Tonight it is Rosh HaShana and we enter a new year, 5766. Time for teshuva, time for collecting one’s thoughts about the past and making new resolutions for the future.
Rosh HaShana is the day on which we make God king over the world. It is also Yom HaDin, the day of judgement, the day when all creation passes before God and is judged for the coming year. In ten days’ time it will be Yom Kippur, the day of repentance and atonement, the day on which we confess our sins before God and ask for forgiveness.
One wonders about the order of things here. Surely the order needs to be reversed: we should first detail our sins and ask for forgiveness and only then be judged and accept God’s rule as king. How dare we we come before God and make him our king while still not being purified from our sins?
The reason for this requires a look into the human psyche and may be illustrated using the following story. One important gentleman was a source of pride to his family and his community. He was intelligent and wealthy and dedicated his time and money to help others. But he had one fault: he was an alcoholic. Every now and then he would get completely drunk and bring disgrace upon himself and his family. To try and make him realise his bad ways, his sons took him for a ride in the street and showed him a homeless drunk who was sprawled on the sidewalk, knocked out from too much alcohol. They told their father: see, this is what you look like when you get drunk. The man looked at the drunk, got off the car, approached him and whispered a few words in his ear. The drunk looked up and answered. Upon returning to the car, the man’s sons were curious about this exchange. Their father smiled and said: I asked him where he got the good stuff that made him this superbly drunk…
The morale from this story is the following. For us to be able to repent for our sins in a serious manner we need first to have a ray of light, a beacon of hope. One cannot fight against a bad reality without any hope, when still mired and lost in sin. If we are not shown an alternative of good, it is difficult for us to extricate ourselves from the bad. The man was not shown an alternative; he was shown only bad, therefore he was unable to pull himself up and improve.
In Rosh HaShana we are shown the alternative. God is made king and we see the light of his kingdom. After this uplifting experience, after we are shown the alternative of good, we are more prepared to come before Him and ask for forgiveness on Yom Kippur. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that for us human beings to be able to help ourselves, we need to have some hope in order to be able to truly repent and mend our ways. This hope is given to us in the form of Rosh HaShana.
Shana Tova to all.