by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – September 22, 2016
A concept central to the holy day of Rosh HaShana that marks the Jewish New Year is, as found in the second mishna of the tractate Rosh HaShana, that “On the first of the year, all humankind pass before Him.” The Supreme Being, sole ruler and Creator of the universe, sits, so to speak, in judgement over all members of humanity.
In this vein, we also find that our Sages (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShana 8a) interpret the verse (Devarim 11:12), “The eyes of the L-rd your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end,” to mean that, at the beginning of the year, G-d determines what is to transpire at the end of the year. At the beginning of each year, in accordance with our deeds until this point, G-d judges what course of action He is to take.
In accordance with the aforementioned concept, we are obligated to recite during this day’s prayers ten biblical verses that express G-d’s position of rulership over the world. By doing so, as our Sages describe (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShana 16a), G-d instructs us to “proclaim Me King over you.”
Central to our approach to Rosh HaShana, the beginning of the Days of Awe that terminate with the holy day of Yom Kippur, is our understanding our position in this world. G-d is the omniscient Master of the Universe. He created the universe, without any personal benefit. Having created the universe, He knows and understands every part of it. He keeps the universe running, without any personal benefit. And, as part of the universe’s running, He has presented us, without personal benefit, with His set of rules and regulations how to best benefit from our existence in this world. If we do not fully recognize and appreciate the rules He established, G-d must adjudicate an appropriate course of action. We are expected on this day of Rosh HaShana to express, emphasize and internalize the concept of G-d’s supremacy and have an awareness of our being judged by the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.
Unfortunately, many of us do not seem to fully appreciate G-d’s supremacy or that we are sitting in judgement before Him. Too many of us just muddle through the day’s prayers and many of us beat our chests and yell out “amen” to the blessings recited during the holy days of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur but once the prayers are over and the Days of Awe are completed continue to act in the same way as before! Too many of us wallow away precious time, day after day, that could be used to study and learn more of G-d’s teachings to better understand what He expects of us! Too many of us will arrive promptly and stay to the last minute when out for an evening’s entertainment but will saunter in to a minyan (prayer quorum) after prayers have begun and rush out before all prayers have completed. Too many of us will take great care as regards the condition of our cars, our furniture or our appliances but will disregard the shabby condition of our prayer books, our tallit or tefillin bags or our Shabbat candlesticks! Too many of us act deceitfully, thinking that no one is looking or able to “catch” the deceit; but G-d is above us, has instructed us otherwise and is looking at us! How can so many of us do what we do? An answer can possibly be found in an anecdote reported in the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28b) regarding one of the greatest of our Sages, the Tanna R. Yochanan ben Zakai.
Before his passing, the great Sage’s students came to visit him. When they stood before him, they asked that their dear mentor bless them. In response, the great Sage R. Yochanan ben Zakai wished them that “the fear of Heaven be upon you as the fear of flesh and blood.” Surprised, his students asked about this comparison. No more than the fear of flesh and blood? The Sage retorted, “Were it so.” Would it only be so that we would feel the fear of G-d at least as much as we feel that of our fellow man!
In bygone days, many would imagine the fear we feel towards flesh and blood individuals of authority and, upon understanding our position of lowliness towards the Al-Mighty Creator, transpose that feeling in respect to Him in a way that one’s feeling of awe and respect towards G-d was readily palpable. In today’s day and age, however, there is such a rampant lackadaisical attitude to authority itself that there is a serious lack of any semblance of feeling among many of us of fear or awe or respect. Law officers, judges, government representatives, parents, teachers and principals as well as spiritual leaders are rampantly belittled, ridiculed, ignored and treated with an unprecedented level of disregard rarely seen generations ago. Moreover, so many, regardless of their limited knowledge, understanding and experience, talk and act – unabashedly – as equals of others significantly older and more experienced, others who have studied and absorbed much more. Consequently, in accordance with the incisive words of R. Yochanan ben Zakai, as the feeling of fear or respect due fellow human beings diminishes, it would appear that the feeling of fear, awe or respect readily due the King of Kings, the Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe also begins, sadly, to pale and be diminished.
As we enter this next Rosh HaShana, may we all regain our bearings, in a permanent and palpable fashion, in truly understanding our position in life and in this world, and treat the matter seriously. May we understand and internalize G-d’s position as ultimate Ruler as well as our caring Father in Heaven, Who like any father must assess His children’s actions and sometimes mete out appropriate punishments to set them straight. May we truly recognize His Kingship and truly understand that we are being judged by Him.
In His ultimate benevolence, the Al-Mighty G-d created this world and formed human beings, after which He presented rules whereby they could thrive; and, at this juncture, G-d judges whether each individual that He brought into this world is doing that which he ought to and, if not, decides what action should be taken. May we all internalize this message and proclaim proudly, meaningfully and sincerely the words of our Scriptures (Tehillim 10:16, Tehillim 93:1, Sh’mot 15:18), as recited in our daily prayers: “G-d rules, G-d has ruled, G-d will rule for all eternity.” May we all gain full awareness and understanding of our position in relation to the world at large and, most importantly, in relation to G-d, for our own sakes, and may we, thereby, merit only reward from our Supreme Ruler and Judge this coming year and in all coming years thereafter.