Look to the Future
By Rabbi Shlomo Jarcaig
“In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a rest day for you, a remembrance of blowing [shofar blasts], a holy convocation.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:24) This refers to the festival known as Rosh HaShanah.
The Mishna informs us (Tractate Rosh HaShanah 1:2) that this is the day of the year on which each individual is judged. As its name – literally, the head of the year – indicates, it is also the first day of the Jewish year. It seems peculiar that we are judged on the first day of the new year; as the judgment is based upon our actions of the previous year, the judgment would be more appropriate on the last day of the year. Further, the prayers of the day do not focus on what one would expect for a judgment day. There is no emphasis on remorse or repentance. Rather, our charge throughout the day is to declare that G-d is the King of the Universe. More so, if this is, indeed, the Day of Judgment, why does the Torah itself not make even the slightest mention of that phenomenon? Reference to a “rest day”, “remembrance of blowing [shofar blasts]” and “a holy convocation” hardly warn the masses to prepare as they would like to before they are judged by their Creator.
Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (1) explains that the judgment which takes place on Rosh HaShanah is not the one in which we are rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our wrongdoings; that is a judgment each person will face after he dies. The judgment of Rosh HaShanah is one in which G-d decides which people will be given which tools to help bring about the world’s purpose of sanctifying His name. Past performance is a solid indicator regarding the likelihood of future actions, but it is not the sole basis for such an evaluation. A sincere commitment to accept G-d as our King and attempt to follow His will in the future – versus a focus on fixing our mistakes of the past – is the greater reason for Him to give us the tools to do so. Thus, we spend the day declaring G-d as our King rather than concentrating on repentance. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky (2) explains that this is why the Torah did not take note of the fact that Rosh Hashanah is Judgment Day. For centuries the Sages, following the direction of the Torah, did not emphasize the concept of judgment. The masses had a natural proclivity to declare G-d as King because of their love for Him. It was only when, in later generations, people’s sensitivities to G-d’s love were dulled that it became necessary to stress G-d’s judgment so they would at least declare G-d as King out of fear, if not out of love for Him.
Our Sages teach us that one of the inherent purposes of the parent-child relationship is to create a paradigm for man’s relationship with G-d. Parents naturally give endlessly and selflessly to their young children, with great love and compassion; reflection upon their own actions will help these parents appreciate the great, boundless giving that is G-d’s loving kindness. Children look at many parental decisions as unfair or irrational, while the parent understands that it is with the blessings of experience and insight that he, in his love for the child, is able to make these decisions for the child’s benefit; in due time the child will comprehend the compassion of the decision. So, too, the parent – who is ultimately G- d’s child – cannot fathom the kindness in many of G-d’s decisions that at the moment seem so harsh. But he can ponder his own reality to at least rationally accept that in G-d’s infinite wisdom His compassion is clearly evident. But the most fundamental facet of this paradigm is that the relationship we are to share with our Father in Heaven is one of love, not fear. There are times that a child facing reprimand has to request leniency and mercy of his father, but when the child contemplates strengthening the essence of his relationship, the focus is not consequences for the mistakes of the past, but building love to forge bonds for the future. It is toward this relationship that G-d, via His Torah, instructs us to aspire.
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) Mashgiach/Spiritual Mentor of Ponovezh Yeshiva in B’nai Brak; close disciple of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
(2) d. 1986; A student of the great academies of Eastern Europe, “Reb Yaakov”, as he was known to the masses, came to New York in 1945 (he was in Toronto since 1937) as Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Mesitha Torah Vodaath, a position he held for the rest of his life
Kol HaKollel is a publication of The Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish Studies · 5007 West Keefe Avenue · Milwaukee, Wisconsin · 414-447-7999