When the sun sets this coming Wednesday, we will be at the start of a new year marked by two consecutive days of Rosh Hashana.
The first day of Rosh Hashana is on the first of Tishrei, the first day of the Jewish calendar year, which according to the Torah is a festival: “And in the seventh month [Tishrei], on the first day, there shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall not perform any mundane work. It shall be a day of shofar sounding for you.” (Numbers 29:1) Ancient Jewish tradition considers Rosh Hashana to be a Day of Judgment; a day when G-d examines all of humanity and determines for each one what kind of year the upcoming one will be. It is very interesting to read the words of our sages who picturesquely described man standing before G-d on Rosh Hashana: “On New Year, all mankind pass before him like children of Maron.”
“What is the meaning of the expression ‘like children of Maron?’ In Babylon it was translated, ‘like a flock of sheep.’ Resh Lakish said: ‘As [in] the ascent of Beit Maron’ (a narrow passageway between two valleys that people can only pass through in single file). Rabbi Judah said in the name of Samuel: ‘Like the troops of the House of David’ (counted one at a time).” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana, folio 18) In these three parables used by Talmud sages, there is one theme that repeats itself: On Rosh Hashana, each person stands on his or her own, alone. We stand alone, despite our efforts on this day to be part of the congregation in order to ease the judgment and avoid the focus on ourselves.
What is the meaning of this special emphasis? Would it make any difference if that same “judgment” was made for each person on his or her own versus for all of humanity? As in many other cases, here too we can understand the words of our sages by examining other things in the Mishna and Talmud. In another place, we find a Mishna dealing with a unique question: Why was man created alone? As we know, in the description of creation in the book of Genesis, we are told of “the first human being” who was created alone. This description raised the question: Why weren’t human beings created in mass numbers, since after a short process anyway, human beings multiplied and became great in number? The Mishna offers several explanations of which we will look at one: “It was for this reason that man was first created as one person... to express the grandeur of The Holy One: For a man strikes many coins from the same die, and all the coins are alike. But the King, the King of Kings, The Holy One strikes every man from the die of the First Man, and yet no man is quite like his friend.”
And the Mishna’s conclusion of this explanation is even more surprising: “Therefore each and every one should say: ‘The world was created for me.’” (Tractate Sanhedrin Chapter 4, Mishna 5) What is the meaning of “The world was created for me?” Does the Mishna mean to boost our ego and tell us that we should focus on our own desires without considering the needs of the other? Of course not! No one would disagree with the fact that each person is special.
Every person has special strengths, specific desires, personal traits that are only his. G-d who created the world created in each person the abilities unique only to him – “no man is quite like his friend.”
For this reason, every person has a special role in this world that only he can fill. One person can worry about the welfare of another in a special way, while another can do so differently. One person can increase love in the world in a specific manner, while someone else would do in a completely different way. There are those whose role it is to maintain the law, and others whose job it is to make the law suit reality. One person has the ability to change society, while another may only be capable of changing himself.
Therefore, each person should say, “The world was created for me.”
This is not a declaration meant to boost one’s ego. On the contrary. It is a declaration to take responsibility.
What you are capable of doing in this world, I am not capable of doing. What you can contribute to humanity, I cannot contribute. The world is waiting for you, and only you, to bestow upon it what only you can give.
Now we can comprehend why the sages of the Talmud used those allegories, of everyone surrounding the same point one by one, when trying to describe man standing before G-d on Rosh Hashana.
A person who stands in judgment on Rosh Hashana has to know and internalize that he is being examined for what he, and only he, can do. When we expect a good and happy year, we must understand that it will be one to the extent that we indeed discover the unique strengths inherent in each and every one of us and use them. When we stand before G-d on Rosh Hashana and plead for a good year, we must remember that G-d expects and demands the unique contribution that only we can give to the world.
Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, of the great leaders of the Hassidic movement, once said, “When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won’t ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham,’ rather, they will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’ Why didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path that could have been mine.”
And if he said this, what are we to say on the Day of Judgment? This understanding actually has the power to calm us since we are not being required to do what we are incapable of doing, and we are not being required to do self-examination about what is outside the realm of our unique role. On the other hand, this understanding comes with great responsibility since what we are supposed to contribute no one else can do for us.
There is a job for each and every one of us, and we are supposed to carry it out faithfully and wholeheartedly.
If we internalize this, we will be able to stand before G-d on Rosh Hashana and sincerely request: “Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life – for Your sake, O Living G-d,” so that we will be able to carry out Your mission in this world! The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.