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Rosh Hashanah: It's Not about Who's Been Naughty or Nice

September 1, 2021 | by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

Like a CEO of a major conglomerate, God is setting the budgets and determining each person's role, based on the level of responsibility we are ready to take.

Growing up, I viewed Rosh Hashanah as a Jewish version of Santa Claus coming to town, with God replacing the big man in red.

He's making a list,
He's checking it twice,
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice
(Santa Claus) God is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
And he knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

With that jingle as my reference point, including the rollicking Springsteen version, it was difficult to take this Jewish holiday seriously.

That all changed once I actually learned about the deeper meaning of the Jewish new year.

God is hitting the reset button and recreating the world and your place within it, anew.

Turns out God isn't looking over the past year to find out who's been naughty or nice; He's actually hitting the reset button and recreating the world and your place within it, anew. Like a CEO of a major conglomerate, God is setting the budgets and determining each person's role, based on the level of responsibility we are genuinely ready to take.

Jewish holidays are not merely commemorative. Each holiday opens a spiritual portal in time that enables us to relive the experience our ancestors went through. For instance, Passover doesn't just remind us of our exodus from Egypt; it's the time of the year we ourselves can access freedom and redemption like never before.

What happened on Rosh Hashanah that makes this the "Day of Judgment"?

The Talmud gives a fascinating reply: On Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei, God conceived the world. Nothing actually existed yet! Actual creation didn't occur until six months later during Nissan, the month of Passover. Rosh Hashanah has the potential to concretize your vision for the new year, to conceive of goals and blueprints. It's the ultimate blank slate when everything is possible.1

So the judgment of Rosh Hashanah can't be based on our past performance because there simply is no past! We are re-experiencing the conception of the world, the very beginning point when God is handing out potential for all that is to come this new year.

This explains why there is no mention of repentance in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, because the emphasis is on declaring with the utmost clarity and passion your vision of the coming year. We look forward, not back. The reset button has been hit; you are no longer weighed down by your previous baggage of regrets and failures. It's a new beginning and everything is up for grabs, as long as it is what you truly desire.

And with this newfound clarity you can look back at the previous year and examine the mistakes and obstacles you need to address in order to realign yourself with your dreams and aspirations, and make them a reality. That's what Yom Kippur is all about, and why it follows Rosh Hashanah.

Bottom line, now is the time to get clarity, recalibrate, and come into Rosh Hashanah fired up to passionately work on attaining your dream goals for the upcoming year. All the potential growth you can reach this year is being invested on this day. That is the judgment God is rendering this day.

So take some time in the coming days and think about the following questions:

  • In my quietest moments, what do I yearn for?
  • What are my set of skills and traits, and how can I use them more effectively to better my community and the world?
  • What does God want from me?
  • What change in my life that would make a significant difference in actualizing my potential and feeling a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life?
  • How can I improve my most important relationships?

Shana tova! May we all be blessed with a year of good health, joy, wisdom and clarity.

(See Tosafot, Rosh Hashana, 27a, and Rabbi Chaim Friedlander's Sifsei Chaim, Moadim, Vol. 1)

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