We are 10 days away from Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, when we all pass before the Almighty, who will decide our fate for the year. The machzor we read during the holiday services describes the process in a very serious tone designed to inspire fear and repentance.
“How many shall pass away and how many shall be born? Who shall live out his allotted time and who shall depart before his time? Who shall be at rest and who shall wander? Who shall enjoy well-being and who shall suffer tribulation? Who shall be poor and who shall be rich? Who shall be humbled and who shall be exalted,” the Unetaneh Tokef prayer asks.
We, in turn, need to ask ourselves: why is it necessary to use such frightening language?
To live a full life, we must find meaning in our lives, and Judaism has as many answers as questions. The call of the shofar at this time of year is just that – a call to awaken from the slumber of the mundane and uninspiring.
The sole purpose of the strong language of the High Holiday prayers is to impel us to find personal meaning in the teachings of the Torah. In essence, what the Almighty expects of us is that we will make the Torah our personal acquisition and develop a personal relationship with our Creator. In order for Torah to have meaning, we need to intimately imbue our lives with its teachings.
This journey initially sounds like an extraordinary task that fills us with doubt and fear of change.
However, once the journey is undertaken, the harsh language softens and begins to make us, and the world around us, more spiritual. This is the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. Rosh Hashanah places us in the position of a judge scrutinizing our purpose and actions in the hope of repenting. Once this process begins, the Almighty assures us of a blessed and sweet year. This is why Rosh Hashanah is a festival of joy and not of sadness.
In searching for meaning, a person does not find life mundane or meaningless, as every opportunity exists to reveal some profound connection with our soul and our Creator.
Even trials, sufferings and challenges once seen in this light become pathways to elevate us beyond the worldly and material toil of our errors and misunderstandings. But this can only be true if one makes this a personal quest for meaning!
We must remember that whatever happens to us is part of a plan for a higher purpose as orchestrated by the Almighty.
Wishing you all a meaningful year blessed with the sweetness of serenity of mind and body!
Rabbi David Cadoch is the spiritual leader for Shabbat and holidays at Beth HaRambam Synagogue at Maimonides Hospital, and is a musmach of the late HaGaon HaRav Aryeh Leib Baron.