As the new year approaches, we all make our preparations for Rosh Hashanah. With the beautiful davening, festive meals and the fresh new year on our minds, this time is full of excitement and anticipation. Still, all these things are not the real purpose of this day.
If we stop and think for a few minutes, we might begin to think about what Rosh Hashanah actually means. Our automatic reaction is, Teshuvah! Rosh Hashanah is the day when we ask for forgiveness for our Aveiros and commit ourselves to serving Hashem and being better people. This is only half true. We begin the Teshuvah process on Rosh Hashanah but the actual teshuvah itself takes place on Yom Kippur. In fact, there is no mention of it anywhere in Rosh Hashanah davening! (There actually is one small mention of it in U’Nesaneh Tokef, but either way it’s definitely not the primary concern of the day.) So Teshuvah is not the answer.
The answer is that Rosh Hashanah is the celebration the of Hashem’s coronation as king over the whole world. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the sixth day of creation when man was created. With creation of man, there was finally a being which could recognize Hashem as the creator; therefore, we consider that day as the when he became king. This is what we celebrate on this holy day, the day 5772 years ago when Hashem’s rule over the world was established. The same way we celebrate a human king’s coronation, we celebrate Hashem’s. For this we have a Yom Tov where we wear nice clothes, have big seudahs and all the other things that are done.
Still a question remains, even though we celebrate the anniversary of a human king’s coronation every year, this is because a human king must be cajoled, flattered, and in other ways given tribute to. However, Hashem is not human, while we serve Hashem, we don’t do it in order to stroke his ego. So why do we need Rosh Hashanah every year? We can celebrate it every few years just as a reminder to us who runs the world, is every year really necessary?
The reason must be that Hashem gives us Rosh Hashanah each year in order to help us. So what is it exactly that he is doing for us? As we mentioned before, one of the main activities we dedicate ourselves to at this time of year is Teshuvah, but truthfully, we can do Teshuvah all year round. There is no reason to wait to repent till the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, at any time of the year Hashem is ready to accept Teshuvah. I feel that the advantage that we have on Rosh Hashanah is that the entire year is in front of us. If you decide to change your ways in the middle of the year, you only have a limited amount of time to take advantage of those changes, but at the beginning of the year, you can make it whatever you want to be! The possibilities are endless for what we want and who we want to be.
For me, this is the primary purpose of Rosh Hashanah. Before Rosh Hashanah begins, we have to sit down and introspect. We have to think about what we want in life, who we want to become, and what we need to get there. It can be anything, either something directly related to serving Hashem or something in our day to day lives. For example, we can ask for better concentration in davening or in studying for a test. On Rosh Hashanah we come before Hashem with this list of what we want, he looks it over and decides if we need it. If it will help us become better people and better Jews then he will grant it, if not then he won’t since it is not in our best interests. In order for us to better understand by ourselves if we truly need what we are asking for, a good idea to do whenever we think of what we need we must also think, ‘What will I do with this? How will this make me a better person?’ If we can answer that question, then there is no question Hashem will answer our Tefillos. However, if we will not do Teshuvah, then there is no reason for Hashem to consider our requests. If we haven’t done anything with the gifts Hashem has given us till now, then why should he listen to us when we ask for more things now?
That is the whole process of the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, on Rosh Hashanah we ask for what we need, and for the next week until Yom Kippur we show Hashem that we are committed to becoming better and therefore deserve what we are asking for. What an opportunity this is! We can ask for literally anything we want from Hashem and as long as we can defend our requests it is ours! Maybe this will also help us understand a little better what Teshuvah means. Basically, the only thing preventing you from a full, happy, meaningful life is recognizing that the incredible gifts available to you can only come when you are ready to use them for the right reasons. Still, this is easier than it sounds.
Trying to think of everything you might want or need for the next year is a daunting task. Let me suggest one thing to daven for which will not only help you, but the entire Klal Yisrael as well. There is a very famous medrash which explains why the Torah begins with the word בראשית. The medrash explains that it is because of Yisrael and the Torah who are both called ראשית, “first”. Being first means that they are the closest to the source, Hashem, and they are therefore always the first to be noticed, mentioned, and taken into consideration. However, this is not a guarantee. The sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh explains that on Rosh Hashanah, this is one of the things we are judged on. Did we make ourselves “ראשית”, did we bring ourselves up to be closer to the “source”? Did we act like we belong at the head of the line? The same thing is done for how we treated the Torah. Did we make the Torah “ראשית”? Was it the most important thing in our lives? Perhaps this is one thing we can think about on Rosh Hashanah, how we can live up to our title of “ראשית”.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we must be ready to take full advantage of this tremendous opportunity. When we stand in front of Hashem, it is our chance to ask for whatever we want! Innumerable possibilities are available to us at this time as the whole year is seen in perspective. In order to make sure our thoughts are in order, a little introspection is necessary beforehand. And once we know what we want, we must be ready to do Teshuvah in order to show Hashem that we will use his gifts to become the best people we can be. As the pasuk says, “לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא” “…it is not hidden from you and it is not far from you” (Devarim 30:11), Teshuvah is right here in front of us! As long as we want it we can come take it. We should all use this Rosh Hashanah to become the best Ovdei Hashem and the best “us” that we can be.
We should all be zoche to a k’siva v’chasima tova.