Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is a sort of recreation of the world. True, the world was already created in the six days of Creation, and since then it stands firm in its unique style, however, the life that God showers on the world is created every year anew. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah is sort of a miniature creation of the world.
Since Creation, the abundance of good that the world receives is dependent upon the actions of God’s creatures – with the chief responsibility being cast upon man, who was given freedom of choice to choose between good and bad. In particular, responsibility is placed upon Israel, who are the heart of the universal body; all the fundamentals of faith and connection to God, morality and the vision of ‘tikkun olam’ (improvement of the world), are dependent on them.
Every year, the world is judged anew, according to the actions of the previous year. The more the Jewish nation occupied itself with Torah and mitzvoth in the previous year, acted justly, with grace and mercy – they are judged favorably, and God adds an abundance of good life for the coming year to His nation, and the entire world. People will be healthier and their standard of living will increase – so they can do more good actions to improve the world. If they continue to choose well, then abundance increases from year to year. If, God forbid, they ignore their destiny, and even during the Days of Awe they don’t repent with a full heart, the abundance diminishes, and tragedies, such as war, poverty, and disease increase for the individual and for the community as a whole.
Day’s of Judgment in Jewish History
Thus, throughout our history, we were witness to years and eras in which the situation of our nation became progressively worse. These were the periods of destruction and exile. And although the Jewish nation experienced extremely difficult times – during the period of the destruction of the First Temple, and even more so in the times of the Second Temple – seemingly, the most horrendous period has been in the last few generations. For approximately the last one hundred years, many Jews began to abandon the path of Torah and mitzvoth, being swept away – some rather defiantly – by foreign cultures. At the same time, persecutions worsened every year: abject poverty, plagues, malicious suits, and pogroms. In the meantime, God prepared a refuge for His nation in Zion, and the holy earth once again began to give–off its fruit favorably, indicating to the Jewish nation that it was time to come back home. However, only a few answered the call to ascend to the Land of Israel. The deviation from Jewish tradition increased, to the point where the majority of the Jewish nation – who were living in Europe at the time – stopped keeping Torah and mitzvoth, and consequently, all the horrific curses written in the Torah were fulfilled in their entirety in the Holocaust.
From within the valley of death, the “song” began to respond to us (the reference is to the song of ‘Ha’azinu’ specifically, and the Torah in general), as it is written: “When they are then beset by many evils and troubles, this song shall testify for them like a witness, since it will not be forgotten by their descendants” (Deuteronomy 31:21). Consequently, the covenant which God made with us, to gather us from all the nations, stood firmly by our side. “God your Lord will then bring you to the land that your ancestors occupied, and you too will occupy it. God will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors,” beginning a process of repentance, “God will remove the barriers from your hearts and from the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love God your Lord with all your heart and soul” (Deuteronomy 30:5-6).
It’s Up to Us
Although repentance and the final Redemption are guaranteed, as stated in the Torah and Prophets, whether they come pleasantly, through our choosing to cleave to our Heavenly designation, or in a long path filled with terrible anguish, forcibly impelling us to return to our dwelling and destination – is dependent on our actions. Therefore, in our High Holiday prayers we pray “Sanctify us with your commandments, and give us our share in Your Torah; satisfy us from your goodness, and cause us to rejoice with your deliverance, and purify our hearts to serve you in truth. For you are the true God, and Your word is true and exists forever.”
Judgment on the Nation
The primary judgment involves ‘klal Yisrael’ (the entire nation of Israel), as we see in the Torah, that God speaks to the Jewish nation as one entity. If we listen to His voice, rain falls on the land in its proper time, and blessings abound. And if, God forbid, the opposite is true, catastrophe befalls everyone. Indeed, individual judgment also exists – benefitting the righteous and exacting punishment from the wicked – but this type of judgment is not so recognizable in this world; the majority of it takes place in the World to Come (see Talmud Kiddushin 39b; Moed Katan 28a).
Many people ask: Why must we pay for the sins of the community? When disaster occurs, why does it afflict both the righteous and the evil collectively? The answer is that this also is part of the special covenant that God made with us – imposing this awesome destiny upon us all together. Only an entire nation can bear the great vision of ‘tikkun olam’. Therefore, everyone is joined together – in good and in bad, in blessing and in suffering.
Moreover, evilness stems from unanswered questions and deep tendencies of life, which have not found a proper response in customary religion. The job of the righteous is to clarify these questions, thereby purifying, illuminating, and elevating the Torah approach, and in this way the world is improved. This is the role of evil and the sinful. Therefore, when the situation of the Jewish nation as a whole is good, even the sinful merit, for they too have a share in it. However, if the righteous do not deal with the questions raised by the sinners, the community as a whole declines, and all are held responsible.
Returning to God
Therefore, most of the prayers focus on the community as a whole. “Now, Lord our God, sanctify your Name on Israel your nation, and on Jerusalem your holy city, and on Zion the abode of your majesty…Let your works revere you, let all your creatures worship you…Now, O Lord, grant honor to your people, glory to those who revere you, hope to those who seek you, free speech to those who yearn for you, joy to your land and gladness to your city, rising strength to David your servant…”
May we merit being partners in revealing God’s kingdom in the world, and thus, blessing will multiply, and we all will merit a good and sweet New Year.