Rosh Hashanah – Judgment and Re-creation
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
There are two essential concepts at the heart of the holyday of Rosh Hashana: Judgment and Re-creation. At the beginning of each new year, according to Jewish tradition, God judges all creatures, weighing their actions and attitudes. Individuals, peoples and nations pass before the Creator who examines them and assesses their behavior (Mishnah, Rosh Hasahanah 1: 2).
God’s verdict can be modified through spiritual exercise leading to the transformation of some of the negative aspects of one’s personhood. Each person must delve into the transgressions committed by which he or she mistreated in some way God’s great creation. Once recognized and accepted, the individual must act to reform those weaknesses that ran counter to the norms of goodness and mercy. This spiritual exercise is known as Teshuva – turning, reforming, re-creating.
The Jewish view of the human being maintains that everyone can change their character. Nothing can hinder the individual who chooses to turn, to re-create themselves. (In chapter 5 of Hilchot Teshuva Maimonides explains this principle masterfully.)
The rabbis detected in chapters 28 and 29 of the biblical book of Numbers the idea that on Rosh Hashanah the Jewish people must reform or re-create themselves. These chapters set forth the various sacrifices to be offered around the time of Rosh Hashanah. The text almost always uses the Hebrew verb vehikravtem, “and you will sacrifice” (the verbal form of korban or sacrifice), except on the day of Rosh Hashanah itself. Then the Hebrew text uses va-asitem, “and you will make.” The sages interpreted this difference as an indication that on Rosh Hashanah you do not merely bring the sacrifice – you must, more importantly, (re)make or change yourself! Hence some wise men of the Talmud suggest that it is as if God told those who make Teshuva on Rosh Hashanah: I consider that by sacrificing, you “became” like new people (Vaikra Raba, Emor, 29,12; Talmud of Jerusalem, Rosh Hashanah, chap. 4, halakhah 8).
The deep message of Rosh Hashanah is that just as time is renewed in nature (“month” in Hebrew is Chodesh, from Chadash, new; “year” is Shanah, from Shinui, change), human beings must renew themselves spiritually. Creation renews itself naturally, human beings will do it by their own choice.
In Isaiah 66:22, the prophet refers to the re-creation of the heavens and the earth by God, surely referring to a time when Creation will witness a humanity that strives to overcome its low points and reforms itself by pursuing the path of peace and understanding
Ketivah Vachatimah Tova!