Rosh HaShanah תש”פ
Every Jewish holiday has its unique theme. Shabbat’s theme focuses on the Seven Days of Creation. Pesach focuses on the Jewish nation’s exodus from Egypt and its birth as a nation, and Shavuot focuses on receiving the Torah. What is Rosh HaShanah’s theme and what makes it the “Day of Judgment” for every person in the world, as stated in the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 1:2)?
בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה כָּל בָּאֵי הָעוֹלָם עוֹבְרִין לְפָנָיו כִּבְנֵי מָרוֹן
“On Rosh HaShanah every person in the world passes in front of HaShem like sheep being counted.”
Rosh HaShanah, the first day of the month of Tishrei, is the day on which HaShem created the world. Yet our Sages explain that on the twenty-fifth of the previous month, Elul, HaShem had already begun the process with, “Let there be light!” Hence, the First of Tishrei actually corresponds to the Sixth Day of Creation, the day on which Man was created. Because the world wasn’t considered “complete” until Man was created, humanity being the purpose of Creation (and, without Mankind, the world is meaningless) Rosh HaShanah truly celebrates the creation of the world- Man.
There are many ways to see that Humanity is the purpose of Creation.
When HaShem created Man, He gave him the following instructions (Genesis 1:28):
“וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹקִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹקִים, פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל הָאָרֶץ.”
“HaShem blessed them and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land and conquer it and rule over the fish in the sea, the birds of the heavens, and every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Man was given control of the entire creation. Every other creature is born into a conducive habitat with the instincts that it needs to live, eat, and reproduce. This existence, though, is extremely limited. Most creatures can only survive in the habitat into which they were born and will live their entire lives as an integral part of that ecosystem. Each member of the ecosystem contributes its vital element to the whole and depends on the other members’ contributions to operate. Each contributing creature does only one thing and will do it over and over until it dies. All bees make their honey comb in the exact same way and produce only honey. No bee will ever spin silk like a spider. Bees are bees, and spiders are spiders. Do you think a spider ever wished that it could produce honey like a bee? He’s so busy spinning his webs, he doesn’t have a clue that his friend the bee makes such delicious honey. The same is true of every other creature on the planet. They are all “one trick ponies,” and they were created to provide a service to Man.
Leaf-cutter ants live in a private ecosystem. They cut and transport pieces of leaf to their den where they actively cultivate a fungus, feeding it the freshly cut plant material. The ant larvae then consume the cultivated fungus while the adult ants feed on leaf sap. The fungus needs the adult ants to stay alive, and the larvae need the fungus to stay alive.
Man has no instincts and is not bound to live in any specific habitat, although some are more comfortable than others. We have been given a brilliant and ingenious brain that allows us to observe and learn the unique trick of each creature and to channel it for our own use. Man can also live anywhere in the world by creating a suitable environment for himself.
Man also uses the rest of the world for his benefit. We eat the fruits of the trees and the grains and vegetables from the ground. We use animals for our food, shoes, clothing, and so many other uses. We use every part of a slaughtered animal; nothing goes to waste. Man harvests the bee’s honey, processes it, and dips the apple into it on Rosh HaShanah. Man actually raises bees for their honey, keeping bee farms to also provide him a livelihood. Man is clearly king of the animal and plant kingdoms.
A brief look at anything around you, your computer, cellphone, house, automobile, etc. reveals that we humans have done a masterful job of obeying HaShem’s commandment to conquer the world by using its resources. We cut down the trees for furniture and paper, mine the earth for its ores and fashion them into a myriad of objects, including wire to conduct electricity so vital to our electronic infrastructure. There is no end to the number of brilliant innovations we have come up with to make life easier and more enjoyable. The 10,000,000th patent was awarded on June 20, 2018, and that is just here in America. Inventors have been inventing stuff for thousands of years all over the world!
What enables us to harvest so much benefit from HaShem’s incredible world is our growing ability to understand it. Through scientific research, we have discovered many of the principles and formulae that HaShem put into nature, and we use them to discover, invent and improve more and more things.
Scientists marvel that Creation is so understandable to the human mind. The formulae for the twenty-two laws of physics that hold the world together can all be written on a single sheet of loose-leaf paper. They are both simple and elegant. Albert Einstein expressed it so eloquently when he said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Why should that be? Why should a mere mortal be able to fathom the exquisite, deep wisdom that HaShem put into Creation?
The only answer is that because HaShem wants us to take advantage of it; He gave us the tools to figure out His amazing handiwork.
