The Fear of Rosh Hashanah & the Antidote
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
The following section from ‘Untaneh Tokzef’ (High Holy Days liturgy) expresses why Rosh Hashanah is such an awesome and frightening day:
“As a shepherd herds his flock, directing his sheep to pass under his staff, so do you shall pass, count, and record the souls of all the living, and decree a limit to each person’s days, and inscribe their final judgment.”
We are all aware of our individual weaknesses, short-comings, and sins. On Rosh Hashanah, God focuses on us individually and our true, unmasked selves are exposed. What should our response be? What steps can we take to merit a favorable judgment? Rabbi Yisrael Salanter suggests that our response should be to connect to the community.
What does it mean to connect to community? While it certainly implies identifying with a community and attending communal gatherings, it involves much more than that. It means making oneself useful to a community, contributing to a community, and making oneself an indispensable member of a community. We figuratively say to God: ‘You cannot judge me merely as an individual. My identity is bound up with my community and I am an essential and integral part of my community.’ The Maharal of Prague explains that a community has a special association to God and the merits of a community are always far greater than the individual merits of the community members.
It is true that Rosh Hashanah is a frightening day of judgment, but we have the recipe for a good judgment. Let us consider how to be more connected and indispensable to our communities.