Rosh HaShanah: For the Goyyim, Too

Jerusalem, Israel – Erev (The Day Before) Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year

OK, so here it is.

In a few hours, we will be standing in synagogue, ushering in the annual Day of Judgment, when all people are judged one by one before the Creator.

I could be helping my wife prepare the house for the two-day holiday. But I’m not. She’s letting me take care of an idea that has bitten me and won’t let me go.

You see, we Jews have been too busy trying to survive the long and painful Exile to spend any time worrying about the well-being of anyone else. But that is over, because almost a majority of us are now living back in the Land they we were booted from 2,000 year ago. That’s a quantum change in our status, which gives us the luxury of moving away from self-focus, and preparing for the task that has been set before us: to be ‘Or LeGoyyim’, a ‘Light to the Nations’ (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6).

Early morning light pouring in from the Temple Mount.
Early morning light pouring in from the Temple Mount.

(By the way; note that this word ‘goyyim’ is a biblical word that has the simple meaning of ‘nations’. It has no positive or negative connotations; it just illustrates an element of the Judeo-centric world view which divides Humankind into two: The Jewish Nation, and the other nations of the world. Again, only as a product of exilic thinking did the terms ‘goy’ (singular) and ‘goyyim’ (plural) take on a pejorative meaning. That too is gone now. Now, when we say goyyim, we mean everyone else but Israel.)

Well here is the news: it turns out that Rosh HaShanah, the new year, is for the Goyyim as well!

With this in mind, I have spent the past few days wishing the Muslim Arab people I know who work at the Western Wall a ‘Shanah Tovah’, a good year.

But wait. The Jewish New Year is not like the Christian one which is celebrated by drinking and watching illuminated balls fall in Times Square. The Jewish New Year is, as mentioned above, the Day of Judgment for all people of the earth. HaShem (God) sizes every human being up, looking at what he or she did over the past year, and passes judgment for the coming year.

In such a situation, the most important thing of all is something called: ‘Teshuvah’ (Return). Return from doing what we want to do, to doing what is right in the eyes of HaShem. That’s a tricky task.

Judaism teaches that all Jews are subject to a vast system of halacha (‘the way’) based upon six hundred and thirteen separate commandments as listed in the Torah — the Five Books of Moses, the first section of the Hebrew Bible. Non-Jews, on the other hand, are, according to tradition, subject to seven commandments, or rather groups of commandments — the Seven Commandments of the Children of Noah, a subset of what Jews are required to do.

In the month prior to Rosh HaShanah, Jews are asked to go through a deep self-inspection process. What did I do this past year? What did I do that was right, i.e., in line with the commandments that HaShem has given us? What did I do that was against those commandments? What must I do in the coming year to correct what I have done wrong?

This process of introspection is called Teshuva — Return — returning to who we are really supposed to be.

Don’t worry. No-one is perfect, and every person makes mistakes, either unwillingly or willingly. The key is to admitting to those mistakes, expressing remorse over the harm we have caused to ourselves and others, and committing ourselves with a complete heart to doing better in the future.

That’s it. And that is for the Goyyim as well!

One other thing: HaShem judges collectives as well as individuals. The judgment of nations is an aggregate of the behavior of the individuals making up those nations. So there is an ironclad way of success — making sure that every individual is doing his or her best to do Teshuva. Then, the judgment of any given nation will also be good.

Not TOO complicated, is it? Here is the place to express my personal hope that each person in the world will take upon him or herself the challenge of doing Teshuva, making sure that each nation is judged favorably — which could mean real peace in our world after all those years of strife.

About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.
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