What Is The Purpose Of Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah: Judgment Day Or A Day Of Joy?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Rabbi Fohrman explores the concept of Rosh Hashanah in both the Mishnah and the Talmud and introduces Rosh Hashanah as a Day of Judgment. Focusing on the text of Nehemiah Chapter 8, he introduces the idea that a day of judgment could actually be celebrated instead of dreaded.
This is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Aleph Beta.
So Rosh Hashanah is coming up, let me ask you a slightly blasphemous question, how excited are you? How many of you look forward to the High Holidays?
The Meaning of Yom HaDin: How Should We Relate to Judgment?
Now, don't everybody raise their hand at once here. You know it's funny, there are a lot of Holidays that we do kind of look forward to; Purim – a lot of fun; Pesach – very celebratory, the Seder, family gets together it's great. But Rosh Hashanah, we call it the Yom HaDin – the day of judgment, that's a pretty scary notion – a day on which G-d judges humanity.
I mean you read some of the medieval poetry on the day you hear about angels trembling, G-d sifting through all of our deeds from the past year, inscribing us in one of these two books, I mean, it's enough to make you want to run for the fields. So the question I want to talk with you about in this series is how should we relate to Rosh Hashanah?
What emotional stances should we take to it? I mean, fear is one possibility, but on the other hand, it kind of sounds like a terrible thing to just be trying to emotionally avoid a Jewish holiday, is that what we're supposed to be doing? Could we do any better than that?
In beginning to come to grips with this notion of Rosh Hashanah as judgment day, maybe we can get a little bit of help if we go back and look at some of the sources from which these ideas come. Where does it come from this notion that Rosh Hashanah is a Yom HaDin – is judgment day?
The Origin of Rosh Hashanah in the Mishna
It turns out that the Mishna itself – going all the way back to early times in rabbinic literature – the Mishna characterizes Rosh Hashanah indeed as a kind of judgment day.
It says that on Rosh Hashanah, kol bo'ei olam, all of the inhabitants of the world, ovrim lefanav kivnei maron, pass before the Almighty as if they were sheep – it's unclear exactly what the name Maron is but that's one interpretation. So there's some individual kind of judgment for every member of the human race, that's at least what the Mishna seems to say.
Now if you look later on in the Talmud you'll actually find this tradition that b'Tishrei nivrah ha'olam, that the world was created in Tishrei – so that perhaps Rosh Hashanah commemorates creation itself. It's our planetary birthday as it were, and this gets reflected in the Machzor itself when we say hayom harat olam – today the world, the universe, was conceived.
But the problem is if you take these two things together – this idea of birthday and judgment day – they don't go together all that easily. I mean, after all would you celebrate a birthday with judgment of all things?
Imagine trying this at home with little Jimmy. Jimmy is six, seven years old and he's been looking forward to his birthday for a while, so you are his parent and you say, hey Jimmy, I just want to let you know this year we're doing something a little bit different. So you invite over all of Jimmy's friends and there's Bobby there and there's Sandy, and there's Davie, and you say, hey guys, this year we've decided to replace Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a new game, we're calling it Judgment Day.
Then, just then, out comes the parents dressed in black with this stone-faced expression, taking up seats to preside over the judgment of Jimmy. Yes, boy and girls we're going to be looking over all of Jimmy's actions over the past year, we're going to decide whether he should continue to live in this coming year.
I mean, the kids are going to be terrified. No one is going to have much of an appetite for the cake and ice cream, shall we say. They'll all come running home to their parents, they'll never want to come over to Jimmy's house again. No one is going to like that game very much.
So is this really how G-d celebrates our planetary birthday? I mean, how happy is He to have us, if the great celebration is judgment day?
How Do We Explain What Rosh Hashanah Means?
Here's another difficulty I think we face when we look at Rosh Hashanah as a judgment day: it's difficult with the prayers of the day.
Let me try a little thought experiment with you. What if you were in charge of writing the Machzor? What would you give people a chance to say in their prayers? What if you were putting together the Shmoneh Esrei for Rosh Hashanah and you decided there would be three great themes that you were going to emphasize in the prayers, what would they be?
I don't know about you, but if it was me, here would be my three sections.
The first section I would call the bargaining section. I mean, you know if it's judgment day I'm going to bargain for my life. I'm going to ask myself what can I promise G-d in exchange for a good decree on this day? I want so many things; I want health, I want happiness, I want good living, I want to find my soulmate, I want all these things.
So what could I sort of promise G-d in exchange for this? I'll be really good G-d, I'll be extra careful on Lashon Hara'ah – gossip, I'm not going to speak gossip from 5:00 to 6:00pm every Thursday, it's my great New Year's resolution. I can sort of bargain in a way with these various New Year's resolutions that I'm going to solemnly commit myself to. So I certainly want a section for New Year's resolutions.
After my New Year's resolution section, maybe I'd have like a lawyering section – as kind of blasphemous as that sounds – where I try to explain myself. Maybe like, uh G-d I know that if You look at my life from this perspective it's kind of not so impressive but I do have some accomplishments, let me highlight them for You. Here are my accomplishments for the year, aren't You sort of proud of this, aren't You sort of proud of that? So I can have my sort of lawyering section where I try to represent myself as best as possible.
Then if all of this fails – my bargaining section, my lawyering section – then I can have a kind of a last-ditch repent and forgiveness section. That would be a really good thing to do. In that section I could tell G-d how sorry I am for any misdeeds I committed. Say, look, I may not deserve for You to be nice to me but couldn't You see Yourself towards forgiving me? I could ask for forgiveness – for Selichah, for Mechilah.
But the problem is, is that the actual prayers on Rosh Hashanah do not support any of these three main themes which I would put in here if it was judgment day. There's no bargaining section in the prayers, and no lawyering section in the prayers, not even a repentance and forgiveness section.
I remember kind of as a kid this was very confounding to me; people would go around in Yeshiva and they would ask forgiveness from one another right before Rosh Hashanah, and you would get to Rosh Hashanah and you would actually look at the prayers and you wouldn't be supported in any of that.
The prayers do not actually beseech G-d for forgiveness – there's no Vidui, there's no confession. Ten days later on Yom Kippur yes, you have those themes, but why don't we have them here? You would imagine it would be the first thing on our mind on judgment day. So I'm confused here, is this a judgment day or not?
And the truth is, that that confusion only deepens if we go back earlier in time.
What Does the Bible Say About Rosh Hashanah?
If we go back before the Talmud, before the Mishna, looking at the Bible itself, at Tanach itself, what do we find there with reference to Rosh Hashanah? How does the Bible characterize this day?
