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Who’s Judging?

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
September 30, 2016

Just over a hundred years ago an Italian salesman was sent to far islands to assess the market there for shoes.

He scouted around for a few days and then headed for the telegraph office to contact company headquarters.  He wrote back:  “Research complete.  Unmitigated disaster.  Nobody here wears shoes.”

The company ordered him back and upon his return a few weeks later, he gave in his report.

Not convinced, The Italian shoe manufacturer decided to send one of their fresh and hungry sales people with little experience.

On arriving on the first island and noticing that no one on the island wore shoes, excited and full of enthusiasm the salesman wired back: “The people here don’t wear shoes and I am only on the first island. There is a tremendous market here for us. I will like to investigate further.”

By the end of his trip he had managed to convince the tribal chiefs to take on the new initiative and sent in an order for tens of thousands of shoes.

Life presents its opportunities and they are there for the taking. It depends on our outlook and whether we are ready to move forwards.

Life does not get better by chance – it gets better by change!

With that in mind I would like to discuss with you a most intriguing piece of Gemara.

The Gemara tells us that on Rosh Hashanah (32b) “the books that record who will live and who will die are open before G-d.”

What does this expression mean? Are there only two possibilities life or death? What about all the people who are alive but their life is full of suffering? Isn’t that decreed on Rosh Hashanah too? What about wealth, health and satisfaction from children?

This question unlocks for us the deeper meaning of the judgement of Rosh Hashanah.

The Gemara (17b) asks the interesting question.

What if the Jewish people were found completely evil on Rosh Hashanah and it was decreed that they will have meagre rain, but in the end they changed their ways? To add more rain for them is not possible because the decree was already made. Instead, Hashem brings the rains down, when they are needed, and on areas where they are needed….

What if the Jewish people were found completely righteous on Rosh Hashanah, and it was decreed that they would have abundant rain, but in the end they changed their ways? To take rain away from them is not possible. Rather Hashem brings the rain down at the wrong times and on the areas where they are not needed.

These words are quite puzzling. According to a simple understanding of this, it comes out that the judgement of Rosh Hashanah hardly decides anything at all.  What does it matter how much rain was decreed on Rosh Hashanah if the real factor at play here will be the way the Jewish people will act during the year?

The answer to this lies with the beautiful words of the Rambam.

The Rambam (Mishna Torah Hilchot Teshuva 9:1) expounds on the Pasuk “Since you did not serve Hashem your G-d in joy and gladness of heart..”

“This means to say that if you served Hashem in joy…He bestows upon you these blessings… to the point that you will be free to grow wise in Torah and involve yourselves in it, so that you will merit the life of the World to Come. But if you left Hashem… He bring upon you all these curses ….and your mind will not be free nor your body sound, to do the Mitsvot, so that you will lose the life of the World to Come. Consequently you will have lost two worlds!

Livelihood, and all other forms of goodness bestowed upon us are neither reward nor punishment. Similarly everything that is decreed upon us on Rosh Hashanah is not reward and punishment.

Rather ‘life’ is decreed upon us meaning we are given the tools to build. The wealth, health and opportunity to engage in Torah and Mitsvot – to grow in our relationship with G-d.

Death represents the drying up of spiritual opportunity during the forthcoming year.

“Who will be poor?” means that the opportunity to give charity will be lacking, and “Who will be rich?” means that there will be plenty of opportunity to give to the needy.

Today on Rosh Hashanah a decree will be made upon each of us whether we have the opportunity to increase in our relationship with G-d, help others, give charity and learn and understand the Torah. We still have the free choice to take the time or money granted to us and use it for its intended purpose or Chas V’Shalom we could waste it.

In order to create the right opportunity change is needed. Like the Italian shoe salesman we need to take a new look and change certain bad habits.

Now is a time of change and advancement in your life.

Thomas Edison was quoted as once saying “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

On first glance I thought this quote was about working harder – putting in more hours and producing more output. But it’s not.

It’s not about working your fingers to the bone until you collapse in a heap (although that is sometimes part of the deal).

This isn’t about working harder, it’s about doing hard work.

Hard work is the work that ‘most people’ won’t do because it involves change and change is hard.

Changing the way we think and changing the way we act.

Hard work is rising to the challenge, overcoming fear and making difficult decisions.

Hard work is starting again after every failure.

Hard work involves being out of your comfort zone (maybe indefinitely).

Hard work is having difficult conversations.

Hard work is fixing damaged relationships.

Hard work is taking responsibility.

Hard work is about accepting criticism and dealing with rejection.

Hard work is changing ingrained habits and creating new behaviours.

‘Most people’ won’t do what needs to be done which makes it impossible to create the conditions under which opportunities can present themselves.

Don’t be ‘most people’.

Tizku Leshanim Rabot Tovot VeNeimot – LeShana Tova Tichtevu VeTichtemu!

Wishing you a fantastic new year ahead and may you be written and sealed in the book of LIFE.


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