Each of us has some mission in life that is ours and ours alone. No two
human beings are born with the same talents or the same challenges; no two
are born into the same familial situation or the identical time and place in
human history. These unique aspects of each of us constitute the raw
material within which our mission in life will unfold.
Targum Onekolos translates the words "a living being" in the verse (Genesis 2:7) ". . . And G-d blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a
living being, as "l'ruach m'mal'la" a speaking being. The ability to speak
is thus intimately connected with the Divine soul that the Divine breathed into
Adam. Each of us was brought into the world to "speak," to proclaim
some aspect of G-d that no one else could. That proclamation is our
mission in life.
In the section of the Rosh Hashanah prayers known as zichronos (remembrances), a similar idea appears. The prayer describes how "the remembrance of everything fashioned
comes before You: everyone's deed and mission ( ma'aseh ish u'pikudaso)."
The Hebrew root pey-kuf-daled when used as a verb denotes an act of remembrance or recall. With respect to the Divine, there is no remembrance or recall in the same sense
as with human beings, since G-d is incapable of forgetting. Rather it means that He focuses His attention, as it were, on some event or state that from a human perspective is in the past.
The same three-letter root in its noun form refers to a mission (pekuda) or
task (tafkid). Thus the Divine's recall or remembrance, as on Rosh Hashanah, is
connected to our unique mission in life.
Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the Jewish education pioneer, used to stress that there are two aspects to G-d's remembrance on Rosh Hashanah. The first is a person's deeds, which
refers to his or her religious observance (ma'aseh ish). The second is to
the fulfillment of his or her unique mission in life (u'pikudaso). We might
think that the former is the most important aspect of our judgment on Rosh
Hashanah. But, Rabbi Shraga Feivel taught, that is not the case. The way that
we fulfill our mission is often most determinative of our judgment on Rosh
The Divine's remembrance or recall is most often associated with His mercy. Both
the Torah and Haftorah readings of the first day of Rosh Hashanah use terms
of G-d's remembrance in connection with His answering the prayers of
"Ve'Hashem pakad es Sarah And G-d remembered Sarah;"
"Va'yizkareha Hashem He remembered her [i.e., Channah]."
We beseech G-d on Rosh Hashanah to remember the Binding of Isaac and the ashes of
Isaac. And it is clear enough how the remembrance of the Binding
would arouse G-d's mercy towards their descendants. But we also invoke
G-d's remembrance of our unique mission. What is there about that that
unique mission that should arouse Divine mercy?
I would suggest that the remembrance that we were created with a specific
mission serves, as it were, to "remind" the Divine of all the high hopes He
invested in us at the moment of our Creation, when He implanted within us
our Divine soul. Perhaps too it serves to remind G-d that He, so to speak,
needs us, and that the purpose of Creation the Revelation of the Divine's glory
depends in some measure upon every single one of us.
Neither G-d's high hopes for us, or even His "need" for us, contradicts
the possibility of profound disappointment on His part at how far we have
fallen short of fulfilling our assignment. Yet knowledge that each of us has
been given such an assignment, and that we have a role to play in the Divine
symphony should fill us with optimism.
That optimism is part of the elevation we feel in the period leading up to
Rosh Hashanah. From Tisha B'Av, when we commemorate the destruction of the two Holy Temples, until Rosh Hashanah, we read the seven
haftoros of consolation from the prophet Isaiah. Coming after the utter
destruction of Tisha B'Av, the words of Isaiah hold out the possibility of
rectification and forgiveness.
The possibility of forgiveness is no guarantee. And so the hope we feel as
Rosh Hashanah approaches is tempered by our fear. Indeed our optimism is the
cause of our fear, as it say's in the holy day's prayers: "For with You is [the power of ] forgiveness, in order that you should be feared." Without the possibility of forgiveness, there is no reason to fear. If we have lost the possibility of forgiveness, there is no further reason to guard our actions, since, in any event, complete destruction awaits us.
Our hopes for Rosh Hashanah are intimately bound to our unique mission in
life since remembrance of that mission has the capacity to arouse G-d's
mercy. But only if we do our part and attach ourselves to that mission.
That means reflecting deeply about everything that makes us unique in order
that we discover our individual goal in life. It requires knowing our
weaknesses, but, even more importantly, according to the founder of the Jewish ethics movement, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, knowing our strengths, since those strengths are the primary material which we possess to execute our mission. And it means asking what our fellow Jews and/or the larger society are lacking, and which of those things that are
lacking we have the ability to provide.
In order that the remembrance of our Divine mission pass favorably before
Him, it must first fully engage us, as we prepare for the Day of Judgement.
May we be inscribed in the Book of Life.