So interestingly enough we can actually find a record of an actual celebration of Rosh Hashanah that historically occurred within the times of the Bible itself. You find that in the eighth chapter of the Book of Nechemiah. It's one of the last books of the Bible.
The setting: Israel is coming back to the land after a 70-year exile imposed upon them by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia. Seventy years before this the Temple had been destroyed, but now a few of the first pioneers are coming back to the land of Israel with Ezra and Nechemiah in an attempt to build the Second Temple. We hear about the events of a certain Rosh Hashanah when they came back.
Vayigah ha'chodesh ha'shevi'i – the month of Tishrei came;
U'Bnei Yisrael b'areihem – and the people of Israel were in their cities.
Vayei'asfu kol ha'am k'ish echad – and everyone came together as if they were one man;
El ha'rechov – to the street;
Asher lifnei sha'ar ha'mayim – that was in front of the Water Gate in Jerusalem.
Vayomru l'Ezra HaSofer – and they said to Ezra, the Scribe;
L'havi et sefer Toras Moshe asher tzivah Hashem et Yisrael – bring a Torah scroll, the Torah that Moses was commanded by G-d.
They read the scroll – Ezra reads it to them publicly. He reads it to them from dawn all the way through high noon. The text makes clear to you that it was the first day of the month, so it's Rosh Hashanah when this is happening.
Then the people begin to cry. Bochim kol ha'am k'shamam et divrei haTorah – the people were all crying when they heard the words of the Torah. Rashi explains they were crying because they felt that they weren't keeping the Torah well enough.
Now stop right there, if you were Ezra or Nechemiah, one of the leaders of these people, and it was Rosh Hashanah and the people were crying because they felt they weren't keeping the Torah well enough, they felt bad about that, how would you respond to those tears? So I don't know about you but if I was in their shoes I'd be totally delighted, it's a Rabbi's dream.
Imagine three Rabbis standing around the water cooler talking about their respective High Holiday sermons. So one Rabbi says, you know what kind of reaction I got? This little old lady came over and told me it was the most inspiring thing she ever heard. The next Rabbi said yeah, well when I was done we had the best appeal ever in the history of our Synagogue. Third Rabbi said, when I was done everyone was crying.
So they turned to him and said yeah, well what did he do? He says, I don't know. I actually didn't give any Derasha at all, all I did was I turned to the Holy Ark, I took out a Torah and I began to read it and then they all began to cry. Why were they crying, the Rabbis say? Well it's because they felt that they weren't fulfilling the Torah well enough.
So you know, the other Rabbis would say wow, can you come speak in my congregation? It's the most amazing thing in the world. It's judgment day, that's what you're supposed to be thinking, it's what you're supposed to be feeling.
So let's get back to Ezra and Nechemiah, what did they do? How did they respond to those tears? What actually happens is this. Nechemiah speaks up and says to all the people:
Hayom kadosh hu laHashem Elokeichem – today is a holy day unto G-d, it's Rosh Hashanah today.
Al titablu – do not mourn.
V'al tivku – do not cry. Go home, make yourself delicious food;
u'shetu mamtakim – drink milkshakes, sweet drinks;
V'shilchu manot – send gifts to your friends;
Kadosh hayom la'Adoneinu – it's a holy day unto G-d.
V'al tei'atzeivu – don't be sad;
Ki chedvat Hashem hi ma'uzchem – the delight of G-d is your strength.
How do we understand this? What is he telling them?
What Is the True Meaning of Rosh Hashanah?
It seems like there's only two possibilities here. One possibility is that Nechemiah doesn't believe it's judgment day, he just doesn't. Or, Nechemiah does believe it's judgment day but his idea of judgment day is very different than what we might have expected.
I think that the latter possibility is in fact the case. Nechemiah understood that this is judgment day, but his idea of what judgment day is, is a day to be celebrated not to be dreaded.
If we can understand what he understood, maybe for the first time we wouldn't dread the day also. Maybe for the first time we could discern in the day some real meaning that touched our lives rather than simply the awful fear of brimstone and hellfire. Join me on a journey to try to discover the Rosh Hashanah we never knew was there.
Studying the Torah's Commentary on Rosh Hashanah
So let me begin to throw a clue out there, you know if we're having difficulty trying to come to grips with this notion that Rosh Hashanah is some sort of day of judgment as the Mishna describes it, maybe we should let the Sages try to explain to us what they meant by calling it a day of judgment.
It's the Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashanah that calls it a day of judgment, typically we look to the Gemara to explain the Mishna, what does the Gemara say by the way of explanation?
Just a few lines after that Mishna we get the Rabbis' formulation of the basic themes of the prayers on that day. The Talmud says that the prayers on that day should have three basic themes. Not lawyering, bargaining and forgiveness like we were thinking about, but three other themes.
The first one they call Malchiyot, verses that describe G-d's kingship. Imru lefanai Malchiyot kedei shetamlichuni aleichem – the Sages of the Gemara say – say before Me verses of kingship so that you will crown G-d as King over you. That's one section.
The next section is called Zichronot, verses that describe fond remembrances that G-d has of the people of Israel. In the words of the Gemara:
Zichronot – say verses of memory;
Kedei sheya'aleh zichronchem lefanai l'tovah – so that your memory should come up to Me in a good way.
Finally, a third section, Shofrot, verses that reference Shofar. In the words of the Gemara: Ba'meh – how will you be remembered? You will be remembered through Shofar.
All told, it's a kind of mysterious three-fold formulation of the day. These three categories of verses end up being the center of gravity around which our prayers on Rosh Hashanah revolve, but why? What exactly would Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot, have to do with this larger idea of Yom HaDin – a day of judgment?
It seems almost like when the Sages look at Yom HaDin so they respond, oh yeah, obviously, we need to say Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot, but how did they know that? What are they seeing here that we aren't seeing?
Yom Zichron Teruah: The Biblical Meaning of Rosh Hashanah
I want to suggest a theory to you. The Sages saw something that made them understand that Rosh Hashanah was a Yom HaDin – a day of judgment – and the something that they saw also convinced them that this isn't a day for bargaining, lawyering and repentance. Instead it's a day for Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot. The great question therefore is what exactly was it that they saw?
What they saw, I think, was something in the Torah itself – not in Sefer Nechemiah, the Book of Nechemiah, but all the way back in the Five Books of Moses itself. What they saw was, the Torah's original description of Rosh Hashanah as it first appears.
