On Rosh Hashanah three books are opened. The totally righteous are written and sealed immediately into the Book of Life. The totally wicked are recorded and sealed in the Book of Death! The In-between people are left hanging and standing until Yom Kippur! (Tractate Rosh Hashanah)
How can we understand that the righteous are written immediately into the book of life? Didn’t the Rabbi Moshe Feinstein pass away nineteen years ago? Was he then written into the book of death? Conversely, the wicked Hitler lived Rosh Hashanah after Rosh Hashanah during all the war years. Was he written into the book of life? How does one both stand and hang?
Man is made of two ingredients, like Jacob’s ladder, from opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum. Into the dust of the earth was installed, through the nostrils of man, the breath of life, which comes incredibly from the very inwards of The Almighty Himself. Rosh Hashanah is that day which coincides with this original amazing event. We therefore celebrate this gift of free choice by blowing again that breath of life. Man can be compared to something like giant helium balloon with a big old basket. How so?
On Rosh Hashanah, when the Shofar blows good Jews, the world over, are filled with aspirations lighter than the stuff of this world. The righteous, less encumbered by undesirable habits of thought, speech, and action are able to be take-off immediately and their baskets begin to climb. The Talmud tells us that the righteous, even while they are dead, are considered alive. Therefore, even when they end life here they continue to climb on an infinite curve that leads them ever closer to HASHEM based on their spiritual inertia created here.
The wicked, by definition remain unaffected by the sounds of the Shofar. Their ears are jammed with nonsense. They go on a horizontal plane as a snake that slithers through the tall grass. The Talmud tells us that the wicked are called dead even while they are alive.
Himmler had said about Hitler, that in the early 1930’s he was a mentch. In the late 1930’s he was an uber-mentch- a super man. By the 1940’s he was ois-mentch- not even a man. With the extension of years he went from being famous to infamous; the poster child of evil. The wicked although granted a worldly extension become more and more nasty, brutish, addicted, and destructive as they pass through time.
The intermediates feel that surge for excellence when the Shofar blast is heard. Like a candle flickering to return to its source in the sun the balloon hopes for wings and gains them. As the balloon begins to climb for the ideal it is suddenly face to face with the real. The basket is anchored with stakes and many sand bags. These are the weighty accumulation of bad habits of thought, speech and action that hold the average man down. On the one hand, the balloon is tugging to rise higher. On the other, he is stuck in the mire. He is effectively standing and hanging. He is caught in a power-struggle between the “is” and the “ought”.
There are only two choices. 1- Shoot a hole in the balloon. Allow the inspiration of the Yom Tov to escape with foolish jokes and various forms of escapism. 2- Begin, during the next ten days to focus with a magnifying glass of intense truth on one of those ropes deemed reachable and burn through some of those threads that bind. Perhaps one unwanted habit will be released.
A fisherman hauling his load from river was asked by an annoying onlooker how he could honestly guarantee that he was selling fresh fish, as his sign promised. After all, dead fish float on the river and maybe his harvest included some dead ones. The fisherman answered confidently, “My fish are certainly fresh because I sweep my net down stream and the fish I catch are swimming upstream and if a fish is moving upstream then he is alive.” Even if that basket only inches in the right direction then that slight improvement demonstrates a desire for “life” and so it is written.