To Understand Rosh Hashanah

A TIME FOR US

ROSH HASHANAH IS A VERY AUSPICIOUS TIME. IT MARKS THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW JEWISH YEAR. IT’S A HAPPY TIME, A JOYOUS TIME, A TIME TO CELEBRATE. BUT IT’S ALSO A TIME OF RESOLUTION AND COMMITMENT, A TIME FOR FORGIVENESS, RECONCILIATION AND CLOSURE.

By Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun

n Rosh Hashanah, three books are opened in Heaven—one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for those in-between. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed clearly in the Book of Life. The thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed clearly in the Book of Death. The fate of those in-between is postponed from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, at which time those who are deserving are then inscribed in the Book of Life, those who are undeserving are then inscribed in the Book of Death. How do we understand the concept of divine punishment? Isn’t punishment counterproductive to real change? Can we really teach our children to become better people by employing tactics of fear and intimidation?

At the moment of death, we catch a glimpse of the Divine. We are let in on the grand design and grasp what this world and universe was all about. The implication is clear: when life ends we are given the gift of a crystal clear vision of the purpose of all of creation, the world and man who inhabits it.

It is this brief experience that provides meaning to all of our lives. We suddenly “get it.” We instantly realize the depth of our actions or failure to act. We instantaneously behold the gravity and full weight of our deeds.

The Kabbalists add a small but very important piece to the story. It is not only G-d who judges us. As we disembark from this world and journey into the next world, we are witnesses to every moment of our fleeting days on Earth as they pass before us faster than the speed of light. As we watch our own story unravel, there are times when we recoil with shame; others when we smile with happiness and jump with joy. Our failure to live up to our potential causes us tremendous pain and anxiety; our ability to tap into that which makes us human and defeat the inclination to succumb to pride and prejudice evokes a sense of spiritual triumph. It is then that we realize in hindsight that it is we who are actually the greatest judges of our own lives. What happens after death is that we gain the perspective and prism through which to evaluate our own life by the standards of Heaven.

A fundamental tenet of Judaism is that human beings have free choice and have complete liberty when it comes to making moral or immoral decisions. Choosing between right and wrong, good and evil, honorable and unbecoming is ours. Every time we chose integrity and honesty over cheating, loyalty and faithfulness over betrayal, beneficence and charity over selfishness, or kindness and love over obliviousness we improve and refine ourselves.

The moment after death, we are nothing but the person we’ve become through the collective choices and decisions we made during our short existence. Jewish Literature is filled whit accounts of the “heavenly tribunal,” a place every soul goes to as the choices it made during its lifetime are reviewed, evaluated and scrutinized.

Ordinary, simple people can choose between transcendental good and reprehensible and contemptible evil. Obviously, extreme choices, of virtue or villainy, are not made in a heartbeat. Each time you surrender your pleasure and give up your convenience to help someone in need or admit the truth at the cost of your pride, you gravitate towards good. Every time you justify and rationalize hurting and antagonizing someone, you move toward evil. You create yourself and become the person you are by these ongoing, ever present and inevitable daily choices.

We must constantly be aware of the reality that our days will be examined by a Higher Authority, that there will come a time of reckoning of our deeds and misdeeds, a time of reconciliation, and that we ourselves will be part of that process and join in the Divine judgment by contrasting our prospect and potential against the backdrop of reality, the reality we ultimately created by either tapping into the gifts we’ve been so graciously endowed with by G-d or by wasting away this most precious commodity on futility and hopelessness.

There is no greater disappointment than to be forced to acknowledge our disgraceful actions and our unethical shortcomings for eternity until forever. And there is no greater paradise in Heaven than the pride and satisfaction of acts of goodness, charity, benevolence and morality.

UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA

The good news is that G-d, in his infinite kindness, established a cleansing process in which all the negativity can be washed away. That process is known as Teshuva; repentace, reflection, intropection. Something we all should work hard at to achieve during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because whatever actions we take on Earth must be within the context of their eternal ramification.

The tragedy of death is that it comes after the last act, the closing curtain of our performance, rendering our ability to do Mitzvot obsolete; passé. It´s what we do here and now that truly makes a difference. The choices we make today and the way we choose to govern ourselves create the person we are when we stand in judgment on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Yes, there is life after death, but more importantly there is life before death! The greatest achievement is by focusing on how we can maximize, optimize and potentiate our life before our story reaches its final chapter.

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