A reflection on Rosh Hashanah: Who is judging and what is being judged?

I’ve been reflecting on the theme of judgment during Rosh HaShanah and its relationship to the “mitzah of the day” – the blowing of the Shofar. I’ve been aware of a stirring within to reach a new understanding, to hold a new intention and to experience a new way to embrace this two day sacred moment in time.

We commonly refer to this holiday as Rosh HaShanah – the head or the beginning of the year. The Jewish tradition teaches that this is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, hence each year we pause to acknowledge the birthday of the human being.

The Torah refers to this day as Yom Teruah – The Day of Blowing the Horn (Numbers 29:1). Traditionally the Blowing of the Horn expresses the yearly coronation of God as King of the Universe.

The Oral Law applies the name Yom HaDin – The Day of Judgment (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1,2 and Talmud Rosh HaShanah 16b). This is because on the very day that Adam and Eve were created they transgressed the prohibition not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God judged them and expelled them from the Garden of Eden so they would not then eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. Among the other punishments, perhaps the most severe was the introduction of mortality (Genesis 3:22-24). Every year since, God judges each human being on this same day and decides whether or not to continue blessing that individual with life — or not.

For the past month I have been contemplating and reflecting on these three themes. This process has been in the backdrop of the many teachings and ideas that I have been blessed to receive from an eclectic and diverse group of profound thinkers, educators and Rabbinic leaders. I keep asking myself, “What now? What next? What does this mean specifically to my unique journey? Can the three be integrated into one harmonious teaching with a complexity similar to an extraordinary vintage, or are they destined to remain separate, each one possessing its own lessons.”

As I ponder on the traditional Rosh HaShanah prayer service I am soon to engage in, I ask myself who in fact is judging and what is being judged? “To pray” in Hebrew is lehitpalel. However this really does not mean to beseech or to request — hence it does mean to pray. Rather, the etymology of the word derives from “to judge”, and the word is in the self-reflexive. The prayer process on Rosh HaShanah, as with every other prayer service, is one of self judgment.

It is an opportunity to reach deep inside of oneself, through quieting the mind, seeking to encounter the Divine Presence within. It is the path to an immanent, intimate and personal experience, rather than a transcendental one. Instead of desperately trying in vain, as I have on and off for the past 44 years to connect to an idea, a concept, a belief, a theology, someone else’s interpretation, or a “something” external to me, this year I am embarking on a new journey.

This year I am going to focus inwardly, attempting to hear that “still small voice” within me that always speaks but is not always heard. There are of course no guarantees and I have no idea where this will lead, BUT, I feel compelled to enter this new space where the deeper me, the pure me, the part of me that is Godly, resides and dwells. And from this space I will experience judgment.

But what is being judged? Well of course, my life will be judged. And by what “gold standard” is my life being judged? Again, I seek a new perspective, a new encounter, a new experience. And THAT is exactly what lies at the core of the judgment.

My sense is that I will be forced to answer the question, “From what Tree have I been eating during this past year?”   Have I been partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, aka the Tree of Judgment between this and that and the Tree of Details that separates one from another. OR, have I been eating from the Tree of Life, aka the Tree of Experience, the Tree of being my “All” rather than a part. OR perhaps, and most likely, have I been ingesting from both?

Maybe what I am about to enter is a space where I am judging myself to in fact discern if I indeed want to live, really LIVE this coming new year? And if I am blessed by God to do so, will it be to eat more from the Tree of Judgment or from the Tree of Experience?

I hope that the Blowing of the Shofar will remind me of that primal voice deep deep inside of my core, in the very marrow of my existence, in that place that possesses the answer. I hope that the Blowing of the Shofar will call out to me to reclaim all those moments of Living that I lost this year as I ate from the Tree that separates rather than unites, from the Tree that leads to conflict rather than harmony, from the Tree that judges life rather than experiences life. I hope that the Blowing of the Shofar will arouse within me to call out to God to guide and inspire me to live a life worthy of the blessing of Life by how in fact I live my life, a life dedicated to encountering the Divine Presence, the Shechinah, both within me and within others.

As I prepare to open the outer me to the inner me, I only ask of God, to judge His/Her creations favorably enough so that we may all have the opportunity to partake much more from the Tree of Experience and much less from the Tree of Judgment, regardless of how many 24 hour days we may continue to live during this coming New Year.

About the Author
Yiscah Smith is the author of Forty Years in the Wilderness: My Journey to Authentic Living. A documentary on her life, I Was Not Born a Mistake, will be out fall in Israel and North America. She lives in Jerusalem and teaches at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and in her home in Jerusalem.
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