Now strangely, that description does not reference the idea of a day of judgment at all, instead the Torah characterizes Rosh Hashanah with just a couple of cryptic words. It calls it a day of Zichron Teruah – a day of remembrance of the cry of the Shofar.
Technically by the way, the Torah just uses two words to describe it, Zichron Teruah, from here on in I'm just going to colloquially use the phrase Yom Zichron Teruah when I want to refer to how the Torah talks about this day.
But whatever the case is, what exactly does this mean? It just seems to be hopelessly ambiguous, a day of remembering the cry of the Shofar. But whatever it means it certainly doesn't seem to be saying it's a day of judgment.
I mean if you wanted to say it was a day of judgment, just come out and say on the first day of Tishrei, that's a Yom HaDin – a day of judgment; G-d has these scales and weighs the lives of everybody. Nothing like that. Yom Zichron Teruah – a day of remembrance of the cry of the Shofar.
Almost as if there was some event that we were supposed to remember involving a Shofar, but like an event that was so obvious that obviously yeah, just remember that day, that you know the cry of the Shofar. What are we even talking about? What is so obvious to the Torah here that you and I aren't getting?
So it's all very mysterious and it just seems to lead us to this big dead-end. As we trace back the roots of Rosh Hashanah to its earliest possible Biblical source we're left with this strange holiday called Zichron Teruah, and we're not even sure what that means in the first place. But whatever it means doesn't seem to help us understand how the Sages came up with this idea of Yom HaDin, of judgment day, let alone this notion of saying Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot.
Okay, so if Zichron Teruah – a day of remembering the cry of the Shofar – seems to take us back to some event, we're remembering this cry of the Shofar that we once heard, what event was that?
The Original Shofar Sound in the Bible
The amazing thing is that the Sages actually tell us what event it was, right exactly where you would expect them to tell us. Right before we actually read these verses of Shofrot which supposedly are going to help us remember that cry of the Shofar we all heard, they actually tell us what event we're talking about.
Listen now to the words that we all say as part of our Rosh Hashanah prayers right before we actually declare the verses of Shofrot. Here's the text the Sages have us say:
Atah nigleita ba'anan kevodecha – You G-d revealed Yourself in a cloud of glory.
Al am kodshecha – to Your holy nation;
L'daber imam – to speak with them;
Min ha'shamayim hishmatam kolecha – from the heavens You made Your voice heard.
V'nigleita aleihem b'arpelei tohar – and You revealed Yourself to them in thick clouds of purity. When it happened;
Gam ha'olam kulo chal mi’panecha – the whole world trembled before You;
B'higalotecha Malkeinu al Har Sinai – when You, our King, revealed Yourself on Mount Sinai.
Yes, that's the event the Torah was talking about, Zichron Teruah, that's what we're supposed to be remembering here on Rosh Hashanah, it's the memory of the cry of the Shofar – the cry of the Shofar that the entire nation, that we all heard, way back at Sinai.
If you read the text of revelation at Sinai you'll find there was a Shofar blast there. That cry seems to be what the remembrance of this day is about.
But now let's stop right here for a second. Why, you might ask, is the Torah being so cagey about it? I mean, if it's really true that on Rosh Hashanah we're supposed to remember the revelation at Sinai, so the Torah should have just said Yom Zichron Sinai, it's a day of remembering Sinai – that would have been clear enough. For some reason the Torah is emphasizing the Shofar blast at Sinai as some key part of the experience of revelation.
If you're going to remember Sinai you're going to remember that, Yom Zichron Teruah, the day of remembering the Shofar, which is strange because you and I, we would have said the main aspect of Sinai was the Torah, we got the Ten Commandments.
No, Rosh Hashanah comes along and says, Yom Zichron Teruah, if you have to summarize Sinai, the way you should remember it forever, is the time when we heard a blast of a Shofar. Now why would that be? Why would the Shofar at Sinai be so important?
The Biblical Meaning of Blowing the Shofar
Well, the Sages give you a hint with the very first words of that paragraph we've been reading, Atah Nigleita. Listen to the language one more time. Atah nigleita ba'anan kevodecha, You revealed Yourself in a cloud – strange, that's an oxymoron. G-d didn't reveal Himself in a cloud, a cloud I can't see anything.
Even later on in Deuteronomy when we talk about the Sinai experience, we talk about it in terms of Choshech, Anan, Arafel – it was dark, it was a thick cloud, you couldn't see a thing. How disappointing. Here's the greatest event in the history of the world, revelation, and it's obscured by clouds, you can't really see anything. It's like the biggest disappointment. So what's going on? How come it was so cloudy? How come it was so dark?
But that acutely wasn't coincidental, there was a reason for that. Later on in Deuteronomy, again talking about the Sinai experience, Moshe picks up on the fact that you couldn't see anything. Remember, he tells the people, you didn't see anything at Sinai; u'temunah einchem ro'im, there was no vision, there was no picture, nothing to see; zulati kol, all there was, was voice. All you heard was G-d's voice.
Eventually that voice coalesced into words, and you heard the Ten Commandments, but even before that you heard the Kol shofar chazak me'od, the voice of the Shofar very loud. There weren't any physical Shofar that were blowing at Sinai, what you heard was a supernatural sound, the sound of the Shofar, without any physical Shofar. The sound of the Shofar was G-d communicating with you even before He spoke to you.
Why was voice the medium through which we encountered G-d, not sight? If you and I could choose to encounter the Almighty with any one of our senses, we probably would choose sight, it's the most direct way of perceiving something, we'd want to see G-d. But G-d says, sorry folks, that's not the way it works, you can't see Me.
You see, sight is a sense by which human beings directly encounter something; when you see X you perceive X directly; fragile human beings can't have that direct an experience with the Almighty in this world, they don't last. As G-d says to Moshe later: loh yirani odom v'chay – people don't see Me and live through that experience. But you can hear Me, you can hear My voice.
When you hear something that comes from X, you don't perceive X directly, you hear an emanation from X, but hearing is still a genuine encounter. You can encounter Me through My voice, G-d says, it's the most direct encounter I can provide for you.
So the Shofar at Sinai it was G-d's way of saying, this is Me. Later on, onochi Hashem Elokecha, I am the L-rd your G-d – those would be the first words of the Ten Commandments, this is Me. But even before the voice coalesced into words, even before that when there was just raw, untrammeled voice, the voice of the Shofar, the voice was also saying, this is Me.
There's something about voice that stirs up old memories. When you hear a song from childhood that you haven't heard in 30 years, doesn't it transport you back to those earlier moments in your life? It feels like you're back there. When an old friend you haven't seen in 30 years unexpectedly comes into your life again, and even before you see him calls out to you, the words don't even make a difference, the voice, you recognize the voice.
