Parshat Netzavim: Rosh Hashanah – Memories
There are three themes that define the holiday of Rosh HaShana which are outlined in the Mussaf prayer service of the day: 1. Malchiyot – God is King. 2. Zichronot – Remembrance and 3. Shofrot – the Shofar sound.
Shofar is the most well-known of the three as it is the definitive symbol of the day. Shofar is to Rosh HaShana as Matza is to Pesach – the most visual, or rather, audio icon of the holiday. People make their way to shul on Rosh HaShana at one point or another, and may leave at one point or another, but everybody shows up for Shofar. Understandably so as the Shofar blast has a way of cutting deep into our very core and soul.
Malchiyot/Kingship is a second theme because Rosh HaShana is Yom HaDin – the Day of Judgment. According to Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve were created on this day, the first of Tishrei, and so it is the birthday of Mankind. We naturally judge ourselves on our birthdays and reflect on what we have accomplished – or not – and this is no different. It’s just on a bigger and more universal scale. On Rosh HaShana we stand before the King who judges us, as we hope and pray for a good judgment and to be written in the Book of Life.
Part and parcel of being judged is the third theme of this troika – Zichronot/Remembrance. That on this day God takes note of every person and all that we do. The idea of everything being scrutinized is not a comfortable one. That God sees every one of my actions, is aware of every one of my thoughts, knows every motivation, is completely attentive to any moment when I am not sincere, knows when I waste time or when I give myself the benefit of the doubt in a line-call in tennis, knows when I am not completely truthful in my words, knows when I speak ill of another for no good reason, or whatever else I might do that I wouldn’t wish on my resume – the fact that God knows every last bit of it can be a bit disconcerting.
But this is exactly what happens on Rosh HaShana and the reason that it and its counterpart, Yom Kippur are referred to as Yamim Noraim – The Days of Awe. Days of fear and trepidation as God recalls the deeds of each of us to see if we are worthy of another year.
But there’s another side to it – the more positive and happy part to this recollection and scrutiny by God. It’s the flip side of the dread associated with Judgment. For in fact it’s actually a quite comforting notion to be scrutinized and remembered by God in such detail.
Consider for a moment whom we judge the harshest and whom we criticize the most? Yup, our kids and our spouse. The people whose lives mean the most to us. If we see a perfect stranger do something that we know is self-destructive, maybe we will feel moved to correct him or her, but more often than not we ignore them and go on our merry way, completely indifferent to the damage they may be causing themselves.
But when we see a loved one – a child, a spouse, a close friend – hurting themselves, we feel the need to speak up and do whatever we can to help the situation. We are always more critical of those whom we love the most because they mean so much to us. Not that it is always expressed in the most effective manner, but the simple fact remains – when we intensely love another we are super sensitive to every nuance of their behavior and react accordingly.
And so the idea that God judges me is because I am very special in His eyes, much the way a child is cherished by a parent. For while He is aware of every flaw that I may have, He is also completely aware of every struggle I have with those flaws. He has intimate knowledge of every concern, every need, every challenge, every wish and every dream that I harbour in my heart of hearts.
He is also completely aware of every good that I do – whether it is acknowledged by anyone else or not. He knows of every effort I make to improve myself and the world around me, whether it is met with success or not. Absolutely nothing is hidden. And just as a parent has an unwavering love of their child no matter how much they may succeed or not, so too God has the same unwavering love for each and every one of us – whether we succeed or not.
All of us have those moments where we are left wondering if anyone is paying attention. We go about our daily lives and struggles and hope that if we stay the course and do what is true and good, it will ultimately be noted and appreciated and pay off in some form or another. It’s during those lean times, when that isn’t happening, that we mustn’t lose faith in the simple truth that our lives have meaning. Every one of us is created in God’s image and thereby has infinite worth, potential and good. No matter what the challenge, we must carry on and live in accordance with the principles of truth, good, integrity and honesty. Because none of it goes unnoticed, certainly not by an all-seeing and all-knowing God.
We may not get immediate recognition for what we do, but if you stick to the script, it does eventually arrive. It might not be today or tomorrow but it does ultimately appear. It may take a year, it might take ten or even a good chunk of a lifetime. In the case of the Jewish people – many millennium. But Truth, Justice and Goodness are the foundations by which God made this world. They are what God is all about. And so they do win out and are duly noted – if not today, then certainly tomorrow.
So stay the course, don’t lose faith if the masses may not be paying attention, and realize that even if no others take note of your goodness, the Creator of the Universe certainly does. He remembers you today. He remembers you forever. For every good that you do, God knows. And God remembers.
Do you Remember
The 21st night of September?
Love was changing the minds of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away
Our hearts were ringing
In the key that our souls were singing
As we danced in the night
Remember how the stars stole the night away
-Earth Wind and Fire