Day of Judgement for the Entire Nation

The reward written in the Torah portion, and fulfilled in this world, is primarily for Clal Yisrael * The individual receives his reward or his punishment after his death; his life in this world is dependent on the nation, as well * Judgment on Rosh Hashanah is recorded primarily in regards to the Clal – first for Israel, and afterwards for the nations * Our existence is eternal and our redemption is guaranteed, but the question of how it will occur depends on our actions * When the Temple exists, reward is fulfilled in this world, and as a result, Israel acts properly, and does not wait for everything to be resolved in the World to Come * If people traveling abroad on Rosh Hashanah neglect Clal Yisrael and the Holy Temple, their journey is considered a sin

Reward and Punishment – Primarily for the ‘Clal’

Many people erroneously think that the reward and punishment written in the Torah pertaining to life in this world are directed primarily to the individuals – that if one follows the path of Torah and mitzvoth, he will enjoy wealth and happiness and a good and healthy life. If so, an alarming question then arises: How are there righteous people suffering from poverty, disease and ridicule, while there are wicked people who enjoy prosperity, health and honor? In truth, however, the reward and punishment written in the Torah were written for ‘Clal Yisrael’ (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), for indeed, the Torah speaks of reward as rain falling over all the Land, a blessing for the harvest of the entire country, economic welfare for the ‘clal’, a general state of health and fertility, peace in the Land, victories over our enemies, a respectable status in the world, and above all, the dwelling of the Shekhina (Divine Presence). On the other hand, punishment is represented as the cessation of rain and dew, the harvest of the Land is cursed, poverty and hunger, plagues, defeat at the hands of our enemies, concealment of the Divine Presence, enslavement to other nations, and exile. True, the blessings and curses in the Torah portion BeChuko-tai are written in the plural, while those in the portion of Ki Tavo are written in the singular, nevertheless in both forms the intention is for ‘Clal Yisrael’ (as explained by Rashi, Deuteronomy 28:23).

Reward and Freedom of Choice

If the bulk of the reward and punishment in this world were for the individual, we would have no freedom of choice, and no expression of the image of God in which we were created; for who would be a fool to sin if immediately afterwards, he would lose his reputation, money, and become ill? But when judgement is for the ‘clal’, it evolves over a long and complex process, and consequently, the fate of the individual is dependent to a large extent on his over-all destiny, and not on his individual decisions, and in this way, each individual chooses his path according to his beliefs and values.

At any rate, the judgement remains unchanged, for in the ‘Olam HaNeshamot’ (the ‘World of Souls’), ‘Gan Eden’ (Heaven), and ‘Gehinom’ (Hell), every individual will receive entirely what is due to him.

The General Prayer on Rosh Hashana

Since primarily the reward and punishment written in the Torah deal with ‘Clal Yisrael’, judgement on Rosh Hashana is mainly for ‘Clal Yisrael’, and the world at large. Therefore, in the ‘Amidah‘ (silent) prayer of Rosh Hashanah, in the blessing of the day, our primary request is for the dwelling of the Shekhina and the revelation of God’s kingdom in the world, upon which all blessing is dependent. “Our God and God of our ancestors, may your sovereignty be acknowledged throughout the world. May your splendor and majestic glory be reflected in the lives of all who dwell on earth. May all that you have made be aware that you are their Maker, and may all that you have created acknowledge that you are their Creator; and may all that breathe the breath of life proclaim: The Eternal, God of Israel, reigns and His sovereignty embraces everything in the universe.”

Israel’s Judgement

Israel’s judgement affects the entire world, for Israel is to the nations as the heart is to the limbs of man’s body, and the entire existence of the world is dependent on Israel, who are required to reveal in the world the light of the Torah, so as to guide it to its complete ‘tikkun‘ (rectification), as our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with the Works of Creation and said to them: ‘If Israel accepts the Torah, you shall exist; but if not, I will turn you back into chaos and anarchy'” (Shabbat 88a). Thus, since the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, in the merit of Israel’s adherence to Torah and mitzvoth the world exists, and the redemption of the world is dependent on Israel’s repentance. Since the responsibility placed on the Jewish people is immense, Israel’s punishment for sinning is greater than that of the Gentiles for their iniquities. On the other hand, Israel’s reward for choosing good is greater, for by doing so, they bring blessing and redemption to the entire world.

Therefore, the beginning of judgment on Rosh Hashanah is for the nation of Israel, as it is said: “Sound the shofar at Rosh-Chodesh
and at full moon for the pilgrim feast, because this is a law for Israel,
a ruling of the God of Ya’akov”
(Psalms 81:3-5), and after Israel is judged, God judges all the other nations (Rosh Hashana 8: 1-2).

‘Netzach Yisrael’ – The Eternity of Israel

Ostensibly, according to the rules of judgement, if, God forbid, Israel were to chose evil, God would obliterate them and destroy the world. But God chose His people and made a covenant with them, and therefore, even if they sin exceedingly, He will not abandon them, but punish them with terrible suffering, and with poured-out fury reign over Israel so they return to the proper path. As stated at the end of the words of the curses: “Thus, even when they are in their enemies’ land, I will not grow so disgusted with them nor so tired of them that I would destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am God their Lord. I will therefore remember the covenant with their original ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations, so as to be a God to them. I am God” (Leviticus 26:44-45).

