Truthfully, it seems enigmatic that the two days of Rosh Hashanah serve as the first two days of the Ten days of Repentance. The prayers of the day are primarily focused on accepting and declaring the Majesty and Grandeur of the Eternal Monarchy of G-d, In fact, there is nary a mention of sin, repentance, or regret in all of the prayers of the day.
It is obvious that the service of Rosh Hashanah is not only integral to the process of repentance but it is also the vital starting point. How does the theme of recognizing and focusing on G-d’s Kingship relate to the repentance and forgiveness that we so desperately seek?
In order for a person to properly repent he must have an understanding of the severity of sin and the spiritually deleterious effect that it has upon his soul. He must also understand that G-d truly cares about his actions and is waiting for him to repent and draw close to Him. Without that realization, the process of repentance is utterly futile. One cannot repent and return to something which is vague and emotionless. It is for this reason that the Ten days of Repentance must begin with Rosh Hashanah.
The theme of Rosh Hashanah, which traverses all its prayers and customs, is the realization of the greatness of G-d as the Supreme Omnipotent King of the world. At the same time we also relate the special closeness and boundless love that G-d maintains for His elite Nation. We mention that G-d’s kingship was only consummated when Klal Yisroel unyieldingly accepted the yoke of His monarchy upon ourselves, which is in effect saying that we are the progenitors of G-d’s Monarchy, as it were.
When a person has an appreciation of the greatness of G-d and of the meticulous precision of the judgment, and at the same time understands that G-d loves him deeply, then he can foster a desire to reconnect himself with that Supreme Being through repentance. Thus, Yom Kippur has no meaning unless it is preceded by Rosh Hashanah.
Unlike Yom Kippur which is full of external symbols, laws, and customs regarding repentance, on Rosh Hashanah our ‘repentance’ is completely internal. The deep introspection of Rosh Hashanah even surpasses that of Yom Kippur, for it is the service of Rosh Hashanah that sets the trajectory of repentance in motion which culminates with Yom Kippur. The more one appreciates the message of Rosh Hashanah the more he will be able to take advantage of the awesome opportunity granted on Yom Kippur.
Another message to be gleaned from the creation of honey is the bee’s persistence and incredible work ethic to produce every drop of honey. To gather a pound of honey, a bee flies a distance equal to more than three times around the world. Also, it takes two million flowers to make one pound of honey. Those numbers seem inconceivable to us but for the bee it is merely part of its job. It was created to perform those tasks and it has the innate capacity to do so.
The Torah states regarding repentance, (Devorim 30:14) “For the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” Sometimes we feel that we have sinned so much and have drifted so far that we can never repent. The Torah tells us otherwise. The ability to repent was built into our essence and therefore no matter how far one has strayed he can always repent. It will unquestionably require a tremendous amount of commitment, but it is within our purview to do it.
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky often repeats a classic thought: “Most people live the life that happens instead of the life they truly want.” Many of us have dreams and aspirations but we often never overcome the initial hurdles and impediments. Time drags on and we sigh as we watch our dreams fall by the wayside.
When we dip our challah/apple into honey we should remember how much commitment, exertion and dedication it entailed for the bee to produce that honey. It was created from an inner transformation that transpired inside a diminutive insect fulfilling its nature.
We are constantly building our own lives! Rosh Hashanah affords us the opportunity to look back at the blueprints and decide if our building is developing as planned. At the same time, we dip our challah/apple into honey and remind ourselves that the building is only as good as its blueprints. Those blueprints are composed with forethought and insight that stem from deep within one’s psyche.
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at email@example.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.
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