"At four periods the world is judged: at Pesach, for the produce; Atzeres,
for the fruits of the tree. On Rosh HaShanah, all the world passes before
Him....; at the Chag, they are judged regarding water." (Rosh HaShanah,
Chapter 1, Mishna 2)
Why is the first of Tishrei an appropriate time to judge mankind?
While the judgments of the Shalosh Regalim each relate to items produced at
that particular juncture, the judgment day of man could just as well be
carried out at any other time.
The Ran, commenting on this Mishna, cites the well-known dispute of Rebbi
Eliezer and Rebbi Yehoshua as to the date of creation. According to Rebbi
Eliezer, who teaches that the world was created on the first of Tishrei, we
can understand why this day serves as Yom HaDin. But, the Halacha follows
Rebbi Yehoshua, states the Ran, who rules that the first of Nissan is the
dawn of man's creation. If so, our query remains unresolved: why is this
period different than any other?
The custom of blowing the Shofar throughout Chodesh Elul is not mere
preparation for Rosh HaShanah, but it has a value of its own. According to
the Tur, our Shofar echoes the sound heard in the camp of Israel as Moshe
Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai, on the first of Elul, on his way towards
receipt of the second tablets. On Yom Kippur, Hashem finally is appeased,
and Moshe descends with life in his hands.
Apparently, the placement of Yom HaDin is a function of this trek up the
mountain. It is the Shofar that announces G-d's greatest gift, and it is on
Rosh HaShanah that this favor begins.
Rosh HaShanah is a new lease on life.
When Moshe Rabbeinu descended from Mt. Sinai to the scene of Klal Yisrael
dancing around a Golden Calf, he cast away the Luchos.
The first Luchos granted freedom to the Jewish people. Not mere political
independence, but eternal life, invulnerable to the angel of death, immune
to the influence of the nations.
But, after worshiping Avoda Zara, the nation was subject to destruction,
and G-d promised to wipe out the entire generation. Hence, the gift of
Torah was rescinded. The Torah, tree of life, is an inappropriate
possession for those subject to imminent death.
This decree was never revoked. The sentence of death still looms. On Rosh
Chodesh Elul, Moshe Rabbeinu returned to Heaven and G-d granted a stay of
execution. This reprieve takes shape in the second Luchos, but, if they,
too, are rejected, Klal Yisrael returns to its original position, with no
right to life.
The popular perception of Rosh HaShanah is the day our future is decided,
determining the course of the upcoming year. Our feeling is that life
itself is a given, what remains to be determined are questions of better or
worse, more or less. Even, perish the thought, perhaps this is the end.
The truth is a bit different.
It is the original sound of Har Sinai that resonates on Rosh HaShanah.
Man can choose between two different dimensions, a life of Torah, or the
death sentence of the Egel. For those who cling to the Etz Chaim, their
connection to life itself is renewed once again.
Simply put, it is not daily events that are being ordained, but it is the
essence of life that hangs in the balance. Are we citizens of the world
that is called life?
If the major part of our waking day is spent dreaming of the fantasies that
modern culture provides, our conscious identity dissolves in a world of
make-believe. The Torah, in contrast, is utter truth, and eternally so. Its
hallowed words provide refuge for those seeking escape from oblivion.
Unfortunately, in the frenetic pace of a high-tech world, this basic idea
is easily forgotten.
It is the Shofar that serves to awaken us from our slumber, to remind us
what life is really all about.
It is this Shofar that was heard on Har Sinai, and it is this Shofar that
assures we will stray no longer after foreign gods.
Let us explain how.
"...Why is it that the sound of man is not heard during the day as well as
it is heard at night? Because of the cycle of the sun, which chops through
the firmament as a woodcutter chopping cedars.....Were it not for the cycle
of the sun, the sound of the multitudes of Rome would be heard, and were it
not for the sound of the multitudes of Rome, the sound of the cycle of the
sun would be heard." (Yoma 20b)
What is the sound of the sun, and what does it say?
"The heavens declare the glory of G-d, and the firmament of sky tells of
His handiwork." (Tehillim 19, 2)
The sun and the stars reveal a tale of spiritual splendor, displaying the
magnitude and magnificence of G-d's dominion. This story is difficult to
relate, for the natural world of cause and effect conflicts with the
discovery of a deeper dimension. It is this resistance that the sun
steadily flattens. As a woodcutter chopping away at the trunk of a tree,
the hidden world of the spirit slowly overcomes the superficial perceptions
of a materialistic existence.
The Roman multitudes and their varied descendants fill the air with the
bombastic cacaphony of a society that knows only itself. Their boisterous
parade drowns out the still, silent voice of G-d's lingering word.
In our busy lifestyle of travel to and fro, harried schedules that juggle
two jobs and take care of the kids, we easily overlook the true meaning of
life. In a hectic struggle with the daily grind, the fleeting headline of
fame and fortune is the only sound heard.
Long ago, at the foot of Har Sinai, a Shofar was heard. When that sound
broke through its physical barriers, the entire world stood still and
silent, suddenly attentive to the Dvar Hashem.
The Shofar has no words.
It is the sound that precedes all speech, the pure thought that silences a
clamoring world. Its words are rendered superfluous, for the reality is
When G-d spoke at Sinai, the souls of the Jewish people left their bodies,
unable to contain the awesome revelation of G-d's immediate presence. With
words of Torah, Hashem restored them to life, the original Tchiyas
HaMeisim. From that moment on, our life is singularly defined by the Torah
we live by.
Har Sinai marks the dawn of a different creation, the eternal life of a
nation loyal to its Creator.
As the sun reflects G-d's honor, the Jewish people are testament to His
On Rosh HaShanah, we are not judged merely by our actions. Rather, our
continued existence is weighed in the light of His glory.
Are we able to testify to the truth of His word? Do we have a place in the
world that G-d creates? Do we have our own page in the book of life? Or,
have we lost the sound of the Shofar, oblivious to its call?
On this Rosh HaShanah, Moshe Rabbeinu has once again climbed that mountain.
It is his Shofar that separates the chaff from the essence of life. In its
wake, we strive to hear once more the sound we have forgotten, the truth
and justice that cannot be ignored.