In addition to the name Rosh Hashana, the first day of the new year is also known as “Yom Hadin/the day of Judgment.” In one of the central and climactic prayers of the day, “Unetana tokef,” we read that God determines on Rosh Hashana who will live and who will die, who will be rich and who will be poor, who will have peace and who will suffer. But the Alter Rebbe reveals the stunning secret of the deeper and more essential judgment of the day.
This secret is gleaned from the verse from Psalms that refers to the holiday: “Tiku b’chodesh shofar ba’keseh l’yom chagenu. Ki chok l’Yisroel hu, mishpat l’E-lohei Yaacov/ Sound the shofar on the New Moon, on the appointed time for the day of our festival. For it is a statute for Israel, the judgment of the God of Jacob” (Psalms 81:4-5).
The phrase “mishpat l’E-lohai Yaacov” is simply translated as “the judgment of the God of Jacob,” yet according to its Kabbalistic interpretation, the Alter Rebbe renders it “the judgment of Godliness for Jacob.” He thus explains that what is ultimately judged and determined on Rosh Hashana is the extent to which Godliness will be revealed to a person in the coming year. Will her/his essence continue to be concealed from her/him, or will s/he finally be granted the vision to see the Godliness at the root and core of everything?
In the Alter Rebbe’s own words: “Behold it is written ‘a judgment for the God of Jacob,’ meaning that there is a judgment above concerning who will merit to be at such a level that Godliness will be revealed to him” (Likkutei Torah, Atem Nitzavim, sec. 5).
This is our ultimate ask on Rosh Hashana – not merely for life or health or wealth or happiness – but for the ability to see God within us and within every single thing we encounter. With this vision, we will be aware at every moment that this too is part of Hashem’s infinite oneness, and we will therefore enjoy true life, true health, true wealth, and true happiness. We pray not only that we ourselves should be granted this vision, but that every one of God’s creatures should see the Godliness in everything as well. When we are all cognizant of this essence that unifies each and every one of us, all conflict will evaporate and there will be peace and amity throughout the creation.
There are those who shudder in dread on Rosh Hashana, afraid of the divine judgment that will determine their fate for the year ahead. But our fear should be focused not on the verdict of our our physical and material wellbeing; our greatest fear is that we will live another year in the dark, unaware of our divine essence and of the consummate elegance of our existence.
It is the genuine desire to see Hashem that will earn us the positive judgment of His vision. If we have neglected seeking Him diligently in the past year, we resolve to seek Him more aggressively and proactively in the year ahead. It is the study of His Torah and the practice of His mitzvos that help us to hone this vision, and we therefore commit to deeper study and more disciplined practice. In response to such earnest commitment, Hashem will surely open our eyes and allow Himself to be revealed in the year ahead.
May Hashem judge each of us positively and sign us all in the book of vision!