For the High Holidays

From Rabbi Zeldman of Aish

We look at Rosh HaShana as a 'day of judgement'. It's almost overwhelming to think that everything that happened in this past year, to us, our friends and the world, were all decreed one year ago. The people that have been born, those that died, got engaged, married, divorced, the war with Hamas, our financial fortunes, Malaysian Flight 370, our jobs, Ebola and everything in between. Who ever heard of ISIS a year ago?

So it makes sense that when we pray on Rosh HaShana, we take seriously the words of the prayers "who will live and who will die; who by fire and who by water,...". 

But when we come to synagogue with our prayers and wishes for the coming year, we can almost envision God responding and asking "I'm willing to give you what you want, but tell me: why do you want it?" 

Why should God give us these blessings?

Imagine a person comes to their boss at the end of the year and asks for a $5000 bonus. The boss would likely say "Why should I give it to you?" If your response is "I want to take a luxury vacation, buy more video games, and have more fun", the boss would have to be in a pretty good mood to honor your request. 

But what if you said "I want the money to be able to do a better job, to take a course in time management, to learn better ways of being more productive, to upgrade my skills"? Then you're really asking the boss to invest in the growth of their own company. If the boss trusts that you'll really use the money in the right way, then of course they'll want to make the investment (PS I take no responsibility if you actually try this...).

What's perplexing is that on Rosh HaShana, the machzor (prayerbook), which is the script we go through in our days in the heavenly court, hardly every focuses on our personal lives, our wishes, our desires. The vast majority of the prayers are about declaring God's "kingship". What does that mean? 

It's our desire for the world to be more Godly, more holy. A world where God, the Jewish version of God, reigns, is a world where people take chesed seriously. It's a world where people really care about each other. It's a world that's more outraged by ISIS beheading people than by Israel defending itself against missiles. It's a world where there's more tzedaka and love, and less kidnappings and honor killings. 

So our prayers on Rosh HaShana are essentially about trying to align ourselves with God's plan. We want the world to be a better place, and we want to help get it there. If we're able to say "God, invest in me, give me the resources, the talents, and the successes to get YOUR job done", that's a very powerful prayer that should certainly inscribe and seal us and our families in the book of life.