live for G-d, that we are His. And G-d in turn will gladly and lovingly gather in His devoted servants.
May we all be granted a year of life, health, happiness, and productivity.
K'Tiba V'hatima Toba! Rabbi Isaac Farhi