At Sinai G-d came into our lives, this extraterrestrial Being from beyond, the Creator of the universe. It was the strangest, most incredible thing imaginable, but also the most familiar thing, this was our Creator, we know that voice from somewhere.
Hearing the Voice of God in the Shofar
Indeed, the earliest collective memory that humanity has going all the way back into the Garden of Eden, was that voice. Vayishme'u et kol Hashem Elokim mit'halech ba'gan leru'ach hayom – Adam and Eve, the very first humans had heard the voice, the voice of G-d strolling through the garden in the afternoon.
Picture the scene. If you were Adam and Eve you have just sinned, you are hiding, you are scared, and then you heard G-d from afar and it seemed like the voice was getting louder because He was coming closer and so you hid.
But now go to Sinai, it seems like it's the same scene somehow. It's no longer a garden, it's a mountain, and the people were afraid and they were standing from afar. But it was a good kind of fear, it was awe in the face of the Almighty. And here they were hearing the voice once again.
In the words of the verse: kol ha'shofar holech v'chazeik – the voice was Holech, it's as if it was it strolling, as if it was walking. It was going, and it was getting louder and louder, just as it once did in Eden.
Our collective memories were awakened that day, and now every year we have Yom Zichron Teruah – a day of remembering the voice. When we hear the Shofar it takes us back, it stirs something in our collective human souls. We know that voice. It was the moment we made contact. It's the moment that changed everything for us. After that moment we could never be the same.
Okay, we have seen how the Sages seem to interpret Yom Zichron Teruah, the biblical description of Rosh Hashanah. They seem to see it as a day of remembering the cry of the Shofar by which G-d first introduced Himself to us – the revelation event at Sinai.
What I want to suggest to you now is that everything else the Rabbis of the Talmud and Mishna tell us about Rosh Hashanah, that it's a day of judgment, that we should say, Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot, all of this flows organically from that.
Rosh Hashanah as a Day of Judgment
Malchiyot, Zichronot, Shofrot, and the very idea of a Yom HaDin – a day of judgment itself – all of these would really be the obvious characteristics of a day that commemorates the sound we heard at Sinai.
Let's start with Malchiyot, their insistence that on this day we recite all of these verses of kingship. Where is that coming from? Well the answer is now clear. The Sinai event, the revelation event, what was that really about? One way of thinking about it is that day was the day that we recognized G-d as King.
It was, in a word, coronation day. The Torah itself seems to call it that. G-d proposes to Israel this grand bargain at Sinai. Atem tiheyu li mamlechet Kohanim – you're going to be a kingdom of priests. No such thing as a kingdom without a king. G-d being King for the nation of Israel, that idea had its genesis on that day.
Accepting God as King
Let's just stop for a minute and think about why that's actually the case. You know, kingship is not such an easy concept for us moderns to wrap our minds around, we tend to live in democracies and tend to be fairly far removed from kingship. So let's just use the word leadership, a word that maybe we're more comfortable with.
To accept G-d as King is really to accept Him as Leader, it is to express a willingness to follow Him, to let Him lead you, and that, of course, was a facet of the Sinai experience. We accepted the Torah, these laws were the directives of the Master of the Universe, and our acceptance of those directives indicated our willingness to allow Him to lead us.
We considered those laws binding, which means we accepted that it was okay, that it was right, for Him to make the rules and for us to follow them.
There was a context for that acceptance, the context goes all the way back to the first time we heard G-d's wordless voice. When we first heard that voice we hid and you would think, you know we were hiding from G-d because we were afraid. But if you look carefully at the text in some strange way we were actually hiding from ourselves.
When G-d asks, where are you and Adam answers, I'm hiding because... what would you expect the rest of that sentence to be? I'm hiding because I heard You were coming, or I'm hiding because I can't bear to confront You. But what Adam actually said – shockingly – is, I'm hiding because I'm naked. I'm hiding because I can't bear, not to see You, but to see me. We became uncomfortable with ourselves after we ate from the tree, it was our own humanity that bothered us about ourselves.
Think about what we had just done. We had eaten from this tree, a tree of knowledge of good and evil, and in doing so we lost our bearings on who we were. By eating from that tree we were playing dress up, we were trying to imagine that we could eat from the Master's own tree, because we were the ones who could make the rules.
We didn't have to accept the rules from someone else. Yeah, You say don't eat from this tree of knowledge of good and evil, we're going to eat from this tree and we're going to be the ones who make up our own ideas about what constitutes good and what constitutes evil. What's good is what I like and what's evil is what I don't like.
We get to be the rule makers, we can pretend to be the master. But if you pretend to be the master you don't know who you are anymore and you get uncomfortable in your own skin, you can't bear your own nakedness anymore.
But as it turns out, after that sin we got a second chance of sorts, a chance to rectify that sin in the form of a voice – the only way really that G-d can reveal Himself to humans. After we had eaten from the tree G-d approached us. The voice of G-d was strolling through the garden, coming closer, calling out to us and that, was an opportunity.
We had a choice then, we could have responded to that voice – how would history have been different if we had done so? If, instead of hiding we had acknowledged that we had stepped out of bounds, if we had reached out to G-d in spite of that, if we had called out to G-d and said, here I am, how would history have been different?
But we didn't do that. Instead, we missed that chance, and that lost opportunity was maybe as tragic as eating from the tree was in the first place. Adam's response to Divine revelation was to hide, we humans hid, afraid of our own humanity, and we continued to play dress up, imagining ourselves as the master.
Once we decided to play master we were exiled from Eden and then years passed and as they did human beings continued to think themselves the ultimate arbiters of good and evil. They continued to identify right and wrong with what they liked and didn't like, with disastrous results.
Indeed, Israel itself just before Sinai, became just the latest victims of this delusion – they were oppressed for centuries in backbreaking Egyptian slavery. What did the Egyptians think of that? They thought it was okay, no moral qualms there, this is the way things should be, these Israelites they're strangers, not even really human. That's the way it seemed to the Egyptians, through their view of good and evil.
Now, at Sinai, G-d declares, I have taken you out of Egypt and I have brought you on eagle's wings to Me, and now I have one question for you: im shamo'ah tishme'u be'koli – are you prepared to hear My voice?
Yes, those were the words at Sinai, even before the Ten Commandments, the words before words, are you prepared just to hear My voice? Because if you are, we can rectify the whole disaster that happened when you left Eden. You'll understand with that voice who I am, I am your Creator. You'll understand who you are, you're the creature in the presence of the creator.
Will that be uncomfortable? Will you have butterflies in your stomach when you encounter Me? Well of course you will, it's okay to have butterflies in your stomach. This is the good kind of fear, the fear that redeems the corrupted fear that you experienced in Eden when you were hiding.
This is awe, the true product of an encounter between creature and Creator. It's not the shameful kind of fear of hiding for yourself, of being unable to confront your own nakedness.
So at Sinai there was the sound of the Shofar – the voice of G-d without words – and then just after that G-d gives the Ten Commandments. It's just really a formality at that point. First we heard G-d's voice, we understood who He was, we understood who we were. He's the Creator, we're the creature.
In recognizing that we understood that by rights He should be the ultimate lawgiver, we accepted that. Now, we're just accepting the laws themselves. We accept that You can make the rules, that You decide right and wrong, and now tell us what right and wrong is – here it is.
All told, if our experience at Eden was a failure to recognize G-d's leadership, Sinai was a second chance. When Israel said kol asher diber Hashem na'aseh – everything that the Almighty says we will do – they replayed the events of Eden and redeemed them. So do we every year when we remember that day, when we remember that voice, on Rosh Hashanah we crown G-d anew.
So we've seen now how the idea of Malchiyot flows from the Torah's characterization of Rosh Hashanah as Zichron Teruah – a day on which we remember G-d's voice, how G-d called out to us at Sinai.
Let's go on now to explore how Zichronot and Shofrot and even the larger idea of Yom HaDin itself, how all of these become aspects of Rosh Hashanah as well.
Entering God’s Story on Rosh Hashanah
So we talked about Malchiyot – the kingship aspect of Rosh Hashanah – but the Sages insist that Malchiyot is followed immediately by Zichronot – verses of memory. What role does memory play in Rosh Hashanah? Does that too take us back to the Sinai experience somehow?
Go back to Sinai – really consider that experience. We talked about that experience from the perspective of accepting G-d's kingship or leadership. But, as wonderful as accepting the Torah is, as wonderful as accepting G-d's kingship is, that event can also provoke a crisis.
Ask yourself, how would participation in the Sinai event be life changing? So you might say, well I always wanted a sign that G-d exists, I mean if I witnessed Sinai then I could never deny the existence of G-d. You know, that's true, that is, shall we say, the bright side, but there are hazards here too.
You see you and me, the average, everyday Joe or Jane, who doesn't experience revelation, we live what we might call normal lives. I'm doing my own thing, I was born in San Francisco in 1965 and then I moved to New York when I was a teenager, and I can tell you the whole story of my life, what I'm trying to achieve, what I'm trying to do, I have my story.
But imagine what happens if Joe or Jane experiences revelation at Sinai. The being who originated the universe is right here and you are standing around the mountain. It changes everything. Who am I anymore? I am so small in the face of the Master's immensity, I am so overwhelmed that I am in danger of losing my entire sense of self. My little story, does it matter anymore that I moved to New York when I was thirteen and a half?
Okay, so that is the crisis. But if Malchiyot provokes that crisis it also contains the seeds of an answer to it and those seeds are known as Zichronot – the notion of G-d's memories.
Let me explain by taking you into an exploration of the idea of memory. What does memory do? What exactly is its function? So you might say, well that's obvious, memory helps you remember, right? If you want to just remember things. But memory does far more than that, it's actually the way we understand ourselves, we understand who we are, identity itself is wrapped up in the idea of memory, and the reason is, that memory is really about storytelling.
When you remember things you're actually connecting the dots between your various experiences, weaving them together to form a story. That's actually the only way you do remember anything.
How easy would it be to remember 75 disconnected things, or 1,000 disconnected things? Just even what happened to you yesterday, how many things do you think happened to you yesterday? There might have been 938 discreet, little things; do you remember all of them the day after that? You don't. You remember what, maybe 23 of them, if you're lucky.
But how do you remember them? Because if I asked you about your day you'd begin to tell me a story about your day and you'd weave together those dots into actually one story – and the story is rememberable, it's just one thing. Yesterday we went to the park, first we went into the van, when we were at the park my little daughter Jane, she was on the swings, but Timmy twisted his ankle when he got off the jungle gym. We took him to the Emergency Room and thank G-d everything was fine and there we had the nicest of nurses. When we came home it was already way past lunch so we stopped for pizza. That's the story.
When we remember our lives, we're not remembering a thousand disconnected things we did, we're remembering a story, a story that we tell ourselves. And our identity emerges from that story.
So if you think about it, that means that some points in my life are going to be more important to the story than others. Let's say I'm a big, fancy investment banker and as I'm rushing out the door to work one morning so my seven-year-old daughter spills orange juice on the floor and I clean it up before I go to work. So that might have happened, but in the way that I talk to myself about my life, you know it's a rather disconnected dot, it doesn't really contribute to the grand story of my life – at least the way I see it.
But now, here's another way to start thinking about the crisis of Malchiyot that we talked about before. If there really is a King in this universe, maybe there's a grander story than the one I'm telling myself? Maybe the Creator has a story too? That's a scary notion if you think about it; I don't precisely know the Creator's story – at least not in this world.
You know a good friend once called me up – it was actually Erev Rosh Hashanah, the day before Rosh Hashanah – and he said something to me I think I'll always remember. He said, David, you know the trouble with life? The trouble with life is that it doesn't come with a soundtrack.
You know a soundtrack to a film, the music, it helps you understand the film. When you hear the swelling of the violins and the kettledrum, something climactic is about to happen, but you don't necessarily know that in real life, you don't get to hear the music.
You think your life is about your story, and from your perspective when your daughter spilled orange juice that wasn't a big deal, it was a disconnected dot. But maybe the Creator in His story, maybe He doesn't think so? Maybe that's where the violins were swelling?
Maybe when you stopped and you patiently cleaned up that mess and smiled to your daughter, maybe that was a really meaningful dot? Maybe everything needs to be seen as how it connects to that dot? Maybe your life in the Master's view is not just about what a good hedge fund manager you are but how you balance your career and family?
You don't know what the soundtrack is for your life, and at one level that's scary, but on another level it's deeply comforting. Because if there's a Creator there is a grand soundtrack out there, there's a story being told in this universe, and it's so much larger than just you.
There's a grand weave of history and if you could be part of that weave in a meaningful way, if you and your whole life can be a dot that connects in some visceral, significant, redemptive way in the world, how can there be more meaning in life than that?
