At sundown this evening, September 24th, Jews around the world will pause; the women will light the holiday candles and the family will gather for a celebratory meal to usher in the new Hebrew year, 5775.
Someone asked, “If Rosh Hashana is the annual day of Judgment, why do we celebrate it?”
The answer is fundamental to a personal relationship with God which is precisely what He desires with all of us.
I liken Rosh Hashana to the corporate “annual review”. Once a year, God conducts an “annual review” of each of us. What have we done with the blessings and challenges that have come our way in the past year? Have we grown from them? Have we learned valuable lessons? Have we progressed in holiness?
Has our lifestyle of the past year shown the kind of promise that will move God to invest even more in us during the year to come? Good question!
The day of judgment, Rosh Hashana, is for our benefit, not for God’s. Through it, our Father in heaven demonstrates that He cares about everything we do and say. We are so important to Him that He, like a father tracking his child’s progress, constantly watches us. He is concerned with our every move. We are the beings endowed with choice and with the responsibility to shape the world into a better place. On Rosh Hashana we are reminded that every little thing we do matters to Him.
Is there any better reason to celebrate the Day of Judgment? We rejoice that our God cares deeply about our actions and our words. We delight in the fact that our lives have significance.
Indifference is the worst type of treatment in any relationship. Ask any marriage therapist and he’ll tell you that as long as a couple is still fighting, there’s still some life in the marriage. It’s when indifference sets in that the end is inevitable. So too, the fact that God personally cares about all of our actions, for good and for bad, means He loves us.
The danger of “religion”is the tendency to substitute a personal relationship with mechanical outward observances. That is not to say that observances are intrinsically wrong – not at all. What’s wrong is when they become the essence of our relationship with the Almighty and little to no attention is paid to developing a personal love relationship with Him. It is out of such a relationship that observances should flow.
Imagine for a moment a wife who keeps the house spotless, cooks delicious meals, does the laundry promptly and cares for the material needs of her children but never – ever – takes an evening or an afternoon to spend time just with her husband, talking with him, sharing with him, listening to him and devoting her energy to deepening their bond. Her “performance” is flawless but I guarantee you that if that is all there is to the marriage, the love that once was there will grow stone cold.
So it is with God. Yes, He desires our obedience to His commandments but not like robots. In fact, the prophets rebuked Israel at times for observing the festivals while their hearts were far from God.
The prophet Isaiah wrote:“This people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far from me.”
As we enter into Rosh Hashana, ask yourself: ‘How is my personal, private relationship with my Father, my King? Do I speak with Him every day in my own words? Do I turn to Him for guidance and wisdom? For understanding and direction? Is He on my mind as I go about my days? Can I truly say that He is my Best Friend as well as my Father, my Redeemer, my King, my Rock and my Fortress?
During the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we have a special period of time to zone in on these very questions. What have I done with what God invested in me during the past year? Have I given Him a ‘return’ on investment? Have I grown closer to Him? Have I been kinder to my family?
Have I been a little less selfish than I was the previous year?
My prayer for all of us is that we will understand God’s personal love and care and recognize that His “annual review” (judgment) on Rosh Hashana is a beautiful blessing.
In Tune with Torah this week = pondering our own spiritual state, repenting as needed and resolving to enter then new Hebrew year with a commitment to serve Him and our fellowman from a pure heart.
As we say in Hebrew: Shana Tova u Metuka – May you have a good and sweet year!
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