This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Arye Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.
By: Samantha Hulkower
Tomorrow night, Sunday evening, October 2 through Tuesday night, October 4 marks the Jewish New Year - Rosh Hashanah. It's not just the start of a new calendar year for the Jewish people, but the whole world. Living in Israel, I really feel this - with everyone asking me what new year resolutions I'm making, wanting to know what my plans are for the holiday, and wishing good for one another, sometimes it doesn't feel so different than the end of December when I was living in the US. One thing that is different though, is that while all the other holidays where we celebrate one day in Israel, and two days in chutz la'aretz (outside of Israel), on Rosh Hashanah, we observe two days just like everyone else. I think there is a special insight we can gather from this.
The reason why Jews outside of Israel observe two days of chaggim (holidays), as opposed to one in Israel, dates back to the time of the Babalonyian exile, when messengers couldn't always get to diaspora communities on time to let them know when the new moon, and therefore the new month, had been announced. So, Jews kept two days to make sure they weren't accidentally transgressing prohibitions by observing the holiday on the wrong day. Rosh Hashanah is different, it was decided by our Sages that two days were necessary all over the world: on one day when we would be judged as individuals, and on the second judged as part of our community. What purpose does this serve?
Being judged both on an individual level, as well as part of our community, gives us every opportunity to be judged favorably. There are two categories of mitzvot (commandments) - bein adam l'makom (between a person and G-d) and bein adam lechaveiro (between people). Essentially, on each day we are being looked at according to how we fulfilled each category.
The bein adam l'makom mitzvot are essentially taking a look at you as an individual: how did you behave when no one was looking? Did you hold back and bite your tongue when you could have said a witty, but hurtful remark? Did you pay the full amount of tzedakah (charity) that is expected of you based on how much you earn? These are things that no one but G-d can know.
The bein adam lechaveiro mitzvot are the ones where you are judged as part of your community: did you use your skills to make your world a better place, such as for fundraising or organizing for chesed (acts of kindness) events? Were you there for your friends and family when they needed you? Did you keep your word? These are the actions that those around you can see.
Sometimes it's easier for us to do one of the categories as compared to another - a more introverted person might not want to be so involved when their synagogue or child's school sends out requests for help, but has no problem quietly giving money or helping to pull strings behind the scenes. Conversely, some people might have a hard time keeping kosher or observing all the rules of Shabbat, however they are otherwise such an integral part of their community, bringing a smile to everyone's face, and helping out when in need. When we are judged on both terms we are given a greater opportunity to let our strengths carry us. It also goes to show how important the community is in Judaism. We are a national family - referred to as klal Yisrael, which can be translated literally as the totality of Israel - and we can't function as individuals if we don't function as a whole.
I think that, taken together, this shows that Rosh Hashanah, while a time of judgement, isn't as scary as that might sound. G-d wants to judge us favorably, so we are given every opportunity to let our strengths overcome our weaknesses. Often, when we know someone thinks highly of us, it inspires us to work a little harder. With this information, may we spend the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, as well as the days leading up to Yom Kippur, doing our best to live up to our potential, not only in the eye's of G-d, but each other.
Shanah tova, chatima tova umetuka l'kulam! (Happy New Year and may everyone be inscribed for a sweet year!)