You know, we speak about Rosh Hashanah as the beginning of the Yomim Noraim – the Days of Awe – what is awe? We feel awe sometimes when we're in the presence of something like the Grand Canyon, or when you sit on a grassy knoll looking up at the stars at night. But ask yourself why do you feel awe? Is it just because you feel like you are small and this is big? I don't think so. So you would say okay, fine, so I'm small, that's big.
The reason why you feel awe when you have those experiences is because you begin to get a sense that there might just be a larger story here. And if there is, I have to figure out how I fit. I want to be a part of that larger story. Sure if you want you don't have to, you can continue telling your own story, be my guest, but at what price?
For those of you who read "Harry Potter," remember that moment when Harry is at Platform 9 ¾ and he's trying to figure out where that train to Hogwarts is. So he's asking around and he asks somebody, a guy by the name of Joe, and Joe doesn't know, he says, I've no idea, I've never seen Platform 9 ¾ before.
Imagine you're Joe. So here you are, you're Joe, you have your life, you're doing your own thing, but imagine that one day you figure out you're part of J. K. Rowling's novel? There's a creator here and there's a grand epic story, it's "Harry Potter," and you just got bumped into and asked which way the train is?
Now in that moment of revelation – revelation itself – when you see the Creator and you realize there's a story here, the Sinai moment as it were, what do you want most deeply? It's like you feel like petitioning the author and say, could I have a significant role in this story? I don't want to just be the guy who got bumped into to ask where the train is, how can I help, how can you take my life, my personality, my gifts, my track record, what I've done, weave me into that story?
So yes, on the one hand the Sinai moment, the encounter with Kingship, implies Din – it implies judgment. You're going to look at my life, You're going to see who I am, You're going to see my track record, what have I done; how can I contribute? But that's a glorious thing that judgment, it's not the black robes at the birthday party, it's not judgment in order to be punitive and see what terrible things you deserve to be subjected to, to be paid back for all your sins; no, this judgment is a marvelous opportunity, it's my opportunity to be a part of the grand unfolding story. Take me in.
How do I make that plea to the author? This brings us to Shofrot, the final element of the triad of Malchiyot, Zichronot and Shofrot. The author knows me better than I know myself. What am I going to do, come to the author and bargain with them, lawyer with them? How do I make the case to include me in the story?
Think about the moment of revelation itself in our national experience. How did we confront the author? We confronted the author because we heard His voice, we heard the untrammeled cry, the ethereal sound of a Shofar that wasn't a physical Shofar but was the sound that the Almighty channeled towards us as a way of reaching out to us and saying, here is who I am. This is the deepest way I can represent Myself to you.
The most powerful thing we can do is to match voice with voice. To give our voice back to the Almighty in the deepest way we can. Not with words, with something deeper than words, just our voice, this is who we are. That is the Shofar.
The Significance of the Shofar and Rosh Hashanah
When we blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah at one level we are remembering the cry of the Shofar we heard at Sinai, we're showing we remember by echoing that voice.
But we're also doing something else. We're matching that voice with a voice that comes from us. If G-d revealed Himself to us most deeply through that voice, we reveal ourselves in turn to G-d most deeply through our Shofar calling.
The Sages say it: Say the verses of Zichronot, they say, so that G-d tells a good story about you, brings you into the web of His memory. Uba'meh – but what's really the vehicle? Through what will you truly be remembered? Ba'shofar – through the Shofar.
It goes all the way back to Eden. The first time we heard G-d's voice, G-d was reaching out to us with His voice. That moment was catastrophic, we hid from the voice, we hid from ourselves, we couldn't bear to understand who we were.
We were choosing to think that we're the ultimate master, we're going to be the guy who bumped into Harry Potter, and we're going to continue doing our own thing. Sure, I know there's a guy Harry, and there's this guy Dumbledore, but this is really about me, I'm going to trim my hedges, I'm going to invest my money in some nice, Muggle bank, I'll let the other folks take care of that Voldemort guy, whatever. So you could choose to hide from J. K. Rowling.
But back in Eden, we didn't have to hide, what could Adam and Eve have done? They had just sinned, they had just eaten from the tree, they were afraid maybe of the Master's story. I've sinned, maybe I don't have a place in Your story anymore.
What could they have done in that moment? They could have matched a voice with voice. They could have reached out to G-d with their own voice, not with words. I hear Your voice Master, I know who You are, this is who I am. You're the creator, I'm the creature.
Here is me, the deepest thing I can give You is my voice, listen to it carefully, in it You will hear that the deepest desire I have is to be part of Your story. You, the great Arbiter of Tov and Ra'ah, You'll decide what fits and what doesn't fit. But take me in, allow me to fit, I want so deeply to be part of Your story.
Malchiyot provokes a crisis, the possible loss of self, but Zichronot and Shofar provide the deepest of answers to that crisis. I can be more meaningful than I ever thought possible. I could be part of Your story. Take me in.
Okay, so let's just pull back for a moment and I'm going to play the role of someone talking to me. So you're telling me, Rabbi Fohrman that on this most holy of days, the beginning of the Days of Awe, you want me to let go of the way I've approached this holiday for years and years and years; fearful, dour, nervous, maybe even a little depressed, and you want me to let go of that and embrace this day, emotionally, spiritually?
You want me to tremble, not so much in fear but in awe and in joy? You want me to let go of the black robes at the birthday party and instead revel at the possibility of being part of G-d's unfolding story? That seems like a tall order and what if you're wrong? It sounds like a nice theory but what if you're wrong?
Rosh Hashanah isn't a good day to get wrong. Is there any additional evidence you can give me that would make me feel a little bit more comfortable?
Here Is My Voice
We have advanced a theory of Rosh Hashanah which may seem new in many respects and before we just go ahead and accept it, maybe we should just fact-check it a little bit.
What we might want to do is actually go back to something I mentioned earlier, the only recorded episode in the entire Tanach of an actual Rosh Hashanah event being celebrated – and that of course we have in the Book of Nechemiah. So I want to just go back and actually read that episode and see if we find any evidence of the kind of themes that we've been talking about. Were we the first people that came up with that stuff, or did Nechemiah and Ezra see any of this too?
As we read this text I want you to just keep a couple things in mind. First of all, what's the point of this story? What, if anything, is Nechemiah trying to tell us by relating the details of this Rosh Hashanah observance? Is it just like a historical curiosity or are we actually supposed to understand something from it?
Second, maybe as a clue to that, let's pay attention to any superfluous details in the narrative. As we read through it is there any apparently trivial stuff that gets included here for no good reason?
