One By One
preparing for Rosh HaShanah
On Rosh HaShanah every human being passes, one by one, before our Creator, to decide our fate for the coming year.
The Talmud gives three illustrations of "passing one by one":
What is the significance of these three metaphors?
To answer this question, let's ask another question: what do we mean that G-d judges the world on Rosh HaShanah? Doesn't G-d know everything, all the time? The answer, of course, is yes - G-d does know everything; but He doesn't necessarily respond to everything immediately. Although He is the G-d of Truth, He is also the G-d of Mercy, and He wants more than anything for His children to correct their mistakes. So He chooses how and when and how to judge human behavior, often "looking the other way" for years or even a lifetime, and sending us numerous messengers along the way to encourage us to change.
Rosh HaShanah is one of the times that G-d does judge the world - but He gives us ample time to prepare. The month of Elul, which precedes Rosh HaShanah, is a time of special closeness and compassion, when G-d practically begs us to repent and promises that He will gladly forgive us.
When it comes to the judgment on Rosh Hashanah itself, the order makes a differences. Like human justice, Heavenly justice follows rules and procedures. t is extremely advantageous to be "seen" first, when the day is young and the weight of evil in the world has not yet clouded the proceedings. As the judgment proceeds and more and more accumulated wickedness (sadly, all too common in the world) is added to the scale, it creates a negative context that we very much want to avoid.
How does win a place at the head of the line? Here's where the three metaphors come in:
1) When sheep leave the corral, it's usually the strongest that push their way out first. Similarly, some people win a spot in front of the line by the strength of their virtue; righteous people earn the right to go first.
2) Soldiers march in formation, as dictated by their commander - theirs not to reason why or make reply. Similarly, some people are awarded a favorable spot for no reason known to Man. We trust that G-d, in His infinite wisdom and compassion, has calculations we are not privy to.
3) At a mountain pass, it's all about timing. When there's only room for one person at a time, it's first come, first served. Similarly, when all things are equal, those who have "arrived first" by preparing themselves mentally, emotionally and spiritually for Rosh HaShanah, ought to be given special consideration and a good spot on the line.
In practical terms, the third category is the most relevant. Regardless of how righteous we are - or aren't - preparing for Rosh HaShanah is something we can all do. It's simply a matter of finding a few moment to study, think and introspect - and begin taking the smallest step in the right direction. This can earn us not only the right to get ahead and win a favorable year, but the limitless blessings and Heavenly assistance to change our lives permanently for the better.
(Based on an essay on Kochvei Ohr, by Rabbi Y. Blazer)
Related Articles: Elul, Thoughts for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur