November 23, 2021

Rosh Hashanah 8

We are taught in today’s daf (Rosh Hashanah 8a) that Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said that the first of Tishrei is the New Year for judgement. And how does he derive this? From Devarim 11:12 where we are told how God observes our behaviour מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה – ‘from the beginning of the year until the end of year’, which Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak explains to mean that ‘from the beginning of the year, judgement is issued [concerning] what will occur at its end’. What we learn from here is that God does not just judge us on beginnings but also ends; not just on how we start projects but also on how they conclude.

Significantly, some years ago I read a fascinating insight on this verse from Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) who asks why the verse speaks of ‘the beginning of the year (הַשָּׁנָה)’ and ‘the end of year (שָׁנָה)’? Why doesn’t it conclude by referring to ‘the end of the year (הַשָּׁנָה)’?

He answers that, oftentimes, people begin a year by saying how this will be ‘the’ year that they improve, and ‘the’ year that they progress. But as the days and months pass, they often fall back to their regular habits and behaviour and at the end of the year, they come to realise that it was just שָׁנָה – like other previous years. Yet in contrast to this, some recite the following words in Kedusha: הֵן גָּאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַחֲרִית כְּרֵאשִׁית – ‘behold I have redeemed you in later times as in earlier times’ – which Rabbi Teitelbaum explains to mean that God will redeem us when the end of our year is consistent with our resolution at its beginning.

Bringing this back to our daf, when Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak explains that ‘from the beginning of the year, judgement is issued [concerning] what will occur at its end’, it seems to be that we are judged each year based on the gap between our goals, and what we fulfil, in accordance with the opportunities and limitations that we encounter throughout the year.

With this in mind, perhaps today is a good day for us to think back to our hopes, vision and goals for this year that we set for ourselves on Rosh Hashanah (which was just six weeks ago!), to ask ourselves how they are going, and to take a second look at our plans in terms of how we intend to achieve what we set out to do.

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