One of the most remarkable aspects of the holiday of Rosh HaShana is its universality. On this day the future of Israel and of the entire world will be determined. Although it is invariably referred to as the “Jewish” New Year, this description is inaccurate and misleading in the same way that referring to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as the “Jewish” Temple totally misses the mark. Both are expressions of G-d’s love and concern for the entire world.
On Rosh HaShana, all of creation passes before G-d in judgment. Every individual as well as every nation; kings and commoners, princes and paupers. For all are the descendants of Adam, the first man, and Rosh HaShana is his birthday – the anniversary of his creation. This judgment is the world’s birthday party. Were you expecting balloons and party games? As opposed to the secular notion of a “birthday bash” characterized by wild abandonment, a celebration of “me” – this birthday celebration reflects the most central concept in the entire Torah – personal responsibility and integrity. The “challenge of choice” that awaits us every moment of our lives. The acceptance of personal responsibility, the Torah teaches, is the true measure of a man – and G-d practices what He preaches. On the very day that he brought humanity into the world, on the very day that He breathed life into man, He reviews each one of man’s children, to determine exactly how that breath is being used. For Isaiah the prophet tells us that there is only one reason that G-d brought forth all of creation: “Everyone that is called by My name, and whom I created for My glory, I formed him, yea I made him” (Is. 43:7). And now, on Rosh HaShana, G-d seeks to determine whether we as individuals and nations are aiding that process, and adding to His glory, or holding back His goal.
A lot of people want to be king. The lesson of Rosh HaShana, simply put, is that there is no room for two kings in this world. To be a loyal subject requires total commitment: “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6). Each of us must make a determination and tell the truth:
Have we been true subjects of the King? Or have we been worshipping ourselves?
G-d looks for the good in all of us. He seeks to bestow His benevolence on man. But ultimately, life is about the choices we continue to make at every moment. It’s all up to us, as the sages of Israel teach: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven.” G-d tells us that He would really appreciate it if we would make the right choices: “See, I have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil, that which I command you today, to love the L-rd, your G-d, to walk in His ways, to observe His commandments... I call upon heaven and earth to bear witness against you, I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse, and you shall choose life, so that you will live...” (Deut. 30). Ultimately, all G-d can do is hope for the best. It really is up to us. On Rosh HaShana, He seeks to validate the world, to assure Himself that it really was worthwhile to create man after all – “whom I created for My glory.”
We live in a bold new world, one that requires us to make bold choices. The first choice is to choose life. It is not the Holy One, blessed be He, who will write us into the book of life, or, Heaven forbid, the opposite – it is we ourselves who make the choice, through our actions, and write our own names into the book of our choice. On Rosh HaShana, we are presented with the opportunity to transcend our personal confines, and become united as subjects of the King, as man’s descendants should be – thus collectively validating the purpose of creation.
The Holy Temple, too, is an aspect of the wholeness and collective healing of mankind. It is designed to reflect the light of the Divine Presence into a world of deception. The images we perceive, chase after, and obsess about throughout the frail days of our lives are only optical illusions. Real vision only comes about when our eyes our enlightened by the resting of the Divine Presence in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
On the eve of Rosh HaShana, we extend heartfelt blessings for a New Year of peace, health, prosperity and joy. May G-d look upon us and say: “Yes. This is what I had in mind.”
May our lives validate the chance He took on us, and with our integrity and responsibility, may we inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life.