Beit Midrash

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

It's not about me

Why don't we ask forgiveness for our personal sins on Rosh Hashana if it is the Day of Judgment?


Rabbi Yonatan Kirsch

Cheshvan 6 5782
The Question
An age old question asked concerning Rosh Hashanah is this--why don't we ask forgiveness for our personal sins on Rosh Hashana?
In the 'Machzor', the prayers emphasize so many great things related to Hashem and creation but barely a reference to the individual's personal requests, needs, and above all teshuva! In fact, if we think about it, the Jewish New Year is over two days that every single one of us and the entire world is judged. These are the days that Hashem declares what will happen to us in this coming year, and rules on our health, wealth and everything else...
Therefore, would it not follow that we should plead, beg and cry over these vital personal issues? As an analogy, let's say someone was judged guilty and came before a human judge who was about to decide on his sentence, which could mean death. Obviously, we would expect the person to urgently plead for mercy and ask forgiveness for any act or deed that he is charged for. Where does all this appear in our prayer book for Rosh Hashanah?!
Stop Thinking About Yourself
The Gaon of Vilna (Siddur Ha'Gra- introduction to Tefilat Rosh Hashanah) , the Gra, asks this question and explains this with an amazing Zohar. The Zohar's describes someone who asks for a personal request on Rosh Hashanah, also called (Yom Hadin), as comparable to a dog barking 'hav hav' (This is the Aramaic word that means 'give me' and also the Hebrew equivalent of 'ruff' 'ruff'!).
We are told to choose a different approach. Stop thinking about yourself! Put your personal troubles, needs, and desires aside. We don't even deal with our own sins and failures, because that is not germane to the theme of the day. It just isn't about us. However, it is about Hashem's Malchut (kingdom), Hashem's presence in this world, His nation that is dispersed in exile, the Temple Mount that is empty from the Mikdash and the Almighty's power that is not yet fully recognized.
By taking this attitude, explains the Gra, we show our great love for Hashem, we show that we care about what is important to Him. And of course, we show our care for 'Klal Yisrael'. By internalizing this we understand the correct proportions in life; what is important and what is secondary.
Is it legitimate to request personal needs?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Otzar Likutei Sichot, Rosh Hoshana B') also discusses this thought. He explains something very enlightening about the story of Chanah. One might ask- Is there legitimacy for my personal requests and needs from Hashem? The davening of Rosh Hashanah does allude to this indirectly.
The story of Chanah tells us (Sefer Shmuel: chapter 1) that she had no children and was praying in the Mishkan in Shiloh for a child. While praying a heartbreaking Tefilah by moving her lips soundlessly, Eli, the Kohen Gadol, suspected her of being drunk and asked her to refrain from drinking. Then she replied that she is praying for a child.
The Rebbe gives this a very unique interpretation. He writes that Eli actually realized that she was praying from the bottom of her heart, although he claimed that while standing "In front of Hashem" In the Holy Temple, this isn't the time and place to ask for such "small" and personal requests.
Chanah's incredible reply was that she was asking for a child who will grow to be a great Tzaddik and bring enormous help to the entire nation (Mesechet Brachos, Lamed Alef).
Chanah teaches us that even our personal desires can be connected to this greater good. You want to be rich? You want health? Great! The question is – What will you do with that wealth? Why do you want to live and add additional years to your life? At this special time of the year we look deep inside of ourselves.
The answer is that we cry out to Hashem is to help us with our personal troubles-- all for His sake..

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