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Who Are You?One By One, And All at a Single Glance
"On Rosh Hashana all the inhabitants of the world pass before him, Kibnei Maron (like those of Maron)." What does the Mishna mean by these last two words "those of Maron"? Here (in Bavel) it is translated as being based on an Aramaic word, "like sheep." Reish Lakish says they refer to "the steps of a narrow mountain path" (i.e., narrow, so that people have to pass by one by one). R. Yehudah, however, said in the name of Shmuel: (They mean) "like the armies of the house of David" (which were numbered one by one).
Said Rabba bar Bar Chana in the name of R. Yochanan: "In any case, they are surveyed at a single glance. And R. Nachman bar Yitzchak said: Thus also we understand the words of our Mishna: "He that fashioned all their hearts alike" (Tehillim 33:15], i.e., the Creator, sees all their hearts (at a glance) and (at once) understands all their works. (Rosh Hashana 18a)
The commentaries have struggled for centuries to understand these enigmatic statements of Chazal. This gemara is definitely trying to teach us something important that will enable us to understand the judgment of Rosh Hashana. Two beautiful explanations can be found in the sefer Ohr Yisroel (in the section called Kochvei Ohr, sec. 4, written by Rav Yitzchak Blazer, talmid of Rav Yisroel Salanter) and in the Maharal's Chidushei Aggados. However, I would like to offer a different approach to understanding this gemara based upon the above explanation of Rav Chaim Friedlander.
One By One
On Rosh Hashana a person is judged to determine who he is spiritually and how he fits into the scheme of things for the coming year. The gemara here is giving us three examples of three different types of people.
The first example is that of sheep. The sheep are herded together into a small pen to be tithed. A narrow gate is opened enabling them to pass through only one at a time. They are counted and every tenth animal is marked to be ma'aser beheima. This first example of the judgment of Rosh Hashana refers to those who are like sheep. Sheep have no individuality of their own. Of course everyone gets reward for the each mitzvah he performs. It is one of the 13 Principles of Faith that Hakadosh Baruch Hu rewards every good deed, and punishes for every transgression. However, these people, in their function in the general scheme of things, are merely part of the flock. Their general role is communal and not individual. So too there are people who have no individual position in the scheme of things; they are part of the Klal, part of the Jewish community. The Jewish community as a whole needs them and it is in that position that they serve Creation. The judgment on them on Rosh Hashana (regarding their spiritual status in Hashem's Master Plan) stems not from their individuality but from their being part of the community.
The second example is that of a narrow mountain path. Every one passing by is on his own journey. He passes by alone without the help of others. There are individuals in this world who are on their own path; they have a specific job in the scheme of things. But it is a personal role, and quite private. They are judged according to their individual needs, and their individual jobs.
The last example is that of an army about to go to battle. The commanding officer passes by scrutinizing each soldier to determine his task in battle. Will he be sent to the front lines, or stay back in camp? Will he join the tank corps or the artillery? Is he a private or an officer? These decisions will determine what kind of equipment is apportioned to him to properly carry out his job. However, he is not on his own path. He is a soldier in the army carrying out his responsibilities to the king. He is important only in as much as he serves a function as part of the army. He has no individuality. He is important for his service in the army as a whole. So too there are individuals who have made their private lives secondary to their responsibilities to Klal Yisroel. They are soldiers in Hashem's army. They are treated differently than private individuals because they are serving their king. On Rosh Hashana the commanding officer (Hashem) comes to scrutinize each individual to see how he fits into His army. What role will he play in spreading Yiddishkeit and Torah this coming year? Accordingly he will be given the equipment necessary for him to carry out his duties.
All at a Single Glance
"In any case they are surveyed at a single glance." In addition, however, there is another sort of appraisal made on Rosh Hashana. Hashem examines each everyone individually, and all at once. Each person must be seen as a part of the entire universe. His role this coming year must be in total synchronization with everything else. Every individual is seen as part of the greater Master Plan.
Who Are You?
As we prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashana we should reflect upon our lives and our role in the larger scheme of things. Are we just sheep, following our Yiddishkeit like everyone else in the flock? Do we go to Shul because everyone goes to Shul? Do we keep Shabbos and Kashrus because that's what everyone else is doing? Then we must realize we are merely sheep in Hashem's flock. We have an important role in general Creation, but only as members of the Jewish Nation as a whole, and on Rosh Hashana we will be judged accordingly.
Or are we individuals? We make conscious decisions about our Yiddishkeit. Our Torah observance is important to us and we try to improve and follow halacha properly. We keep Shabbos and kashrus and all the mitzvos purposely. We understand the importance of davening and make it our business to go to shul in order to have a good davening. We have to realize that we are traveling alone on our path and will be judged individually according to our personal merits. Now is the time to reflect on the past and take on ourselves to improve in the future.
Or, perhaps, we are soldiers. Hakadosh Baruch Hu has a Master Plan and needs an army to carry it out. We are willing to make our private individual lives secondary to our higher mission. We are dedicated to harbotzas Torah and Mitzvos. We are Klal Mentshen, individuals dedicated to the community. Then we are soldiers in the army. Our judgment on Rosh Hashana will be to ascertain our rank for the coming year. Are we worthy of a promotion or, chas v'shalom, perhaps we have to be demoted? Now, in preparation for Rosh Hashana, this is the time to contemplate on our lives and the role we want to serve in spreading Hashem's Torah.
In addition, we have to realize that there is a greater plan. Hashem is directing the course of Human history to bring it to fulfillment with the coming of the Moshiach. Each person has a role in that plan and on Rosh Hashana he is judged accordingly. His role must fit in to the greater scheme of things, from the beginning of Creation until techi'as hameisim (the revival of the Dead).
I wish everyone a great Rosh Hashana. May you all be written and sealed in the Book of the Living for a wonderful, prosperous, and healthy New Year.
Wishing Everyone A Gut Gebensht Yahr!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network