Many know Rosh Hashanah as the Day of Judgement. However, as you peruse the special prayers of Rosh Hashanah, they do not seem to reflect the types of prayer we would expect for a day of judgement. Instead of prayers of apology and regret, the special Rosh Hashanah prayers seem to focus primarily on the coronation of God as Sovereign. It seems that we are being judged without having an opportunity to make our case. What’s going on?
Perhaps the answer lies in properly understanding what we mean when we speak about judgement on Rosh Hashanah. Maybe it’s not about God’s judgement on our deeds of the past year, but rather it is about our vision, our hopes and our plans for the coming year. Instead of focusing on the details, we are taking a step back to look at the big picture. What are our ultimate priorities? What is our vision for our lives and for our world? Is God at the centre of that vision?
A story is told about Moshe Dayan, the great Israeli military leader and politician. Speeding down an Israeli highway, he was stopped by the police. The officer immediately recognized the general and started to berate him about how he needed to act like a role model. Before the officer could even finish his thought, Dayan cut him off and said, “Officer, I only have one eye. Where would you rather me look, at the road or at the speedometer.”
This is why the Rosh Hashanah prayers are all about the coronation of God as our Sovereign. Because when we coronate God at the beginning of the year we, in essence, declare that our upcoming year is going to look a certain way. We commit to living a life of meaning based on Judaism’s Divine precepts and values, and that commitment affects our decisions and on the way we live our lives. We commit to keeping our eye on what is important, on the priorities we set at the beginning of the year.
As we reflect on envisioning a life lived Jewishly, it is important to remember that when it comes to our Jewish engagement, there are always greater depths to be found. There is always something that we have yet to tap into that will make our lives increasingly meaningful. There are infinite layers of depth and richness that are there for the taking as long as we are willing to put in the time and effort.
The only way to discover new meaning is by opening ourselves to taking the next step in our learning, and in our engagement with Judaism, something of which Ottawa has no shortage of offerings.
This is what Rosh Hashanah is about: envisioning a year of an enriched Jewish identity and creating a clear path forward to make our visions into realities.
To conclude, I offer a quote from Antone de Saint-Exupéry: “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”