Did you ever want to be a lawyer?
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, it can feel like a judgment day in which you didn’t do much for your defense. In a court of law, the lawyer has to defend his client. If he is the accused, he will want to play every card in the deck. You haven’t ignored the fact that the Day of Judgment is coming. There is one problem. Although you may have thought through the direction your life has taken until now, and contrasted it with what you want it to look like in future, when the Great Day comes, this isn’t going to be what you find yourself saying when you open yourself up to Hashem.
The long list of sins, the viduy, should be reviewed. You need to explore where you have been if you want to continue differently in the future. You need to say, “No more” and shake off the burden of habits that may be almost as old as you are. It takes time, but more than that it takes emotional effort to not slide back into the old patterns that feel organic, and to make the necessary repairs the broken places in your heart and our personality. This isn’t what you will be taking to the “court room”. The entire two days of judgment doesn’t feature reciting viduy even once. On Yom Kippur you say it five times. Why don’t you defend yourself when you are being judged? Tshuvah is the best (and only genuine) defense.
You also might reasonably question why when you come home from shul at night on Rosh Hashanah you sit by a set table with all sorts of traditional foods. They all have one theme. Now it’s going to be good. A sweet year. A year in which you will be” the head”, in charge of your personality which will lead you to have profound influence on others. Not “the tail”, the eternal follower, unable to break away from the influence of people whose opinions and lifestyle aren’t in sync with yours, never in touch with your own capacity or longings. You look at the plate in front of you, and declare that you will have a year in which you are as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds. You? What makes the puzzle even more cryptic is that you will soon be in shul again, on Yom Kippur. This is the day of forgiveness. You would think that this is the best time for joyous fete in which you can sincerely celebrate the new you emerging cleansed of all of the debris that clutters your inner life. Instead, you fast for 26 hours, and keep the basic laws of mourning.
In one of Rebbe Nachman’s mystic stories, he talks about people choosing a king. The king in the story mirrors what his subjects genuinely are. Don’t think too deeply about the implications of the fact that so many world leaders today have been accused of corruption…. When the hero of the story, who has been searching for the king in order to be able to make a portrait of his royal image, comes to realize that the king is mirroring who he is, he is torn between two responses. One is anger. When you see yourself reflected back to you with no holds barred, you may be infuriated by what you see. You may retreat into defense, blame, self-hatred or escapism. The other response is praise. He sees that the king is far more than the mirror. The mirror is what he is using to show his subjects what they are, so that they can make choices. Behind the mirror is the King Himself. His presence is felt rather than seen. The awe that you feel when you recognize His creativity, His endless power to give, His willingness to forgive changes the way you feel not only about Him, but about yourself. You recognize that when all you see is your face reflected back to you in the mirror, and you blind yourself to the King, the One who gave you life; the One who believes in your potentials. Many of us only see ourselves. In fact, this inability to see beyond yourself is the root of all of the items on your viduy list. Rosh Hashanah takes you beyond yourself. See the King.
Most of the prayers on Rosh Hashanah are geared to opening your eyes to His splendor, His eternity, His ability to know you far better than you know yourself. Everyone wants to find the King and to follow Him. He is leading us to sweetness, greatness, and the kind of goodness that you never believed you could have or experience. There may be a long road, but it’s where it takes you in the end that counts.
In Israel, if you get up early, you may pass the many Sephardic synagogues and hear the selichot that they began to say daily from the beginning of Elul. One of the famous melodies is Adon HaSlichot- Master of Forgiveness. The tune is rhythmic, joyous, and not at all what you would expect if you associate tshuvah with angst and fear. It isn’t about “me” (in the collective sense). “Me” may be very imperfect. It’s about Him, perfect, in love with us, and always there. The One you always wanted to follow. The King whose portrait is engraved on your heart. The One who will also give you Yom Kippur as a gift to make it possible to head where you want to be heading without the confusion of roads once travelled.
Getting all of this back down to earth…can sound like mission impossible. It isn’t. Every day you make countless choices. They range from what Special Ed teachers call, “Activities of Daily Living”, to far reaching and subtle decisions. All of the choices have one common feature. You are either putting the crown on your own head (or at least trying to), or putting it on Hashem’s Head (so to speak) by letting Him rule.
Rosh Hashanah is where this choice is made in the deepest and most joyous sense. Get ready. Neve girls who are now home: Make your holiday plans now, for meals, synagogue attendance and all of the rest.