Weekly Davar: Rosh Hashana 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment in Jewish tradition. As the Rabbis say, ‘every human being passes before God like sheep before a shepherd’. There is a common misconception, however, as to what exactly we are judged on at Rosh Hashana.

People often believe that the judgment is on the past year – transgressions vs good deeds. Add it all up, subtract one from the other and bingo. Positive territory means a good new year. Negative territory means you are in the soup!

That’s not the way Judaism sees it. And obviously so. For if the judgment was on what had happened last year, then what purpose would Rosh Hashana itself serve? We might as well eat drink and be merry because the deeds are done and, for better or for worse, there is no going back.

But this is not Rosh Hashana and not Judaism. Judaism always believes that what matters more than where a person has been, is where a person is going. Much more so than we are products of our past, we are products of our future. Consider for a moment, who is more likely to treat his wife properly over the coming year: the husband who has been unkind and unpleasant, but sincerely wants to change and genuinely means it; or the husband who has been a good husband – but just doesn’t see the point anymore? Which employee is more likely to perform better next year – the one who has done well this year but lost their motivation, or the one who has struggled, but has found new enthusiasm and commitment and has a strong feeling and vision for the future? The smart money would go on the second. Of course, best of all is the one who performed well and still has motivation and vision to do so, but the more critical component is where the person is right now, not where they have been in the past.

The Rabbis tell us that on Rosh Hashana, we are not judged on our past, we are judged on our future. What do we dream of? Do we dream of greatness, of caring and giving more, of closeness to God? Or do we dream of bigger houses, better jobs and larger salaries? Or have we lost our connection to life and we don’t dream at all?

That’s the beauty of Rosh Hashana and of Judaism. It doesn’t matter who you have been or how you have lived your life, there’s always the possibility to start anew. ‘Hashana’ means ‘the year’, but ‘Rosh’ does not mean ‘new’. ‘Rosh’ means ‘head’; so Rosh Hashana is the ‘head of the year’. Because the head looks forward and cannot look back. The body can turn around but the head cannot look backwards. Similarly, Rosh Hashana is only about looking forward.

Almost exactly sixty years ago, Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, ‘I have a dream that one day my four little children live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’ Black Americans have so much more freedom and opportunity today because Martin Luther King and millions of others along with him dreamed that it could be so, that it would be so. When we lose our vision, and it’s easy to do, we human beings get bogged down in the quagmire of our past. Rosh Hashana is about finding new and inspired vision for ourselves.

Take time out this Rosh Hashana. Dream of a better life. Dream of being a better person, a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, a better inhabitant of God’s world. If you dream it on Rosh Hashana, you might just spend the other 363 days of the year making it come true.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

Weekly Davar: Nitzavim/Rosh Hashana 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Davar Thought

I thought I’d share some thoughts on Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year).

I’ve talked before about it being a day of dreaming. Martin Luther King had a dream for America – a dream that is yet unfulfilled in its fullest sense, but we must acknowledge that much of it has become reality. The sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners do indeed sit down, at times, at tables of brotherhood. His children are acknowledged by the vast majority of Americans for the content of their character, not the colour of their skin. The more tangibly a person sees a vision of hope for the future, the more likely she, or he, will bring it about. Martin Luther King was such a person. And so, change came.

On Rosh Hashana, we Jews dream the Jewish dream – our three-thousand-year-old dream of a better world. A dream we have carried in our hearts, unabated and undaunted, through bitter exile and unimaginable persecution. A dream that we have always known, and know today, is just a matter of time. Humanity will find its way there. Be it by motorway, or by the windy and potholed ‘B’ roads that we continue to take, all roads do eventually lead to Rome, the Promised Land of humanity’s salvation through its own means.

If you look at the prayers of Rosh Hashana, they paint a most uplifting and inspiring vision of a world that is Godly, a world that looks to be of service, that looks to unite behind a common banner of brotherhood. And to see it in one’s mind’s eye is to believe it and to know it. For this reason, I love Rosh Hashana. It’s just so uplifting.

My daughter asked me today if it is enough to dream or do you need to implement? In other words, does vision lead automatically to its own implementation or does it need to be planned step by step? I am a great believer in the power of vision itself. Visionaries are the people who change our world. People who can see that change tangibly, before it has yet come about. People who we might refer to as prophets; who know in the deepest recesses of their hearts what the future could be – not lethargic daydreamers – but real dreamers. Such people change our world. A Lenin, a King, a Mandela, a Gandhi, a Pankhurst…nothing gets in their way because they know that the world they see in front of them MUST be replaced by something greater and better. And they do not doubt it because they see it.

On Rosh Hashana, we Jews take two days just to dream of a better world, to dream of what our world could become. Taking time, at the start of the year, to re-establish and rejuvenate our vision is, in my mind, genius. We all need to reflect and renew our vision at times. In the Jewish year it is fixed for Rosh Hashana. If you are Jewish, why not grasp the opportunity?

Shabbat Shalom and Good Yom Tov

Parsha in a Nutshell

A real shorty this week, but a great one also, one of my favourites: Moses gathers the Jewish people together, on the eve of his passing, to explain the concepts of both individual and collective responsibility: each individual is responsible not only for his own actions, but also for the actions and attitudes of the entire community.

Rosh Hashana Dreaming

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“I have a dream…” ― a phrase immortalised by Martin Luther King. “…I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character….” It was a dream that he did not live to see realized; a dream that is still not realized. But a man who dreams is a man who cares. And a man who cares is a man who makes a difference.

Continue reading “Rosh Hashana Dreaming”