Many of us approach Rosh Hashanah with fear and trepidation. After all, it is called the day of judgment, seemingly because our past actions and misdeeds are evaluated to determine what the upcoming year will yield. Commentaries explain that in the time leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are supposed to view ourselves as beinoni—in between. This means we aren’t fully tzadikim or fully rashaim, and every mitzvah we perform could tip the scale in our favor.
It almost sounds like the famous carol:
He’s making a list,
He’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town…
Much like this song, at first glance it appears that G-d is reviewing all our past deeds and deciding if we deserve the gift of a new year.
But perhaps it’s not that simple.
I recently heard a beautiful idea from Rabbi Nechmia Coopersmith. Hashem isn’t actually checking His list for naughty or nice behavior. Rather, on Rosh Hashanah, He is pressing a collective reset button for everyone by recreating the world and our role in it. It is a chance to start completely fresh.
Rabbi Coopersmith writes, “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 on.”
The Talmud explains Rosh Hashanah is the spiritual birthday of the world, and marks the date of its creation. However, Hashem didn’t physically create the world until Nissan, a full six months later!
Rosh Hashanah was created first in thought, much like a blueprint. Hashem planned the world’s existence before building it. Therefore, every Rosh Hashanah holds the power for us to create a plan—or blueprint—for the upcoming year!
We can imagine our vision for the year by creating personal goals and manifesting what it is we deeply desire. It’s a metaphoric blank slate, where everything is possible.
Rosh Hashanah is not meant to be a scary, doom-filled holiday. We are meant to wear new clothing, eat a celebratory meal with “sweet” simanim, and hear the majestic sound of the shofar resonating throughout the synagogue. These are not actions someone attending a typical court hearing would partake in.
The reason we want to be on our best behavior during Elul is not because we are afraid to be punished, but rather we want to put our best foot forward, showing Hashem we are truly capable of a great role and job this upcoming year.
Rabbi Coopersmith continues, “It’s a new beginning and everything is up for grabs, as long as it is what you truly desire. 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.”
We can prepare for this auspicious time by asking ourselves some introspective questions:
When thinking about my deepest desires, what keeps resurfacing?
What specific talents and skills do I possess?
What does Hashem want from me, given my current stage of life and location?
What changes can I make that would help me achieve greater purpose?
How can I better myself for more positive relationships with the most important people in my life?
Judaism views time as a spiral, much like the edge of a spiral notebook, and every holiday contains the same spiritual energy as the year before. Hopefully, each year we will reach a higher spiritual plane through tapping into the specific energy and power that the holiday offers.
For example, Passover is not simply a remembrance of the freedom of the Jewish nation, but a celebration of personal freedom. We are reflecting upon our modern enslavements and ability to break free. Each of us can think, What am I a slave to? How can I release these shackles?
The Time is Now
The other night I was tucking in my overtired daughter. She began to cry, because she recalled a time when she was angry with me. Apparently, she had made a special project to give to me and instead ripped it in anger. She said, “Mommy, every time I think about what I did, I start to cry. It’s so terrible, and I can’t get it out of my head.”
I held her close, but couldn’t understand why she was so upset, and didn’t even recall this incident. I did my best to comfort her, and as she continued to cry, I explained, “Nava, this is the beauty of teshuva. When you regret something, apologize, and refrain from doing it again. Then it’s over. It doesn’t even exist anymore!”
Just like her action was erased from my memory, so too Hashem erases our misdeeds when we do true teshuva. I once had a student who was overwhelmed with guilt over something she had done years prior. Because of this incident, she couldn’t allow herself to move forward, and was paralyzed with guilt. This overzealous guilt is actually the yetzer hara disguised as the yetzer tov.
We must remember when we do teshuva, it’s gone! If Hashem can forget it, we can too.
Rabbi Yoel Majeski shared a beautiful story in a video called Meaningful Moments.
A Rebbe once asked his student, “Who is the holiest Jew that ever existed?”
The Chassid answered, “Avraham Avinu, of course! He discovered G-d.”
The Rebbe asked another student, “What was the holiest time period of all?”
“Har Sinai! When the Jewish nation received the Torah.”
He asked a third Chassid, “What is the holiest place in the entire world?”
“The Kodesh Kedoshim, holy of holies, in the Beis Hamikdash.”
The Rebbe responded, “You are all wrong. The holiest person is you. The holiest time period is right now. The holiest place is here.”
Hashem desires for each of us to be the best that we can, given our current circumstance. We don’t need to be stuck in the past, or worried about the future. We don’t have to be someone else, or live somewhere else. It is you in this moment, and in this place, that Hashem wants your maximum effort.
Cut the guilt, forget the past, and start now.
Secure the Loan
Rav Eliyahu Biderman shares the following beautiful analogy from the Dubner Maggid.
A grocery store owner was accounting for his gains and losses throughout the year. He realized he was in debt, and would need a loan in order to stay afloat.
He tried to meet with the town’s philanthropist to secure a loan, but the assistant blocked his entrance. “He’s busy now, try in a few hours.”
The worried grocer paced outside the office. He knocked after a few hours, but was told to wait again.
Eventually, the wealthy man exited his office in order to daven, at which point the grocer utilized the opportunity to ask him directly for a loan. He promised to repay quickly, and explained that he had a trustworthy guarantor. The wealthy man loaned him the money on the spot.
While the philanthropist was davening, another man approached him. “I’m so happy I’m
bumping into you! I really need a loan.”
The philanthropist responded, “I cannot give you a loan today.”
The Jew responded, “But why did you give one to the grocer and not me?”
The wealthy man responded, “How can you compare the situations? He waited outside my office for hours. He was ridden with worry, and truly needed the money. You, however, casually approached me and asked for a loan on a whim. You can wait.”
Do we prepare for Rosh Hashanah during Elul, mending our ways and davening to Hashem?
Do we spend time planning for teshuva, tefillah, and tzedakah before Rosh Hahsanah’s arrival?
Or do we squander the time, and then “bump” into Hashem at shul, asking for a good year?
G-d willing we will be judged with favor, but we can still do our part to ensure a sweet year.
Remember, Hashem is not Santa Claus, the time is now, and we can do our part to prepare for the greatest loan of all time—life!
Wishing us all a sweet new year and Shana Tova!
Sarah Pachter is an international speaker and author. She has been featured on podcasts, Radio, and is a regular columnist whose work has been translated into several languages. She has authored Is it Ever Enough? published by Feldheim and Small Choices Big Changes published by Targum Press. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and five children.