Rosh Hashana 5783

Part 1 – Day of Judgment, Forgiveness and Safety

“A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains; the world, and those who live in it.” (Ps. 24:1)

On Rosh Hashana (literally, “Head of the Year”), we sing, speak and pray about this particular Psalm. The theme of the day is renewing our coronation of the Lord of all the earth and acknowledging His rule over us.

Jewish tradition says that GOD began creating the world on the 25th of the month of Elul (the sixth month), and by the time He created man it was the 1st of Tishrei (the seventh month). Only then did He become King – because there is no king without subjects to honor him!

Does that mean that if people do not acknowledge the Creator, He will stop being King? Hardly! All things in the universe praise Him endlessly, each in their own way, “for He commanded and they were created.” (Ps. 148:5) But humans are the only creatures in the cosmos who can explore, analyze and appreciate what He has created – its goodness, precision, durability, and overwhelming complexity. Our own bodies, as King David observed, are “awesomely and wonderfully made.” (Ps. 139:14) And he knew nothing at all, compared to what we know about the human body today!!

So, as a human being, I can spend my days honoring the King and Creator, or trying to ignore Him. As David so well expressed it, there is really no such thing as living without Him:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol [the grave], behold, You are there. If I take up the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will take hold of me.” (Ps. 139:7-10)

Psalm 24 tells us how we are to behave, so that “the King of Glory will come in” through our gates. And when He comes, His first act is like that of the ancient monarchs: He sits as Judge, to receive an accounting from His subjects on their actions, to measure their behavior by His righteous laws, and to decree rewards or punishments accordingly.

Because He is merciful, our King accepts repentance from those who have broken His laws. He allows us, the transgressors, time to make amends with those who were hurt, offended or led astray by our sins.

We have yet another advantage: This merciful Judge is also our Heavenly Father. In every way, He is our Source of life, our Provider, and our Protector from all evil. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom should I dread?” (Ps. 27:1)

 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, GOD. My soul thirsts for GOD, for the living GOD….” (Ps. 42:1) Thus wrote the sons of Korah, who had seen their earthly father receive the harshest punishment imaginable for his sin. Their response was not only free of bitterness against the Judge for that verdict, but they ran to breathlessly seek Him – like a deer dying of thirst.

All these witnesses tell us that we can trust the Creator’s judgment, and that we should consider any punishment He sends as discipline from the wisest of all Parents, Lawgivers or Rulers. We are to count it as a sign that we really are His beloved children:

“My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD, or loathe His rebuke; for whom the Lord loves He disciplines, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.” (Prov. 3:11-12)

It’s clear that we all need forgiveness for something, since the Preacher wrote, “there is not a righteous person on earth who always does good and does not ever sin.” (Eccles. 7:20) There is literally no one on the earth who does not sin (1 Kings 8:46, 2 Chron. 6:36). We cannot receive forgiveness, however, until we acknowledge specifically what we’ve done that requires forgiveness. Living in denial will only make us miserable, and even physically sick (Ps. 32:3-4).

The wise Preacher also urged us to extend forgiveness to those who sinned against us, and to look in the mirror before calling down judgment on them: “Do not take seriously all the words which are spoken, so that you do not hear your servant cursing you; for you know that even you have cursed others many times as well.” (Eccles. 7:21-22)

For this reason, during the season of Rosh Hashana both receiving and giving forgiveness are high priorities. It’s a time to sit quietly before the King of kings, and to apply the Light of His word in order to discover where we need cleansing. Our goal is to live in His presence the whole year round, with a clean conscience and a joyful heart.

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple…. When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘I shall seek Your face, LORD’…. Teach me Your way, LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” (Ps. 27)

Of course, to “dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life” doesn’t mean that I quit my job, leave my family, and move into a house of prayer 24/7. Even the writer of those words, David, spent many years first caring for sheep, then fighting battles, and finally ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel. Yet his heart was continually with the Creator, regardless of what his hands were doing at the moment.

The Psalmist highly recommended that we do likewise. He found the Creator to be a spiritual dwelling place that provides protection against a host of earthly threats: “the trapper… the deadly plague… the terror by night… the arrow that flies by day… the plague that stalks in darkness… the destruction that devastates at noon…. For you have made the LORD, my Refuge, the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will happen to you, nor will any plague come near your tent.” (Ps. 91:3-6, 9-10)

Given how often “plague” is mentioned in this chapter, its advice is supremely relevant for today.

But dwelling with the Holy One requires “clean hands and a pure heart,” along with a soul free from deceit (Ps. 24:4). That’s why we are given a holy time-out to examine our hands, heart, and soul, to make the necessary confessions and repairs, to give and receive the forgiveness and cleansing that will open the Refuge to us. This is the message of Rosh Hashana, in Scripture called the Day of the Shofar Blast, and the Day of Remembrance.

May the Lord of all the earth hear our prayers and grant us to be listed in His Book of Life.

A happy and sweet New Year, a year of forgiveness and protection, to all our dear friends. Be blessed by the Most High from Zion and Jerusalem,

Mordechai ben Yakov


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