The Gift of Rosh Hashanah

The historical significance of Rosh Hashanah seems simple enough: we are judged each year on Rosh Hashanah in connection with the anniversary of the day on which God created Adam and Eve in Gan Eden. Just as they sinned by eating from the fruit of the tree, were banished, and repented in the wake of their sin, so too God judges all humanity on this day, allowing us too the possibility of forgiveness and repentance on this day.

There’s one problem, though. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 10b) cites a debate concerning the day of creation, which does not appear anywhere explicitly in the Torah. Rabbi Eliezer adopts the conventional view that the world was created at the beginning of Tishrei. Rabbi Yehoshua, however, claims that the world was in fact created at the beginning of Nissan. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, then, we must pose a basic question: if it does not correspond the date of creation, why are we judged on Rosh Hashanah? What is the significance of this date?

Ran, in his commentary to R. Alfas on Rosh Hashanah, offers a remarkable suggestion, which implies a revolutionary understanding of the significance of this day. According to Rabbi Yeshoshua, Rosh Hashanah is not connected to the day of creation but to Yom Kippur. Knowing how difficult it would be for the Jewish people to have their destiny determined on one fateful day, the tenth of Tishrei, Hashem granted us Rosh Hashanah as a gift. It is a “tryout” day, on which God takes stock of what we have achieved, and offers us another week to continue working on ourselves in preparation for the ultimate day of atonement, Yom Ha-Kippurim.

For Ran, then, Rosh Hashanah emerges in a radically different light than we generally assume. Rather than viewing it merely as a strict day of judgment, Rosh Hashanah in fact emerges as a gift from God. It is a launching pad enabling us to better seize the opportunity of repentance and work toward a favorable judgment at the conclusion of the ten days of repentance.

Let us all seize the opportunity of the upcoming day of judgment. In doing so, may we merit a year of blessing for ourselves, our families, our people, and all humankind.

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