Rabbi Yisrael Cohn
Director of Aliyah, Jerusalem Municipality
Rosh HaShana: Time to Move
אמר רבי כרוספדאי אמר רבי יוחנן: שלשה ספרים נפתחין בראש השנה, אחד של רשעים גמורין, ואחד של צדיקים גמורין, ואחד של בינוניים. צדיקים גמורין – נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר לחיים, רשעים גמורין – נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר למיתה, בינוניים – תלויין ועומדין מראש השנה ועד יום הכפורים. זכו – נכתבין לחיים, לא זכו – נכתבין למיתה
“Rabbi Crusphedei taught in the name of Rabbi Yochanan. Three books are opened on Rosh Hashana, one of completely wicked people, one of completely righteous people and one of Beinonim. The completely righteous are written and sealed immediately for life. The completely wicked are written and sealed immediately to die. [The judgment for] Beinonim is suspended from Rosh HaShana until Yom Kippur. If they merit, they are inscribed for life. If they do not merit they are inscribed to die”
The Gemara relates that the judgment of Rosh Hashana can have three outcomes. There are, it seems, three types of people. The first category is the Tzadik, the righteous individual. There is no debate concerning this person. This person has developed a healthy relationship both with God and with other people. He/she is inscribed immediately into the book of life. The second category is the Rasha, a wicked person. This person does not have a healthy relationship with God. This person has forfeited the right to live and is inscribed to die.
The third category Beinonim, literally those in the middle, seems a little more complicated. This is the category of people who do not fit into either extreme. They are neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad. The Gemara suggests that we consider ourselves in this category. This is probably the largest of the three categories. It is important for us to understand how these people are judged? What is their fate?
The Gemara explains. The Beinonim are in the balance. Their fate is undecided. It all depends on how they utilize the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. If they use these days as an opportunity to repent and correct that which needs fixing then they are elevated to the book of life. If they do not utilize these days they move in the other direction and their lives come to an end. In other words, if they do nothing, they are automatically demoted. No one remains a Beinoni after the judgment of Yom Kippur.
This seems a puzzling way to resolve a problem. If someone does not act, the status quo should remain. They did not do anything right, but they also did not do anything wrong. Why is the passive Beinoni of Rosh Hashana inscribed in the book of death?
Shem Mishmuel suggests that the Beinonim teach us a critical idea. There is no neutral response to Yamim Noraim. If someone enters these days and leaves them without feeling any sense of additional closeness to God that itself is a response. There are powerful prayers, beautiful songs and invaluable family experiences at this time. We can either absorb these experiences, we can utilize this time to evaluate our relationship with God, with our families and with ourselves or we can simply ignore it. Ignoring the Yamim Noraim is also a response to them.
The Gemara explains that if someone experiences these days and comes out unchanged then that person is no longer a beinoni. Spiritual growth involves not just avoiding wrong; it also requires us to act. A Beinoni on Rosh Hashana does not automatically remain a beinoni until Yom Kippur. The challenge of Yamim Noraim is a challenge of evaluation and self reflection. If a person fails to face that challenge, that person no longer merits being a Beinoni. The categories are dynamic; they change as we face each new challenge.
Life is dynamic and we decide how to respond all the time. Doing nothing wrong is not enough. We need to be active in our relationship with God. May we be blessed to respond actively to the challenges that we face in the coming year so that it will become a year full of goodness for us all.