by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
The Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment, is fast approaching. It is a great and
awesome Day. And honestly, to write about it is a difficult and awesome
responsibility. How can one write, inspire, uplift, about what is at once
magnificent and terrifying -- especially when I myself am hardly ready?
So, I was searching for what to say. Then Rabbi Label Lam sent me his own
Dvar Torah, which he has provided for the DvarTorah mailing list (send e-mail
to firstname.lastname@example.org to join), and he reminded me of the following:
"On Rosh Hashana, the Head of the Year, there is no mention in the liturgy
of misdeeds of the past. Neither are we being asked to make resolutions
about the future. Our Sages tell us that at the moment when the Shofar is
sounding, a grand review of the troops is sweeping by and the heart of
hearts is open for inspection."
Somehow, this paragraph was a beam of clarity. Perhaps I realized that what
we need to do -- what I need to do -- is not so difficult, after all.
It is difficult to "do Teshuvah," to return to G-d and abandon misdeeds,
especially once they have become our habits. One has to work to ensure that
any change for the better is not itself reversed, to ensure that old
patterns do not come creeping back. It is frightening! How can I promise
G-d, how can I even promise myself, that those days are gone?
That is not the Avodah, the service, the work, of Rosh HaShanah.
On Rosh HaShanah, we read in the Torah that G-d gave Sarah a son,
Yitzchak. When Sarah saw Yishmael, Avraham and Hagar's son, "playing,"
she told Avraham that he must drive Yishmael from their home. G-d told
Avraham that he must listen to Sarah -- and Hagar and Yishmael were sent
What were the games that Yishmael was "playing?" According to the Midrash,
he was committing the cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery, and murder.
Another explanation is that he was pretending to play with Yitzchak, but
was attempting to shoot him with arrows in order to be Avraham's only son.
Yet when Hagar and Yishmael went into the desert and ran out of water, and
Hagar abandoned her child rather than seeing him die -- he repented. He
regretted what he had done.
And an angel of G-d came to Hagar and said "Fear not, for G-d has heard the
voice of the child, as he is now."
As he is now -- not the murderer that he was. As he is now -- not the
father of descendants who will murder thousands of Jews in centuries to
come. G-d is judging him as he is now, and will save his life.
We will have a lot of work to do. We will have to ensure that our
self-improvement does not turn out to be a set of "New Year's Resolutions"
like those which the secular community jokes are broken by January 2nd.
But that is not our work for today. Our job is simply to ensure that when
our turn arrives, when G-d looks at us on the Day of Judgment, that what He
sees is someone who is committed to doing the right thing.
I don't know how I'm going to do it. I don't know how I'll manage to make
the "new me" a permanent change. But I'm not going to worry about that
today. Today, I'm just going to be that new person.
Is it terrifying? Of course. But it is profoundly exhilarating as well.
May we all be immediately inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of
blessing and happiness, a year of peace for ourselves and for all Israel!
Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov,
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.