We have also learned in the Torah portions of the blessings and curses in the book of Deuteronomy, that in the end, after all the torment, God will punish the wicked who persecuted Israel twice as much for their sins, redeem His people and reconcile them to His land, as it is written: “For He will avenge His servants’ blood. He will bring vengeance upon His foes, and reconcile His people to His land” (Deuteronomy 32:43), and, “For Hashem will not desert his people, he will not abandon his heritage” (Psalms 94:14).

Thus, we find that the judgement on Rosh Hashana is not about Israel’s existence in this world and the World to Come, but rather, about the how they will live – whether in peace and blessing, or vice versa, God forbid. Israel is also guaranteed of the Redemption’s arrival, however, if they repent, the Redemption will come quickly and calmly; if not, after a long exile painful and horrible agonies will occur, and subsequently the exiled will be gathered and the land built, and we will continue ascending spiritually, until we merit redemption and complete repentance (Sanhedrin 97b, 98a; Zohar 3, 66:2).

Judgment for Individuals on Rosh Hashana

Although the primary judgement and reward and punishment is for the ‘clal’, individuals are also judged on Rosh Hashana, but their judgement is vastly dependent on the judgement of ‘Clal Yisrael’. For example, when the nation finds itself in the course of destruction and exile, the assessment of each individual is whether his standing is at the lowest point, or, despite the harsh reality, he merits some reprieve. If the nation is on a course of aliyah, prosperity and redemption, the assessment is whether one will also be a partner in the blessing. Occasionally in times of grace, the wicked receive only an apparent blessing, which they lose over time; and sometimes in periods of calamity, the righteous are punished with apparent punishments that over time lead to blessings. Thus, on the one hand, the judgement is exact and precise, but on the other hand, strongly influenced by the times – all for the sake of maintaining freedom of choice, and ‘tikkun olam’.

The Need for the Beit HaMikdash

Consequently, we can understand the importance of focusing on the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) and placing it at the top of the public agenda, because it expresses the sanctity of ‘Clal Yisrael’ – the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal holiness) revealed in the world by way of Israel.

And should one ask: What’s so important about a particular place, or a specific building – after all, the most import thing is one’s heart and thoughts? To such a question, we will respond that without the tangible place – thoughts, ideals, and morality dissipate into thin air. For example, instead of actually helping the poor, it would be possible, so to speak, just to ensure them that they will be rewarded in the World to Come after they die. Instead of fighting the wicked, their punishment in hell would be enough. Instead of imposing the values ​​of morality and justice in the world, it’s enough to settle for a ‘victory of the spirit’, as it were.

Indeed, when there was no other option, and we were enslaved to evil kingdoms in the exile, all we had left was to believe that in the end, spirituality would triumph and the Beit HaMikdash would be rebuilt, as we mentioned in all our prayers and blessings – and this belief that we held, stood for us against all those who tried to destroy us.

However, when it is possible to act, believing in the “victory of the spirit” alone expresses a terrible heresy in the ability of holiness to influence and remedy life. And from here the path leading to idolatry is very short, specifically, to a foreign belief that the forces operating in the world are disconnected from the One God, and only a miracle, so to speak, can save the ‘tzaddikim’ (righteous), because nature itself is completely detached from the ‘Shekhina‘ (Divine Presence). This is what our Sages meant when they said that Jews living outside of the Land of Israel are considered idolaters (Ketubot 110b), because they cannot reveal the act of holiness in this world. This is the terrible despair that all our eminent and righteous Torah scholars warned of.

The Struggle for the Temple Mount

Today, if the appearance of the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal sanctity) in the world is truly important to us we are obligated to make further progress, and the next stage required of us is to act with all our might to reveal the glory of the God of Israel on the Temple Mount, and to remove all signs of hatred and contempt for the sanctity of Israel. And as we say in the prayers of the ‘Yamim Nora’im’ (Days of Awe): “And therefore, Lord our God: Grant also, we pray, that your people Israel may live in dignity…grant joy to your land of Israel, and gladness to your holy city, Jerusalem…speed the time when those who love righteousness will behold these days and rejoice…when wickedness shall be silenced and every form of violence vanish like vapor, because you will cause the rule of arrogance to cease from the earth. And you will reign, you alone, over all humanity through Mount Zion, the place of your glorious shrine of old, and through Jerusalem, your holy city”.

Those Traveling Abroad to the Graves of the Righteous

Those traveling on Rosh Hashana to the graves of the righteous must be very cautious not to harm the awe-inspiring foundation of the sanctity of ‘Clal Yisrael’, which is revealed in Eretz Yisrael. Possibly, if they increase their prayers for ‘Clal Yisrael’, the building of the Beit HaMikdash, and Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and courageously rally to act for it when they return to Israel – perhaps it may be of benefit to them that their ‘yeridah‘ (descent) will be for the sake of ‘aliyah‘. But if they forget the Temple Mount and their duty to act for the building of the nation, the land, and the Temple, their descent from the Land of Israel to pray for themselves will be considered a sin.

When Religion is “Private” it Drives People Away

The abandonment of religion in recent generations is also dependent on the fact that souls are thirsty for the revelation of the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal sanctity), and as long as religion is primarily reliant on the minute details – ‘tzav l’tzav, kav l’kav, ze’er po, ze’er sham’ (‘precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little’), it fails to arouse the hearts. But when we advance the idea of ​​the ‘kodesh ha’clali’, whose primary goal is the vision of ‘tikkun olam’ in the word of God, from the fountain of the ‘kodesh ha’clali‘, all springs will be filled with the living water.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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