Hoping for a better year in 5763
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
September 6, 2002
Jews around the world can be counted on to share one thought this Rosh Hashanah: Let 5763 be a better year than the one just ended. While there are no guarantees on that score, if we take to heart the messages of Rosh Hashanah, there is reason to hope.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Mishnah tells us, ``all who come into the world pass in front of G-d as bnei Maron." The Talmud uses three metaphors to elucidate the puzzling term bnei Maron. All share one idea: The judgment is on the individual in absolute isolation, stripped of all social context. In that respect, the judgment resembles that on the day of death, where the individual confronts G-d in absolute solitude.
Remembering that we are not being judged in comparison to anything other than our own potential would go a long way to lessening the bitter divisions that typify much of Jewish life. It is always easier to concentrate on what someone else is doing wrong than to focus on one’s own failings. Rather than working to improve ourselves, we hide from our failures by noting those of others.
One lesson of Rosh Hashanah is that defending oneself by pointing out that someone else is doing worse will not avail. If all the subgroups within the larger Jewish community would remember that, and focus on fixing their own houses, the Jewish community would be not only better but more peaceful.
Standing alone before G-d, and being forced to explain, ``Who am I?" ``What makes me different than my neighbor except that he wants this and that for himself, and I want it for myself?" is not a comfortable experience. But the very questions alert us that each of us is unique. Each of us has been placed on the earth with a specific mission. In the Mussaf section of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, we find a description of G-d’s remembrance: "When the remembrance of every created being comes before you – every person’s deeds and mission. . . "
Every Jew is judged according to his ``deeds," the mitzvos that are equally incumbent every Jew. But he is judged no less according to how well he fulfills his specific mission, the one which he or she alone can perform because no one else was ever born with the same configuration of strengths and weaknesses, or familial background.
To discern our particular mission, we must know our strengths, not just our weaknesses. As Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founder of the Mussar movement emphasized, a Jew has to develop his in-born strong points for they are the primary tools for the fulfillment of his or her unique role in the Divine plan. Devoting part of our Rosh Hashanah to contemplating what is special about us, as individuals and as a nation, would be a good way to start the new year.
Though Rosh Hashanah is referred to in our prayers as the first day of Creation, it is in fact the day on which G-d created Adam by breathing into his nostrils. The rest of creation was but a prelude to that act of literal inspiration.
When G-d breathed into Adam, He gave part of Himself to man. That breath of the Divine, or neshama, is the soul. The Shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah, created by a powerful expiration, recall that primordial breath with which man came into being.
G-d created the entire world only for an another being to whom He could give of Himself. Perfect and complete unto Himself, G-d nevertheless desired to give to another. That is the meaning of the verse in Psalms, ``The entire world is founded on chesed," on G-d’s original act of lovingkindness.
On Rosh Hashanah, we seek once again to attach ourselves to the original purpose for which the world was created -- the giving that proclaims G-d’s existence. Thus did Nechemiah tell the exiles who had returned from Babylon, on Rosh Hashanah, to rejoice in G-d by ``send[ing] portions to those who have nothing prepared."
Acts of chesed, whether through word or deed, with money or just a smile, connect us to G-d and to one another. By engaging in the G-d-like chesed, we experience the Divine within ourselves and are better equipped to perceive it in others.
Attachment to the congregation of Israel, is a crucial component of our service on Rosh Hashanah. How can we recite the same prayers two consecutive days? How can both be the Day of Judgment? The answer is that there are two judgments. On the second day, all those who might not be found worthy on their own are judged again in terms of their contribution to the Jewish people.
Participation in an organic community is the antidote to the grasping selfishness that prevents us from either appreciating the good that G-d has done for us or acting in His image through deeds of chesed to others.
The Jewish people have been sorely tested this year. To a remarkable degree, Jews around the world rallied to the side of their brothers in Israel.
May that act of identification be a harbinger of a better year to come.
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur
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