Based on a verse in Isaiah (24:4) the Sages compare the world to a book. The verse says:
“וְנָגֹלּוּ כַסֵּפֶר הַשָּׁמָיִם”
“And the heavens (and everything that came forth from them) became revealed like a book.”
How is the world like a book? When a person has ideas and thoughts he wishes to share with others, he writes them in a book. His book is a collection of possibly millions of different letters, thoughtfully brought together to form words, which form sentences, which form paragraphs, which form chapters that convey the author’s ideas and thoughts to the reader. From reading the book, the reader gains knowledge and understanding of the author’s thinking as presented in the book.
In the same sense, our world is not a collection of millions of random items that have nothing to do with each other that simply coexist. Our world is not a haphazard group of random ecosystems operating in the wild independent of each other. Our world is like a book in which every one of its millions of letters is deliberately and thoughtfully placed exactly where it is, to complete a word with meaning in context with all the other letters around it to express a coherent thought. Our world is one unit comprising millions of components, joining and working in tandem to create a suitable place for Man to live. For whom did HaShem write His book? Whom does He want to impress? Who on the planet can read it? Only human beings! If we only open our eyes, we will see and be dazzled by the beauty and brilliance of the Creator Who created this magnificent incredible world for us.
The greatest evidence that Man is king of the world is that Man can also destroy it. With his deep understanding of Creation comes the singular ability to destroy it. Man is the only creature in Creation that does not add to the balance of nature. Bats eat insects keeping the world from becoming overrun with insects, and snakes eat mice keeping the mouse population tolerable. Man does nothing for the world but use its resources for his own purposes. Man rules the world and can destroy it, either slowly by selfishly depleting or polluting its resources crucial for life’s continued existence, or by pressing a button to end all life on earth in a matter of moments. Animals can only do their one thing, and while many animals eat other animals, the balance is established such that they never eat them to extinction. HaShem has placed a balance in the world between predators and prey.
Scientists are discovering more and more how closely connected to each other are the world’s various components and how fragile is the balance between them. They are warning us of all kinds of impending disasters if we don’t curtail our reckless disregard for our delicate environment and limited resources.
Rosh HaShanah, the first of Tishrei, is the day that HaShem blew the breath of life into the nostrils of the lifeless form of a man made of a clod of earth, Adam. With that, Adam became a living being, and Creation reached perfection.
Our Sages teach us that the world that HaShem created was a mature and complete one. The trees were created with rings of age and ripe fruit on them as if they had been growing for fifty years. The stars were created with their rays already shining down on the earth, and didn’t have to wait billions of light years for the ray to reach the surface of the earth.
Similarly, Adam was not created as a baby who had to grow up; rather, he was created as an adult with the intelligence and maturity of a twenty-seven-year-old. He was also HaShem’s hand-crafted person, and it would stand to reason that he was extremely intelligent. As we know well, HaShem doesn’t need to experiment; He gets it right the first time every time.
Imagine you are Adam at the moment that he came alive. Suddenly, in one second, you realize that you are alive! You breath the air, it is fresh and clean. You smell flowers around you (What is that delicious smell?) Then you open your eyes and start looking about. What you see completely takes your breath away! You lack the words to describe the beauty that surrounds you. Trees, flowers, animals, birds, brooks, and mountain ranges. Then you look up at the expansive clear blue sky and you are completely overwhelmed and intimidated; a feeling of awe and trepidation begins to infuse your emotions.
What would be your first questions? Where did I come from? Who am I? Why am I? What is all this amazing stuff surrounding me for?
If Man was created to live a material life like all the creatures that preceded him, why was he created as an individual and not with all of them? Why didn’t HaShem say “Let the earth be teaming with human beings!” like He did with the fish in he sea? If Man was expected to use his enormous intelligence and ingenuity only as a means of providing his daily bread, why wasn’t he endowed with the instincts needed, like all the other creatures ? Their system is really a much better one than ours. They have no unemployment whatsoever! And what would make Man different than the leaf-cutter ants who have a perfect system for procuring their food?
The answer is written in the Mishnah in Sanhedrin (4:5):
“לְפִיכָךְ נִבְרָא אָדָם יְחִידִי, לְלַמֶּדְךָ, שֶׁכָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ אִבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם עוֹלָם מָלֵא … לְפִיכָךְ כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד חַיָּב לוֹמַר, בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם”
“This is why Man was created alone (as a single individual, as opposed to a multitude all at the same time, as HaShem did with all the other creatures)? To teach you that whoever kills one person is as if he has destroyed a whole world; and whoever sustains one person, it is as if he has sustained an entire world. Therefore, each and every person is obligated to say, “The entire world was created for me!”
