חנוך שלו

Hanoch Shalev
Former Shaliach in Melbourne (2003-04)

Rosh Hashana Around The Corner – Be Prepared!

“If I catch you smoking”, I was warned, “we’ll send you for a week of volunteering at
Dr. Ploni’s Oncology Department”.

This, I would have thought, is the appropriate approach towards a day of justice. Know your consequence, fear and so correct your deeds. So too, we find in Brachot (5a) – if one cannot overcome his yetzer hara, evil inclination, he should remind himself of his deathbed. Remembering your mortality tends to put things into proportion. In this manner, fearfulness and self-awareness surely would bring forth a significant Rosh Hashana.

Yet this seems not the approach of Rosh Hashana as we celebrate it today.
Instead of fasting (or at least not eating due to lack of appetite) we conduct festive meals.
Instead of wearing sack-cloth as would be expected of one bound to join death-row, we dress in festive white.

How is this possible? Are we Israelites going bananas on Rosh Hashanas?

The answer lies in a short passage following each Shofar blowing at Mussaf:
“Hayom harat olam, hayom ya’amid bamishpat” – Today, the world was conceived
(not born/created but only conceived). Today, He will put the world to justice.
The day of conceiving is the day of justice?

There is an argument regarding the month the world was created. Was it during Tishrei or was it during Nisan? The solution found was that of any project. We distinguish between the day the project was initiated and the day the product was launched and presented. The Project was initiated on the first of Tishrei. The above passage calls this – “conceived”.

There is a big difference in attitude towards the project between the time it was first initiated and the time it was finally launched. I think it is better understood through the birth of a child. When a child is conceived in his mother’s womb his existence is mere potential. In his parents mind he is pure and perfect. He is everything they hoped for – every thing they could expect of him. This is what Chazal call – Midat Hadin – the Attribute of Justice. This attribute expects the world to live up to the letter of the law, or better yet, to manifest and implement all that was planned for in the original blueprint. Unfortunately, so it seems, the child is not born so perfect. He needs diper changing, feeding, guarding and nurturing. If we would expect the child to be now all that we hoped for and expected throughout the pregnancy, we would surely be very disappointed. The only way to raise a child is with compassion and patience. The is what chazal call – Midat Harachamim – the Attribute of Compassion.

On Rosh Hashana we are presented and exposed to the letter of the law, to the blueprint, to all that was expected of us, to all that we could achieve if we put all our effort and strength into it. We are flooded with light and clarity, represented and expressed through the all-encompassing unitary sound of the Shofar. We are drifted away to a world as it should have been, an experience that within itself is uplifting, joyful and certainly worthy of festive white cloths and festive meals. Yet with this in mind, we suddenly realize how filthy and far-off-the-original-road we are. This, in essence, is Rosh Hashana and its Shofar blowing – a terrifying happiness, joyful trepidation.

Gilu Be’re’ada.

Joy for the potential concealed within us and consequently joy for the hope of a better world. Tremble and anxiety as to the unfinished job and the distance from Hashem humanity has brought upon itself throughout history.

Shana Tova – Shinui Tov – May we all have a change for the good!