Rosh Hashana

Rabbi Berel Wein

Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of a reflective period in the Jewish calendar year. At one and the same time, we look back at the accomplishments and failures of the past year and we also look forward to our lives and hoped-for achievements in the coming good year now dawning upon us. The prayers of Rosh Hashana represent this duality of outlook. They also represent the constants in our lives and souls. The Malchiot section tells us of G-d’s ever-present rule over his world and its creatures. It is this constant that surpasses time and space, calendars and timepieces. Life is too random and unstructured for human society to begin to understand and to cope with in the absence of this constant. It is only because of this omnipresent constant that we retain the ability to glimpse the past and foresee the future simultaneously. We are all aware of the famous Hebrew quip that says that the past is gone, the future has not yet arrived and the present is but a wink of the eye. Yet the present is always with us with its demands and challenges. It is the constant reminder to us of G-d’s eternal sovereignty, always omnipresent even if sometimes hidden. The L-rd ordained for us so many commandments so that in every step in life that we take we are reminded of His presence and sovereignty. We are never really alone in our existence in this world. This is one of the great sublime messages of Rosh Hashanah Rosh Hashana is called, in our liturgy and rabbinic literature, the Day of Remembrance. G-d, so to speak, remembers us for good and for life, and we remember our entire history from the binding of Yitzchak till today. The most painful of all conditions, as we are all so aware of today in our time, is the disappearance of memory. The person we loved and cherished is gone even if the body of that person is still present and functioning. If this is true regarding individual human beings, how much more so does it apply to national memory?

We ask G-d not to forget and forsake us, but we are also bidden to remember our story and ourselves. Heaven, so to speak, holds up a mirror to us, and as we move, so does our reflection in Heaven. If we are not diligent in remembering, then we are prone to be forgotten as well. Rosh Hashana is the tool to reinforce our memory of people gone and of past events, of family traditions and ancient customs, and of the core events of Jewish history. On Rosh Hashana, the entire sweep of humanity is remembered and assessed. In a flash, the past becomes the present. That is the tremendous aspect of memory, for by being able to evoke the past, we recreate it as part of the present. The Zichronot section of the liturgy of Rosh Hashana provides us with this gifted ability. But Rosh Hashana is also a holiday of optimism and of looking forward and ahead. We resolve to become better people, more humane and G-dly in our attitudes and behavior. The echo of the shofar of Sinai that we hear, or our own sounding of the shofar, inspires us to strive to become a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. That echo has never diminished and the challenge it conveys has also never lessened. Rising to that challenge is the goal set for us in the new year. The sounds of the shofar remind us again of Sinai and its eternal covenant and strictures. Just as our past was governed by it, so, too, will our future be determined by its structure and parameters. So, too, to a certain extent, our future can be assessed and can become more predictable on Rosh Hashanah. The more we are able to hear the echo of the shofar of Sinai, as we strain to listen to the faint strains of the shofar of redemption, the better the new year will be for us individually and nationally. The shofar represents our trumpet call to national and spiritual greatness. All of the verses of the liturgy of Shofrot combine these two soundings – Sinai and redemption – in their message and import. The great army of G-d’s eternal people is being summoned to arms, to face the challenges of the new year. We have to hear those shofar soundings in our souls and not only in our ears.

Ketiva v’chatima tova.

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