Studying References to Rosh Hashanah in the Bible
Okay, let's just remember the general story. Basically what happens is it's about 70 years after Nebuchadnezzar has conquered the land of Israel and exiled all of the inhabitants to Babylonia. Now a small band of people is coming back to Israel to try to rebuild life in the people's ancestral homeland.
Now the people who have come, they seem to be rather ignorant and they don't even seem to be so aware of what's in the Torah. They seem to be involved a lot with intermarriage – Ezra and Nechemiah constantly are telling them to stay away from intermarriage but they're sort of doing it anyway.
It just so happens that the day is Rosh Hashanah, they don't even seem to be so aware of that until Nechemiah tells them. They don't really have that much going for them in terms of infrastructure, they're just sort of this hardy band of ragtag volunteers, and it happens to be the first day of Tishrei – of Rosh Hashanah.
Here's what happens. Vayei'asfu kol ha'am k'ish echad, the people, they gather together like one person, all together; el ha'rechov, to the street; asher lifnei sha'ar ha'mayim, that's in front of the water gate.
Now you and I don't really know exactly where this is, but it seems like Nechemiah has gone out of his way to give you an exact place; and I guess this is one of those details that doesn't seem to be important – I need to know that they gathered on the street? I mean it's not like such a fancy place. And that the street just happened to be in front of the water gate? But okay, whatever, that's where they gathered.
They said to Ezra HaSofer, l'havi et sefer Toras Moshe asher tzivah Hashem et Yisrael, to go bring that Torah scroll that contains the Torah that Moses himself had commanded the people of Israel, and they want to him to read to them from this scroll. So Ezra does it; vayavi Ezra HaKohen et haTorah lifnei ha'kahal mei'ish v'ad isha, he gathers together men and women and he brings the Torah there and he starts to read.
Vayikra bo lifnei ha'rechov; again, we're told he's reading in front of this street, one more time; asher lifnei sha'ar ha'mayim, that's in front of that gate of the water. And he's doing it from the morning – the crack of dawn – until midday, in front of all the people, they're all listening to the Torah.
It seems like it's kind of new to them, because when they listen to this they're going to be crying. And they're crying, as Rashi says, because they don't feel like they're actually observing this Torah well enough. They barely even know what's written in it.
Meanwhile, where is Ezra? Vaya'amod Ezra HaSofer, Ezra the Scribe, he's standing there; al migdal etz, on this platform made out of wood; asher asu ladavar, that they had made specifically for this event. Again, it's just one of these details that like, do I really need to know this? If he wasn't standing on the platform it would have changed my view of everything?
Now we hear about the entourage of people that surrounded Ezra at the time. We're going to get this whole list of names; people are standing to his right, people are standing to his left, and the strange thing is we never hear about these people, they seem to be like extras in the movie.
Vaya'amod etzlo Matityah, there's this guy by the name of Matityah, he's standing next to him; v'Shemah - and a guy by the name of Shemah next to him. Then there's Anayah next to him.
The names are also a little strange. It seems kind of coincidental. Shemah happens to be Shin, Mem, Ayin. Seems to be related to the idea of listening. Next to him just happens to be a guy by the name of Anayah, which means answering. That seems rather coincidental, doesn't it? You've got other people on his left – these are the people on his right.
On his left you have people like Pedayah, Malkiyah, people like Chashbadanah, Zecharyah. So again, why do I even need to know about all of this?
So anyway, Ezra reads and when he's done reading he blesses G-d; vaya'anu kol ha'am Amen Amen, and all of the people answer, yes, yes, Amen, Amen.
So let's just stop right there for a moment, and even before we read any further, let me ask you this, does this remind you of anything? Anything, say, in the Torah – the Five Books of Moses itself? Just replay the elements of this event and I think you'll see it.
When else was there an entire nation as described here: kol ha'am, gathered together; k'ish echad, as if they were one person? What are they hearing as they're gathered together? The Torah that G-d commanded Moshe. When else were people gathered together as one, listening to the Torah that G-d had commanded Moses? When else was one man set apart from all of them, standing a little bit higher than the rest of them? When else did the people answer yes, yes?
I don't know about you, but it sounds pretty reminiscent of the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai itself. Even think about it: revelation, revelation is something that hits you between the eyes and it's new; it was ultimately new at revelation itself and here these people they're like unaware of what's written in the Torah, it's all new to them, it's like a big revelation to them.
It sounds like it's an echo of the very first revelation. There too the people were gathered – they were gathered around this mountain. There too they were all together standing as one, there too they were listening to the Torah, there too there was a man, Moses, who was perched higher than them on top of a mountain, there too the people answered yes, everything that G-d says we'll do.
By the way, it's not just the general themes, even the specific words are the same. For example, Ezra opens up the scroll and reads it: l'einei kol ha'am, in the eyes of all the people. Well that sounds like a normal, everyday phrase, but guess what? That phrase only appears one other time in the entire Tanach.
The only other time it appears is back at Sinai, when on the third day G-d descended from heaven; l'einei kol ha'am, in front of the eyes of all the people; al Har Sinai, on Mount Sinai.
And it's not just that phrase. Vaya'anu kol ha'am, when the people answer Ezra's blessing of G-d by saying, Amen, Amen, so that phrase also – vaya'anu kol ha'am – that phrase too appears only one other time in the entire Five Books of Moses. Vaya'anu kol ha'am yachdov vayomru kol asher diber Hashem na'aseh – when at Sinai they said all together, everything that G-d has said we will do. It really sounds like the Nechemiah, Ezra event is echoing the original revelation at Sinai event.
It seems even to be a message that Nechemiah is getting across to you with wordplay as well. For example, look at some of these superfluous elements. Remember the street? Big deal they're on a street, who cares? Well, where were they at Sinai? They were at a mountain, the mountain was known as Sinai, otherwise known as Chorev. Well guess how you spell street in Hebrew? Reish, Chet, Vav, Beit, same letters as Chorev just rearranged.
What about all those people who we didn't understand why they were even there on the right and left of Ezra? Listen to some of their names and you'll see how familiar they are.
The first person standing to Ezra's right, Matityah – literally 'the gift given by G-d'. What was Sinai about? It was about the Torah given by G-d. Right next to him Shemah va'Anayah – a person by the name of 'hearing' and another known as 'answering'. What happened at Sinai? The people heard the voice of G-d and they answered; kol asher diber Hashem na'aseh – everything that G-d says we will do.