When Adam asked HaShem, “What is this all for?” HaShem answered, “For you!!”
“All this for lil’ ol’ me?” asked Adam. HaShem answered, “You mean the world to me! You are My whole world.” Yes, one person is important enough that HaShem would create the entire universe just for him. Now, no one of us is any different than Adam. Just as HaShem created the world for one person, Adam, so, too, He would do the exact same thing for every one of us. Just because there are other people around doesn’t change that. This is why the Mishnah tells us, Therefore, each and every person is obligated to say, “The entire world was created for me!”
This makes no sense. Why would HaShem go to the trouble of creating a universe the likes of ours for just one person? That sounds absurd! What’s in it for Him?
The Midrash teaches us.
“שנאמר “ויניחהו בגן עדן לעבדה ולשמרה”, ושמא תאמר כי יש מלאכה בגן עדן לפתח ולשדד את האדמה, ולא כל האלנות נצמחין מאליהן, או שמא תאמר יש מלאכה בגן עדן להשקות את הגן, והלא כבר נהר יוצא מעדן להשקות את הגן שנ’ ונהר יוצא מעדן וכו’, ומה הלשון הזה לעבדה ולשמרה, לא אמר לעבדה ולשמרה אלא לעסוק בדברי תורה ולשמור את כל מצותיה” (פרקי דרבי אליעזר פרק יב),
“The verse says (Genesis 2:15), “And HaShem put him in Gan Eden to work it and to guard it.” Maybe you think there was work to do in Gan Eden to dig up and prepare the soil, but all the trees grew on their own! Maybe you think he needed to irrigate the garden, but it already says that a river came from Eden to irrigate the garden. So what then does it mean, “to work it and to guard it?” It means to learn the Torah and keep its Mitzvot.”
Man was created in HaShem’s image to live a spiritual life on this earth. How does one model himself after HaShem and live in His Image? One brings holiness into himself by sanctifying himself through learning the holy Torah and performing its Mitzvot. With this we fulfill the commandment to follow HaShem’s ways and model ourselves after HaShem.
Each person is created different. Although, superficially, each of us may look like all the other people performing a particular Mitzvah, in reality, fulfilling a Mitzvah is completely different for everyone. A person’s unique makeup presents him with challenges that only he has, putting him in a different place than anyone else. Since he is different than any other person who ever was and who ever will be, HaShem has never been served before in exactly that way. This is why HaShem would have created the world for each of us. This being the very first time that HaShem has ever been served in this way, it is precious to Him.
But what is in it for HaShem? Is He so egotistical (G-d forbid!) that He needs us to serve Him? What does He get out of it?
Of course, the answer is that HaShem needs nothing from any of us, and, in truth, since HaShem is perfect, there is nothing at all that we can give Him. You can’t add to perfection.
HaShem created us solely to receive the goodness that He wished to bestow upon us. HaShem wants to give us only pleasure and enjoyment. Where we will receive that is in the world to come. And following HaShem’s instructions to learn Torah and perform His Mitzvot entitles us to receive that sublime reward. The Mitzvot provide the basis for HaShem giving us the reward that He created us to receive. By doing HaShem’s will, HaShem gets to give us the reward He wanted us to have—His purpose for having created us in the first place.
The questions that HaShem wants us to ask ourselves on Rosh HaShanah, the day on which He created us, are several. Why did HaShem create us? Why did HaShem create me?
Having a good answer to these questions is crucial on Rosh HaShanah because on Rosh HaShanahh HaShem judges every person on the planet, as the Mishnah notes. Because this was the day that HaShem decided to bestow the gift of life on the first man, this is the day that HaShem is doing the same for all of His creatures. It is thus befitting for a person to put thought into why HaShem should give him another year of life. Am I living up to HaShem’s expectations for me? Am I fulfilling the purpose for which I was created? If I am living my life for my own pleasure and do nothing for HaShem, why should He give me another year? What’s in it for Him?
HaShem did not create man to earn money so to buy food to eat, so he can have strength to work, to earn money to buy more food, ad infinitum. That’s okay for leaf-cutter ants, not people. HaShem put us here on this earth to earn reward by serving HaShem in the unique way that only each of us can. HaShem will reward each person handsomely in the world to come for his service in this world.
If we resolve on Rosh HaShanah to take a step forward towards this goal, for example by putting thought into doing a Mitzvah that we never did before, HaShem will surely give us a chance to fulfill our good wishes and grant us a healthy, happy new year!