Rabbi David Aaron
Excerpt from “Inviting G-d In”
Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, is actually the day that humanity was created. It is the birthday of the first human beings, Adam and Eve. Why do we celebrate our collective birthday at a time when we are being judged in the court of Hashem? Not quite the fun birthday party that we might have hoped for.
Of course, whether it’s a fun day or a down day depends on how we choose to perceive the meaning of a birthday. Little children get so excited about their birthdays; they talk about them and plan for them months in advance. To them, a birthday says, “I am special. I was born today, and everybody celebrates the great event of my coming into the world.” But the truth is, as we get older, we begin to wonder if anybody really wants to celebrate our birthday. Does anybody really care? We also tend to ask ourselves painful questions: Does my existence matter at all? What have I done with my life? What am I living for? So, in essence, a birthday is actually a day of judgment. We judge ourselves on our birthdays and wonder, “I am now x years old. Where am I? Who am I? Am I making a difference?”
The universality of such self-doubt is reflected in the Vidui, the confessional prayer recited on Yom Kippur, in which we say, “Before I was created I was not worthy (to exist), and now that I am created it is as if I was not created.” In other words, when I recite this prayer I realize that, before I was born, the world didn’t need me, because if the world needed me, then Hashem would have brought me into the world earlier. I was put into this world precisely when the world needed what I uniquely have to offer. However, now that I exist, am I really fulfilling my purpose for being here? What am I contributing?
These kinds of questions turn birthdays into difficult and challenging days. The older we get, the more our birthday becomes a day for personal assessment and judgment. Similarly, because Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of humanity, there is no better way to celebrate the day than as a time for judgment. It is a time for evaluating ourselves and the progress we have made in fulfilling our purpose and completing our tasks on earth.
THE KINGDOM OF HASHEM
We are all royal subjects in the kingdom of Hashem. Every one of us has a particular unique job to perform on behalf of the King. Some of us might be street sweepers, some of us might be accountants, some of us might be gardeners. On Rosh Hashanah we are evaluated on our progress in helping to establish the kingdom of Hashem on earth and in taking care of it. And the sentence decreed upon us on that day is only for the purpose of getting us back on track in doing what we have been uniquely created to do.
On Rosh Hashanah we are judged regarding what we did to build and maintain the kingdom this year. However, it is critical to understand that Hashem is not a tyrant or dictator. A tyrant or dictator couldn’t care less about his people; he only wants to control them and use them for self-aggrandizement. But Hashem is a King who is dependent on His people, because it is His people who acknowledge His kingship.
Hashem’s kingship, his ruling power, is dependent upon us. He has empowered us and entrusted us with building the kingdom that establishes Him as King. His majestic presence on earth is dependent upon our recognition and acceptance of Him as our ruler. Of course, Hashem rules over the world whether we accept that fact or not. The revelation of that truth, however, is up to us. If we behave as His royal subjects are meant to behave-and the Torah teaches us exactly how we are to do that-then this world will feel like Hashem’s kingdom and will be filled with His majestic presence. But if we deny the power of the King, then the world will look and feel to us like a wild jungle battered by the impersonal forces of nature.
When I first visited London, I really got the sense that the queen lives there. There is just something about the architecture and overall design of the city that conveys the feeling that this is where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth resides. Everything appeared so orderly and well maintained. I remember going to Hyde Park and noticing that all the bushes were perfectly trimmed in geometrical shapes. Everybody seemed very formal and on guard. Even the ducks looked like they were on duty. Buckingham Palace, of course, is the city’s royal residence. Standing in front of the palace, I saw a fellow wearing a tall furry hat even though it was quite hot. He just stood there, forbidden to speak to tourists. When it came time for the changing of the guard, everything was pomp and circumstance. Not: “Hey guys, it’s time to do the change! Come on, let’s go!” It was done in a very formal and rigid manner, with every move executed to perfection.
Rosh Hashanah can also feel very formal and rigid. It may be hard to feel spontaneous on that day, because we have such a strong sense that the King is around. Everything has to be sparkling; everything has to be just right.
On Rosh Hashanah we realize that the King is expecting something special from us: He is counting on each and every one of us to establish His kingdom on earth. What an honor and a privilege-each one of us has a special role and a unique way to bring Hashem’s presence into this world. We can reveal the King and build His kingdom, or we can destroy the kingdom and exile the King. And even though, in truth, Hashem will still remain in power, we will not know, see, or feel that, and therefore we will experience ourselves to be living in a vicious jungle.
Consequently, on the birthday of humanity we must be extremely careful to evaluate ourselves. We must assess how well we have done our royal job in building and maintaining our world as a Kingdom for Hashem. Did we treat others with the love and respect due a fellow subject and partner? People should be able to walk into our homes, our offices, our shopping malls, look around, and say, “The King must live here… this must be the kingdom of the Ultimate, because it is a reflection of the Ultimate.”