Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Essence of Rosh Hashana
To dedicate this lesson

The Implication of Rosh HaShanah


Rabbi Berel Wein

On Rosh Hashanah we stand in judgment before our Creator. But we are not mere passive defendants standing in the dock awaiting a verdict in our trial. Instead we take the liberty of submitting requests, suggestions and sometimes even demands to our Heavenly Judge. We pray for life and health, prosperity and wisdom, family and national stability, as well as for redemption, peace, serenity and meaningful success.

That is quite a long and impressive list of requests that we submit to the Almighty. It is part of the ethos of Judaism that such requests are allowed if not even encouraged by the Lord. It illustrates our dependence upon God and our inability to have hope, direction and planning in our lives without Heavenly aid and grace.

The doors of Heaven, the gates of prayer are thrust wide open for us on the High Holy days and the Ten Days of Repentance and we are bidden to take advantage of that situation with our prayers, requests and improved social and religious behavior. It would be foolish in the extreme to ignore and not take advantage of such an opportunity to ask for what we need in our personal and national life.

Though the results of the judgments of Rosh Hashanah are not immediately clear and present, we are nevertheless in an optimistic mood and the day is celebrated in a holiday mode with feasting, family and friends. It is the connection with eternity and Heaven that Rosh Hashanah affords that transforms an otherwise day of tension and awe into one of holy serenity and satisfaction.

But Rosh Hashanah is a two way street. It is not only our turn to ask God for what we wish, but it is also a day when God, so to speak, also informs us what He wishes and requires from us. Judaism is a faith of mutually binding covenants between God and the Jewish people, collectively and individually. The rabbis taught us that first and foremost God wants our hearts. He wants sincerity and faith, belief and discipline, strength of character and good will. He abhors falsehood and hypocrisy, mendacity and venality.

The prophet taught us that the Lord desires that we act justly, love kindness, show mercy to others and to walk humbly in God’s ways. He demands that we live up to our end of the covenant, that we observe His commandments and sanctify His Holy Days and the Sabbath by our behavior and demeanor. He wishes us to have an appreciation and knowledge of our past and a vision for our future. He wishes that we share His view, so to speak, of the Jewish people as being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation - a unique treasure amongst all of the peoples of the world.

He also wishes that each and every one of us realizes that he or she is a special unique individual and not just a faceless number in a world of billions. People who feel special are special. Our self judgment in our hearts influences our Heavenly judgment on Rosh Hashanah as well. To a great extent, God invites us, so to speak, to judge ourselves in conjunction with the Heavenly court. Therefore we state in our prayers that every person’s signature appears on the verdict of the Heavenly court. We are equal partners in our judgment and in the outcome

The national hopes of the Jewish people also find expression on Rosh Hashanah. No Jew is exempt from the destiny of the Jewish people as a whole. Our past century of sad and tragic experience clearly indicates the futility of attempting to somehow think that the Jewish covenant allows individuals to opt out of it at will. Solidarity with the Jewish faith and people, with the state of Israel and with the eternal Torah is the guarantee of individual Jewish survival and meaning.

Joshua upon encountering the angel in his tent asked only question: "Are you with us or are you against us and with our enemies?" Unfortunately many Jews, deluded by "humanitarian" sloganeering, wittingly or unwittingly cannot answer Joshua’s question correctly. Rosh Hashanah allows us to look within ourselves and to declare to the God of Israel that we are truly with Him and with our people.

We wish to be inscribed in the book of eternal life and Jewish glory and not, God forbid, on the pages of Jewish perfidy and shame. Rosh Hashanah provides us with a wide range of important choices that have eternal consequences. May we always choose wisely and correctly.
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