Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rosh Hashanah - ראש השנה

עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאֵין אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הֹולֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן... (פרקי אבות: ג,א)

Akavya ben Mahal'el says: "Reflect on three things and you will not come to sin. Know where you come from, where you are going, and before Whom you will give 'din' and 'cheshbon'..." (Pirkei Avot: 3,1)

The Vilna Gaon explains that the terms דין (Judgement) and חשבון (Account) are very similar to one another and could both in fact be translated approximately as "reckoning." The first term means that we are reckon a full account of all the misdeeds we have committed in the previous year, whereas the second term - חשבון - refers to the quantity of good deeds we reckon we could have instead performed in the time we wasted. As such, not only are our sins themselves punishable, but we are also judged for forgoing opportunities to do good with this time and for wasting the opportunity to fulfill our potential in general.

Rav Yitzchak Ze'ev Soloveitchik (also known as the Brisker Rav) was noted to have asked why we are only judged for the time committed to doing sins. Why are we not judged on our usage of time, all of the time? If we are expected to use all the time given to us to perform mitzvot and fulfill our potential, then surely we should be held accountable to every second of our lives. If someone doesn't sin but simply wastes time, he asked, surely that time too could have been better spent? Rav Soloveitchik's answer, to my mind, reflects Hashem's quality of mercy: Because we often have the intent to do good deeds, but for whatever reason, things get in our way, we are not judged for this time.

Over the course of our prayers, we pray to Hashem in two capacities:אבינו and מלכנו. We petition him first and foremost as our father, lobbying him to act with compassion and mercy instead of purely judging us. I think here we have one of the prime examples of how Hashem, despite applying judgement, chooses to exercise leniency in his decisions. Every day we are given 86,400 second to use as we wish, but in reality, how many of those do we utilise for keeping the Torah's laws? This time, instead of resolving my Dvar Torah with a tidy answer, maybe a question serves best: This year, how can we better use our time? Instead of being ashamed that we didn't do our best, that we could have done more, and instead of needing to rely on Hashem's compassion quite so much, how can we improve our position this time next year?

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