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 away.
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.