by Rabbi Berel Wein
The basis for Judaism and its value system can be summed up in one word – accountability. The gift of freedom of choice and action that God granted to humans comes, as do most gifts, with a price. And that price is that all of us are completely accountable for our actions and behavior. We each have an account sheet, so to speak, with columns for both credits and debits. How that account sheet looks eventually determines our fate and our eternity. But, there are those intermediary times when we can take stock.
The Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are such times. Our account sheet is reviewed as we pass before the Heavenly court without cover or pretense. The message of the Holy Days is a clear one. We are held accountable for good or for better for our past deeds and also for our future intents. We are deemed to be responsible individuals and therefore our account sheet is of vital importance in determining our status in life and our future.
Just as all publicly held firms must produce an annual fiscal report attested to by reputable accounting firms, so too during these Holy Days do we individually publish our own annual report. And, the Heavenly court that is aware of all of our actions and behavior attests to that report. Because of this it is completely understandable why accountability is the key word to any understanding of Judaism.
One of the ills of our current society is its acceptance of unlimited freedom of choice and behavior but its refusal to be accountable for the results of this uninhibited freedom. One of the hallmarks of our society is its inability to admit error in previous decisions, policies and behavior. No one is held accountable for all of the great mistakes of the past centuries.
The bankruptcy of those Jewish organizations and individuals who fled from Torah and tradition is evident to all by now, but many of them – those still in existence - continue along their merry way as though there was no past to reexamine and no true future to contemplate. But the law of accountability allows for no exceptions and eventually overtakes everyone. That should be apparent to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the story of Israel throughout the ages.
The final parshiyot of the Torah read in the synagogue over these past and coming weeks concern themselves almost exclusively with this idea of accountability – of reward and punishment and the aspects of the covenant of Sinai between God and Israel. The Torah itself declares that this “covenant shall respond to them even till the end of days.” In a covenant, as in a contractual agreement, each side is held bound to its agreed upon terms and conditions. We are bound to our end of the covenant and the Lord, so to speak, states that He also is bound to His commitments. Again, accountability is the key word to the entire covenantal experience and challenge.
One should feel that one is accountable not only to God and to one’s fellow human beings but perhaps most importantly to one’s own self. The primary question addressed by Judaism is: “Of what purpose is my life - why am I here and what is asked of me?” If this question is never really addressed or if it is sloughed off and defined in purely material or monetary terms then obviously life has little meaning. If it has no deep meaning then no dutiful accounting of behavior can ever arise in our minds and hearts. For life to have any sense of meaning or purpose then the goal of accountability must resonate within each individual.
The prayers of the Holy Days stress not only God’s greatness and man’s relative puniness but also the coming to terms of each individual with one’s own past deeds and future aspirations. True teshuva – repentance – requires this simultaneous look both backwards and forwards regarding our life’s actions and our mission and hopes. The concept of rigorous accountability helps us formulate a meaningful answer to our goals and aspirations in life. It allows us to age and mature gracefully and it creates the proper backdrop for our future plans and actions. It therefore is the ultimate blessing in our lives.
Reprinted with permission from RabbiWein.com