Is Rosh Hashana Relevant to All Humankind

Dear Friends,
The term “Rosh Hashanah” means, “the beginning of the year.” I once read an essay on Rosh Hashana by Rabbi Simon Schwab, a noted Torah educator of the previous generation. In this essay, he pointed out that it is inaccurate to refer to Rosh Hashana as the “Jewish New Year,” for Judaism teaches that Rosh Hashana is the “New Year” for all humankind. It is a sacred day of universal significance, as the Midrash cites a tradition that “Adam” – the first man/woman – was created on Rosh Hashana (Leviticus Rabbah 29:1); moreover, it was on this day that Adam violated the Divine mandate, and it was on this day that Adam was judged for the violation which caused the loss of the Garden of Eden.
And it is on this sacred day that all the descendants of Adam are judged, as the Talmud cites the following tradition:
“On Rosh Hashana all human beings pass before Him like young sheep, as it is said (Psalm 33:15): ‘He fashions all their hearts together, Who understands all their deeds.’ ” (Mishnah Rosh Hashana 1:2)
The above teaching is explained in the following manner: On Rosh Hashana all humankind passes before the Creator to be judged individually, like young sheep who pass through a narrow opening in the corral in order to be counted individually. The Divine concern is not just for humankind, as a whole; the Divine concern is for each individual. This idea is also expressed in the following prayer that we chant on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur:
“All human beings will pass before You like members of the flock. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.”
These awesome words concerning the Divine verdict can fill our hearts with trepidation; however, the prayer concludes with the following hopeful message:
“But teshuvah, prayer, and tzedakah (helping those in need) remove the severity of the decree!”
As we explained in the previous letters, “teshuvah” is the process of spiritual return which enables us to rededicate ourselves to fulfilling the life-giving Divine purpose. On Rosh Hashana, we pray that all humankind engage in the process of teshuvah. For example, we pray to Hashem – the Compassionate One: “Let all Your works revere You and all creatures bow before You. Let them all become a united society to do Your will wholeheartedly.” And we also pray:
“Let everything that has been made know that You are its Maker, let everything that has been molded understand that You are its Molder, and let everything with a life's breath in its nostrils proclaim: ‘The Compassionate One, the God of Yisrael, is Sovereign, and His sovereignty rules over everything.’ ”
Before blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, most Jewish communities chant Psalm 47, and this prophetic psalm concerning the dawn of the messianic age opens with the following proclamation:
“Join hands, all you peoples - sound the Shofar to the Just One with a cry of joy! For the Compassionate One is supreme, awesome, a great Sovereign over all the earth.” (verses 2,3)
In this spirit, we also chant the following words during the service:
“Then all shall come to serve You; they shall bless Your glorious Name and declare Your righteousness in far-flung islands. Peoples that knew You not will seek You out…They will reject their idols, be mortified with their statues, and turn unanimously to serve You. Those who seek Your presence will revere You as long as the sun exists; they will recognize the power of Your Sovereignty, and teach understanding to those gone astray. They shall speak of Your strength, they shall extol You, Who are Sovereign over every leader…The mountains will burst forth with glad song, and far-flung islands will exult in Your Sovereignty; they shall accept the yoke of Your Sovereignty upon themselves, and exalt You among the assembled peoples. Distant ones will hear and come, and they will present You with a crown of Sovereignty.”
As a result of accepting the sovereignty of the Compassionate One, human beings will gain the spiritual enlightenment which will inspire them to once again fulfill the life-giving purpose of their creation. A Rosh Hashana prayer states that in this messianic age of enlightenment, “the righteous will see and rejoice, the upright will exult, and those devoted in love will be mirthful with glad song.”
We don't have to wait, however, for the messianic age in order to experience some rejoicing. Although Rosh Hashana is an awesome day, it is also a joyful day, for through returning to our Beloved, we become new people. In this spirit, Rabbi David Abudraham, a noted Sephardic sage of the 15th century, cites the following ancient teaching:
“If a human being does teshuvah on Rosh Hashana, the Holy One, blessed be He, considers him as if he was just now created in the world, as every human being who returns through teshuvah is like a new creature.” (Abudraham – Laws and Commenary on Rosh Hashana)
The following story from our Sacred Scriptures serves as a reminder of the joyous aspect of Rosh Hashana: When the exiles from Babylonia returned to the Land of Israel and gathered in Jerusalem to observe Rosh Hashana, Ezra, the Kohen - who was also a leading sage - read the Torah before the people, while the Levites and other teachers explained it to them. This reading caused the people to realize that they had been neglecting the Torah, and they began to weep. Their leaders and teachers then said to them:
“Today is sacred to the Compassionate One, your God; do not mourn and do not weep....Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, for today is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad; the joy of the Compassionate One is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:9,10)
Strength and Shalom!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
Related Teachings:
1. As mentioned above, all human beings pass before the Compassionate One on Rosh Hashana like young sheep who are counted individually. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, a noted contemporary Torah educator, comments:
“We pass before Him one by one, because in His eyes, no one is ordinary; everyone is special. He loves each one of us, and cares for each one of us.” This quote is from Rabbi Feldman's article on Rosh Hashana, “Nine Plus One,” which appears at:  
2. Regarding the dawn of the messianic age, it is written: “All the ends of the earth will remember and return to the Compassionate One” (Psalm 22:28). In his commentary on the words “will remember,” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
“Defection from God was never an inborn trait with individuals or with humankind as a whole. The unspoiled hearts of children are close to God, and the same was true of humankind in its pristine state. Alienation from Him came much later. Therefore, through the stimulus emanating from Israel, they will all ‘remember’; their original consciousness of God will come alive again, and they will ‘return’ to Him.” (The Psalms - Translation and Commentary by Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)
3. There are a growing number of spiritually-searching Gentiles who are accepting the basic beliefs of the People of Israel, including the belief that each human being can return to the Compassionate One without an intermediary. And when they read our Sacred Scriptures, including the Book of Psalms, they notice how we pray directly to the Compassionate One without any intermediary. They refer to themselves as "Bnei Noach" - the Children of Noah. Most of them are not seeking to convert to Judaism; instead, they seek to follow those precepts within the Torah which apply to all humankind. They recognize that the Torah and its interpretations were given to the People of Israel; thus, they also share our belief that Rosh Hashana is the "New Year" for all humankind. Since they too recognize the sacred and universal significance of this day, they will not be offended by our wishing them a good year. We should therefore warmly greet them with the traditional blessings, “Have a good and sweet year!” and “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!” The universal relevance of both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for all human beings is discussed by Maimonides in his “Laws of Teshuvah” (3:1-3). 
4. “Hazon – Our Universal Vision” has an introductory essay to the universal moral code within the Torah which applies to all humankind, and a copy is available upon request. In addition, Hazon has two essays which discuss those sources in our tradition which indicate that all human beings are obligated to fulfill various ethical mitzvos of the Torah, and a classical example is the mitzvah of tzedakah – the sharing of our resources with those in need. The two essays - “Tzedakah Activists Vs. Sodomites” and “The Mitzvah to be Human” - appear in the archive on our website in the “tzedakah” section.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision