The world was born on Rosh Hashanah: as the machzor says, hayom harat olam. The entire planet, all of existence, is judged and found either worthy or lacking at this time each year. This is heady stuff. And I think that the tension that many of us feel this year as we approach Rosh Hashanah is the tension between the individual and the community, between the yachid and the rabim. We are all concerned about ourselves (by which I also mean our immediate families, of course), but at the same time we are also thinking about the klal – about our synagogue community, our school community, our towns, our state, our country, Israel, and the entire world.
My Rosh HaYeshiva at Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rav Yehuda Amital, zt’’l, taught that when Moshe went back up on Har Sinai, he went on his own, all alone. He was to carve the second set of tablets on his own — as an individual. Sometimes we need to look inside ourselves, alone, in order to be able to look beyond ourselves. Rav Amital, who survived the Shoah to fight in the War of Independence, said that he had lived through three periods in his life. The first, in Europe, was one of relative calm, when “no one worried about what was going to happen in the future… Everyone worried mainly about himself – who would live and who would die, who in his time and who before his time.” After that, explained Rav Amital, came the Holocaust, when everyone simply worried about their own survival. “Who spoke about the Jewish collective, the Jewish nation?” he asked. “People were worried about living to the next day.” But when the State of Israel was founded, people saw beyond themselves, and they began to worry about the entire nation, about Am Yisrael. At such a time, explained Rav Amital, “a person thinks: When there are such great worries, what does it matter if I’m a little better or a little worse? Is that really the issue – my personal problems? There are huge national problems!” Focusing on ourselves at such a time feels wrong; we need to focus on the problems facing everybody.
There is much for which to thank Hashem for this Rosh Hashanah, and much for which to ask as well. We cannot get too wrapped up in our own concerns that we forget the concerns of the entire people. (This point applies not only to our prayers but to our parenting as well. When we put our own concerns before those of the larger community, we can put others at risk – which is something that keeps those of us at work in schools awake at night. A parent sent me this excellent piece by a pediatrician on that very topic.)
One of the verses in the amidah which proclaims God’s kingship, his malchut, comes from the last parashah in the Torah. It reads: vayehi be-Yeshurun melech be-hitasef roshei am, yachad shivtei Yisrael, “when he was a king in Yeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together.” Rashi explains that the words hitasef… yachad mean that when all Jews gather together be-aguda achat, as one group, ve-shalom beineihem, with peace between them, then (and only then) can God reign as our king. May we find the balance between the many and the one, and may Hashem hear our tefilot.
With prayers for a healthy, successful year, one in which we are all united be-shalom.