Remember us for life
by Jonathan Rosenblum
September 10, 2004
Beginning on Rosh Hashanah and continuing through Yom Kippur, we add at the beginning of every Shemoneh Esrai, "Remember us for life, O King, Who desires life? What precisely is this life for which we pray? Do we have anything more in mind than that we not die in the year to come?
Usually we conceive of life as a series of moments, each presenting some opportunity to stimulate the nerve endings. When that opportunity is not realized, that moment is dead. But even when we succeed in achieving some form of sensory exhilaration, a moment later that sensation has passed forever and is unrecoverable.
Viewed in this fashion, life is a succession of little deaths, which we use to count down to our ultimate demise. Such a life is always experienced in the debit column. We are like someone at the amusement park waiting half an hour for a thirty second roller coaster ride. The moments of sensory excitement will inevitably be far fewer than the intervals in between.
When we pray for life, however, we are praying for something very different. We are praying for eternal life. Eternal life is not, as many mistakenly believe, something that happens after we die. Every day in our prayers we say, "He has planted eternal life within us." Eternity can be experienced now.
To experience eternal life means to rejoice in the very fact of our existence, unconnected to anything outside of ourselves. We rejoice in our existence because we recognize that we exist only because G-d brought us into being and sustains us.
Man is the ultimate expression of the Divine will: "And G-d breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he was a living being." The blasts of the Shofar remind us of that moment of literal inspiration in which Man became a living being, imbued with a portion of the Divine. The sound of the Shofar recalls that primordial moment of the soul struggling to become aware of its own existence.
The life that we pray for on Rosh Hashanah, then, is a sense of connection to the source of life. That source is described as an overflowing spring, and when we attach ourselves to that never ceasing spring, we experience eternity.
To rejoice in the awareness of our own existence is to recognize ourselves as absolutely unique, as beings brought into existence to proclaim some aspect of the Divine in a manner that no one else can. The Targun translates "a living being," into Aramaic as "a speaking being," for to live is to make some unique statement about the Creator. No one else can make the same statement, for no one else was born with the same constellation of talents, no one else was born into the same familial or historical situation, and no one will confront the same exact challenges.
The joy of existence, then, is the knowledge that one’s life has a purpose, a mission. In the Zichronot section of the Mussaf prayer, we recite: "Every living being passes before You -- a man’s action and his mission." Beyond the commandments that are equally incumbent on every Jew, each one of us was created with a unique mission. And we will be judged according to our fulfillment of that mission, no less than according to our performance of the mitzvot.
The task of Rosh Hashanah is to ascertain the nature of our unique mission. The Mishnah describes four times during the year when the world is judged, and at each such period an offering was brought in the Temple appropriate to the judgment. On Sukkot, for instance, when the world is judged for water, a water libation was brought on the Altar. So what is brought on Rosh Hashanah? On Rosh Hashanah, we bring ourselves.
We stand in absolute solitude before the Creator, as He calls upon us to answer the question: Why was I created? What do I have to contribute to the world that no one else can?
No one can ever answer that question with absolute certainty, but we can at least enunciate an approach. First, each of us must identify our own special abilities and talents, for these are the G-d-given tools for the achievement of our mission. Then we must ask ourselves: What do I see in the world about me that needs repair? We should never assume that just because we have noticed a problem in need of fixing that everyone else has as well, and that someone of greater abilities will rectify the problem. The fact that we noticed may be part of our mission.
Having identified what is unique about ourselves, we can plot our direction for the coming year. And with that vision for the future comes a renewed sense of purpose, a feeling of attachment to the source of all life.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for life.
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur
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