Called to Judgment
Rosh Hashanah shatters our illusion of being self-contained without any accountability to a higher power.
There is a part of me that really dislikes Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah seems to be a very uncomfortable experience--not a pleasurable day at all. It's calledYom HaDin
, the Day of Judgment and I simply dread being judged. Who enjoys feeling fear, feeling threatened, or thinking about possibly being punished? It is also referred to asYom HaZicharon
, the Day of Memory. On this day God remembers everything--every little itsy bitsy tiny weenie little thing that I did last year--and then decides my fate for the upcoming year.
There is, however, another part of me that feels much love for Rosh Hashanah. It is an opportunity to take inventory of my actions, reflect and make changes to improve myself and my relationships with others. Judgment is actually empowering. It tells me that God cares about my choices and that I make a difference in this world.
There is a verse from the book of Psalms that summarizes my ambivalence. The sages associate this verse with Rosh Hashanah. It states "Serve God with reverence, rejoice in trembling." This seems to be a paradox--either, I am happy and rejoicing or I am frightened and trembling. How can I be doing and feeling both? Yet on Rosh Hashanah somehow I am rejoicing about my trembling.
On Rosh Hashanah when I acknowledge that God is the one and only King and Judge, my ego feels frightened and overwhelmed. My illusion of being self-contained without any accountability to a higher power is shattered. This egotistical illusion is what the Kabbalah calls klipah, the hard shell. When the shell is broken I realize that I cannot do whatever I want, whenever I want or wherever I want. I am not independent and self-defined. There is someone that I am responsible and accountable to. That is very frightening for the ego, but also very reassuring for the self.
The self wants to feel accountability because if I am not accountable then I don't count. Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah, while my pained ego shatters into little pieces, my true inner self--the soul--is encouraged and rejoices.
On Rosh Hashanah we tremble with joy because we know that God's judgment is actually an expression of great love and care.
What the Shofar tells us
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Zichronot means memories. Even though He is our King and next to Him we may feel comparatively minute, Zichronot reminds us that we are great in the eyes of God. He remembers us and watches over us. God, so to speak, takes note of everything we do because each and every one of us is significant and noteworthy to God. He is our King and we are His subjects, not His objects. He is like a King who cares about us and therefore, we are the subject of His rule and love. He only wants whatever is in our best interest, unlike a tyrant or dictator who treats his people like objects to be used for his own interest and pleasure. Zichronot affirms that God remembers us and never forgets us. Even though there are times in our lives when we feel forgotten, that's only from our perspective. God always remembers us, watches over us and cares.
The third theme expressed in the Rosh Hashanah prayers is Shofrot, which literally means "sounds of the shofar," but symbolically refers to the sounds of the shofar heard at the giving of the Torah at Sinai. This affirms our belief that God not only loves us and cares about us, but He gave us a way to love Him and care about the manifestation of His presence on earth; through the Mitzvot we are able to love and bond with Him. This is the meaning of the teachings of the Torah and the ultimate purpose of fulfilling the Mitzvot.
When the people heard the blast of the shofar at Sinai they were simply blown away (forgive me for the pun). The Midrash [collection of interpretations of the Torah] teaches that the immensity and the intensity of the revelation were so overwhelming that everyone simply died on the spot. Therefore God, so to speak, sent angels to push the souls of the Jews back into their bodies and revived them. Although we were totally devastated by the revelation of God, He gave us the strength to maintain ourselves in His presence.
These are the same dynamics at work on Rosh Hashanah. On the one hand, we feel frightened and threatened, and on the other hand, there is something very affirming to know that the King cares, that our choices matter to God, and that His judgment will guide us towards choosing the greatest good, a life of Torah and Mitzvot, so that we can enjoy the greatest pleasure--to love and bond with God.