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Thought for the Day: Perspective on the Days of Awe

I was once leaving work on the Friday before Rosh HaShanah (a year like this one; Rosh HaShanah was Monday/Tuesday) and told a coworker as I passed by, "I'll see you Monday, assuming I make it through the judgement."  He jumped up and called me out, "Hang on.  How many times have you celebrated Rosh HaShanah?  How many Jews have celebrated Rosh HaShanah?  And how many times has someone not made it through the day?  Give me a break."  I demurred, feeling duly chastised, and headed home.  I had, in fact, been flippant in my attitude and since then try each year to actually take the Days of Awe a bit more seriously.

So here's a perspective I saw in כוכבי אור (R' Yitzchak Blazer, aka Reb Itzelle Peterburger) based on the teachings of R' Yisrael Salanter.  The כוכבי אור starts with a simple question: How did יום הזיכרון/Day of Remembrance become יום הדין/Day of Judgement?  To flesh out the question: the theme of Rosh HaShanah is proclaiming HaShem as King.  The musaf service (longest of the year) is in three sections that must each be completed (two out of three is worse than none at all, in fact), and in order (out of order is is bad as not doing them at all).  We proclaim HaShem to be King, delve into the fact that He "remembers" us and His covenant with us  (I have the word "remembers" in quotes because forgetting is not relevant to HaShem; what does it mean that He "remembers"?  More on that soon...), and finish with detailing that His Sovereignty will be announced to the rest of the world by blasts fo the shofar (maybe even, The Shofar, in fact).  Where is judgement in all that?

True enough that one of the jobs of a king is to judge, but it is not even the main dimension of his career, so to speak.  The key is to understand what is meant by the concept of "remember" when applied to HaShem.  R' Blazer first notes that HaShem's character traits are indivisible from his actions.  (I am simply not going to religiously capitalize all adjectives when applying them to HaShem; that is just tedious and distracting.)  When a person feels anger, that can (and usually does) cause some actions.  On the other hand, a person can certainly act angry without feeling anger.  The character trait and his actions are two, distinct (albeit usually related) concepts.  Regarding HaShem, though, the entirety of knowledge of Him is completely and only via His interaction with this world.  Just as any halacha must be possible to apply to a real situation (which is why the gemara continually asks, מאי נפקא מינה/what is the practical difference?), so too, any character trait of HaShem must be realized through a הנהגה/mode of interaction with the world.

HaShem's trait of "rememberance" means that His conduct with us depends on our historical conduct.  HaShem has no "forgetfulness" means that not only our actions, but also our motivations, the context, how we were raised, what life experiences we have have endured to get to this moment, and on and on.  There is not greater judgement than that!  On Rosh HaShanah we stand before our Creator and He sees us -- all of us, the entirety of each and every one of us -- and, so to speak, formulates a plan for our development over the coming year.  Even if the judgment is, רחמנא לצלן, that one should leave this world; that doesn't mean he will be leaving that day or even that year, it just (if you can apply the word "just" to that situation) means that HaShem has decided that the course for that soul is to leave it's connection to this world.

Standing in prayer on Rosh HaShanah this year with the mindset that HaShem was granting us this day to present the entirety of ourselves to Him in our must prepared and finest state was, well, awe inspiring.


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