On the left of Ezra there's a fellow by the name of Pedayah, which literally means 'redeemed by G-d', which is exactly how G-d introduces Himself at Sinai; I redeemed you, I took you out of Egypt, the land of slavery.
Right next to him there's a man by the name of Malkiyah – G-d is King. What was Sinai about? It was about G-d revealing Himself as King. And wouldn't you know it, right after Malkiyah we hear echoes of the next logical Sinai/Rosh Hashanah theme, not just Malchiyot but Zichronot. Oh yes, Zecharyah was one other fellow to the left of Ezra – literally, 'the remembrance of G-d.'
What about that fellow by the name of Chashbadanah? A strange name, but seemingly a contraction of two words; Chashav and Dan – to think and to judge. What is the Sinai day that Rosh Hashanah commemorates year after year? A day when G-d is King; Malkiyah, when G-d remembers; Zecharyah, and Chashbadanah, a day when G-d thinks of His creatures and figures out where they fit and judges them, Chashav and Dan. It all evokes Sinai.
What Is the Purpose of Rosh Hashanah?
Now we might stand back and ask what exactly is the message here? I mean, clearly Nechemiah seems to associate what's happening with the Sinai event with the original revelation. It does seem to support our idea that Rosh Hashanah is linked to revelation at Sinai, is a replay of that day, as it were.
But is that the purpose of Nechemiah, to teach us that Rosh Hashanah is linked to Sinai? I don't know if that's the point, I think Nechemiah's point is something a little bit more nuanced than that.
You see it I think if you look a little bit more carefully at some of these parallels. Yes, it's true the Sinai revelation seems to be playing itself over again, but not exactly the same way.
There's no mountain this time around is there? Instead of Chorev – the mountain – there's just this little Rechov – this street. A mountain is this big, G-d-made edifice; it's just a little, flat, manmade street.
There's no G-d coming out of the sky this time around. Where did G-d come out of last time around? Shamayim – the heavens itself. That's what Chorev stretched up to, the heavens – Shamayim. This time around? The Rechov, the street, just meets the water gate, not Shamayim but Sha'ar Ha'mayim – this little gate of water. It's a manmade thing not a G-d-made thing, and it's much punier than the heavens, isn't it?
Everything is so much smaller in the times of Ezra and Nechemiah. The crowd is smaller, the man talking to the people, he's standing on something, but it isn't a big, imposing mountain, it's a little, wooden platform. Everything is diminished.
But that, I think, is the whole point of Nechemiah, it really didn't look like much what they were doing. That was the people's point too, that's why they were crying. They looked at themselves and they were just insignificant.
Here they were at a ruined Jerusalem, sacked by Nebuchadnezzar, on a crazy, idealistic mission, to come on back and to try to rebuild this land. There was no infrastructure, no great Jewish state, it was just them and Ezra and Nechemiah. They barely knew anything.
They cry because they realize how far away they are from these ideals that the Torah is talking about. What are they really keeping of the Torah's Mitzvot anyway? Half of them are intermarried. They barely even know it's Rosh Hashanah. And so they cry.
But Nechemiah addresses them and tells them to stop crying. Why? Because today is Rosh Hashanah. Kadosh hayom la'Adoneinu – this day is holy to the Master. V'al tei'atzeivu, he tells them, don't be sad; ki chedvat Hashem hi ma'uzchem, the delight of G-d is your strength.
There's a G-d out there, a Master, and His story, the story of His purposes, woven through history, that's the Master's delight. That delight is your strength. You're part of that story, part of that delight. Go home and celebrate.
The Torah was just read publicly here for six hours and you listened raptly to it; you may find yourself deficient in keeping all of its dictates, but that Torah embodies G-d's vision of Tov and Ra'ah, and you want to be part of that vision. If so, you need to walk away from here with strength, with your head held up high. You're part of the delight of G-d, His story, and that is your greatest strength.
This may seem like nothing, your little, apparently insignificant, life here but as part of the Master's story it can be a piece of everything. What you're doing here on this little street, in the eyes of the Master it's a replay of Sinai itself. And your little, pitiful return to this barren wasteland, the ruins of Jerusalem, in the Master's eyes, that's part of everything too.
Look back on this in the sweep of Jewish history, what were these people doing? They're building the second Temple, the second Commonwealth, it will stand for 400 years. They're playing starring roles in Jewish history.
You know, there's an interesting curiosity in the text of Nechemiah here. When they go home and they celebrate that day, the words that Nechemiah uses to describe it is a Simcha Gedolah – they celebrate it with a great rejoicing. Simcha Gedolah is a rare phrase in Tanach; one of the only other times it appears is at King Solomon's coronation – the height of kingship in the people of Israel, Solomon the builder of the First Temple.
It's like Nechemiah is saying, look at the echoes of what's happening here. I know you guys don't see a physical king, there's no palace, there's no pomp and circumstance, but what you're doing is every bit as significant as Solomon's coronation. He was the builder of the First Temple, you're the builders of the Second.
It's coronation day, but there's no earthly king here, there's only G-d. It's Rosh Hashanah, the day the King comes into our lives.
You don't know what the larger story is, the soundtrack, that gets reserved for the Master to play. That's what Nechemiah was telling the people. You don't get to hear the violins, but they're there.
Oh if you could only hear the Master's soundtrack, the echoes of Sinai, they're here in what you're doing. The echoes of Solomon's coronation, they're here in what you're doing. What's going on today it matters, if only you could hear the Master's soundtrack.
What Does Rosh Hashanah Mean Today: Judgment or Joy?
So here we are 24 centuries and change after Nechemiah and what does Rosh Hashanah mean to us?
We sit in Synagogue and we too wonder whether anything we do really matters in the scheme of things. We too worry about our sins and wonder whether we are worthy.
But maybe Nechemiah's words continue to serve us well. Chedvat Hashem hi ma'uzchem – the delight of G-d, that's your strength. G-d delights in His story and is inviting you to be a part of it.
Rosh Hashanah is not a day to be sad, it's not a day to get weighed down with guilt. It's a day to approach the Master with all the genuineness you can muster and say, this is my voice, I've heard Your voice.
I remember the Shofar blast, it's there in my collective memory, it feels familiar to me. Here's my voice, my most genuine self, I just want to be part of this great story that You're telling. I want to be part of Your delight.
Can You delight in me? Can You help me find a role? I'm just a human being, I feel like nothing in front of You, but I know that through You I can be part of everything.
Hi everyone, Tamar here, thanks for watching. If you found this course meaningful, please share it, just click one of the sharing icons on the right side of this video. Thanks and Shanah Tovah from all of us here at Aleph Beta.