Home > Divrei Torah > Rosh HaShanah

Rosh HaShanah

September 25, 2007

By Rabbi Leslie Schotz

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups-the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”

You may recognize that opening from a show called “Law and Order” which follows crime from two separate vantage points. The first half generally concentrates on the investigation of a crime by the police; the second half follows the prosecution of the crime in court.

Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom Ha-Din, the Day of Judgment. The liturgy calls upon the analogy of a great trial. On this day, the world is judged. In Franz Kafka’s book The Trial, the helpless victim doesn’t even know what his crime is. Just before the hero is killed, he wonders where was the judge whom he had never seen? But our trial on Rosh Hashanah is not cruel or by an unknown judge on arbitrary charges. There is an acknowledgement of being responsible for our actions as we review the year, our deeds, and missed opportunities.

In heshbon ha-nefesh we take an accounting of the soul and examine our ethical actions. What are the standards we use for evaluating our souls? What are our personal laws or standards?

Here is a checklist of 18 standards:

Equanimity – the ability to live in balance,

Tolerance – remembering that growing pains lead to growing gains,

– allocating time for living life fully with integrity,

– acting promptly when your reasoning is sure,

– modeling dignity in your ways and space,

– knowing you will always have much to learn and more opinions than answers,

Righteousness – conducting your life such that you are trusted and respected,

Economic stability
– safe-guarding enough resources for yourself to live without debt,

– living with gusto, focused on purpose and care,

– listening and reflecting before speaking,

– expressing your needs and thoughts gently while being respectful and clear,

Truth – speaking only what is fully confirmed fact,

Separation – focusing on each strand in its own time, avoid multi-tasking,

– eating and drinking for good health, not dangerous excess,

– pausing before acting, considering consequences, integrating heart and mind wisely,

– eschewing crude, lewd, and boastful mannerisms and practices,

– knowing that there is abundance in the universe and you are in that flow,

Generosity – finding satisfaction in making much possible for others.

On the TV drama we see a mystery unfold: various suspects to a crime give their alibis. It is up to the detectives to find the inconsistencies in the possible truths. The prosecutors try to unravel the entire story in order to pressure the guilty to account for his/her or their actions. A psychological sparring of sorts occurs. The prosecutors threaten to punish more severely if all who are guilty are not revealed. By the time the deals are made, we learn of the series of events that tested a person’s moral character. The lies stop. The truth comes out and there appears to be a cleansing of the soul. Many times, when the rationalizations are broken down, the criminal breaks down in tears. The serious mood of the musical background enhances the intense drama of admitting the crime. The guilty suspect is encouraged to say more than that he or she did it. In allocution the explanation is given as to what happened and why this dramatic crime was committed. In exchange for a reduced sentence, allocution provides closure for victims and their families.

One might argue that in many cases this is a type of repentance, a coming to terms with what was wrong. At least in Hollywood terms, that ideal is achieved through the TV series.

– repentance – is also an intense process which involves our saying that we are sorry to those we have wronged and in asking God for forgiveness for the wrong doings we have committed against God. This is our period of making a deal to avert the severe decree.

According to a trivia source for Law and Order the distinctive “thunk thunk” sound effect used in between scenes was created by combining close to a dozen sounds including that of a group of monks stamping on a floor. Similarly, in between our various sections of prayer we also hear the wake up call of the shofar, calling for our repentance.

In fact the very word for prayer in Hebrew is l’hitpalel – ‘to pray’ meaning ‘to judge oneself’. It is a process which can be private or shared. In this time of soul maintenance or soul searching, we personally pause, think and reassess our spiritual situation. The challenge is to change and grow. That is part of the mitzvah of t’shuvah. Take joy in what you have accomplished and take seriously new possibilities that await you in your journey.

May this coming year be a Year of Blessing and Peace!