Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2000 /29 Elul, 5760

Of gifts and judgements

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE JEWISH VIEW of the holiday of Rosh Hashana is that it marks not only the beginning of a new calendar cycle, but that it is a day of judgement and the beginning of a ten day period of serious introspection and self-analysis. Therefore, even though Rosh Hashana is a holiday celebrated with festive clothing, good and altogether too copious amounts of food and family gatherings, it has a dimension of seriousness and awe to it that none of the other holidays in the Jewish year possess. For it is the day of the "conception of the world," of the beginning of the human story, of the review of the past and the present and the vision for the future. And that is of necessity serious business.

Again, Jewish tradition teaches us that the day of judgement that Rosh Hashana represents, operates on a dual level of judgement. There is the judgement regarding the individual --- about each and every one of us solely, as to our behavior, attitudes and accomplishments. We all pass singly before the Heavenly Judge and all of the events of the past year and years pass in microscopic review.

The good that we did to others, our efforts to further and strengthen Torah values and principles, to worship, obey and serve G-d Himself, so to speak, are placed on the balance scale of justice and judgement. What influence did we have on others? Are we truly proud of what we did, said or accomplished this past year? Were our means justified and were they as noble as the end we desired to achieve? And our weaknesses and moments of anger and insensitivity, our denial of our Divine mission and our succumbing to the seductive but eventually unproductive temptations of the physical world, are also measured and weighed. The words we should not have spoken (or written), our depression and pessimism, our doubts and failings, are taken into account in the heavenly judgement and they weigh heavily against us.

The second level of heavenly judgement concerns our community and society -- the Jewish people as a whole. In our Rosh Hashana prayers we affirm that not only the fate of individuals but that of nations as well is reviewed on this day of judgement. "Which nation will taste the sword, and which shall be tranquil, which will prosper and which will hunger." Even though man proposes, it is after all G-d Who disposes. And thus a person is really judged twice. Even if one is entitled to a good report because of one's individual behavior, the fact that he or she is part of the general group --- the Jewish people as a whole, influences all judgements and decrees. Jews are responsible one for another, we are all guarantors of our fellow Jews' notes and obligations.

How have we discharged this obligation during the past years? What words of anger and denigration have we employed against other Jews? Why are we afraid of hearing another's viewpoint? Why do we automatically condemn and shout? These are questions that this second level of judgement -- of communal responsibility and responsiveness -- asks of us. And we must therefore formulate sufficiently justifiable answers to these questions. We must continually hope that the judgement for our entire society be a favorable one. If not, G-d forbid, it unlikely that we will escape troubles, no matter how righteous our individual case may have been.

The grandness of the first ten days of Tishrei stems from this gift of introspection and self-correction. It provides a positive program of growth and revitalization for the coming year. We have an opportunity to truly regret our past foibles and errors and commit ourselves to improve and mature. But again our own weaknesses overtake us, even in regards to this golden opportunity to right past wrongs and build a brighter future for us and all of Israel. We despair on our own ability to correct and sanctify, to lead satisfying and inspiring personal and communal lives. We have tried to be better before and have failed, so we are hesitant about trying again. But that is perhaps the most serious sin that we can commit - the sin of apathy, inertia and self-convinced failure. We must truly try to be better, to do better.

The great Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev awoke one morning and before beginning his prayers said to himself: "Levi Yitzchak, today you are going to behave correctly -- you are going to be a good person!" But he then sighed and said: "But Levi Yitzchak said that yesterday as well and he wasn't such a good person for the rest of the day." And then he said to himself: "Never mind yesterday, today Levi Yitzchak truly means it!"

We have to truly mean it and it can happen.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein