Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2002 / 7 Tishrei, 5763

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur:
The celebration of the human deed

By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo -- "On Rosh Hashana all those who came to the world pass in front of Him like a flock of sheep."

"Like walking on a small narrow road where no two can pass by at the same time…"

With this saying the sages highlight the uniqueness of man and his loneliness in his encounter with G-d. Human beings are, above all, individuals. They meet G-d privately and as such, each one is created in a different way --- with different talents, emotions and wisdom. Privacy is the privilege of the individual.

Still, this individuality has little value if man is not able to employ it in his relationship with G-d and his fellow man. Only in relationships can man be an individual. For if he does not live in an encounter with the "Other" he cannot be unique, since it is distinctiveness that makes man special.

Like a flower that we single out from others in a bouquet, and whose beauty we individualize, so, too, man does not become man unless his distinctiveness is highlighted. As Thomas Fuller once observed: A whole bushel of wheat is still made up of single grains.

But individuality is also a call for responsibility from which there is no escape. Man is the only creation that is responsible for his deeds, and it is mainly through his deeds that man meets the Other. Nothing has more far reaching consequences than the human deed. One deed may decide the fate of the world. In fact, it is with the employment of his deeds that man reveals his thoughts and his heart --- his very essence. And even when a deed takes place in the company of his fellow men, and with the cooperation of others, as such his deed stays apart. Only in the rarest of cases may man be considered to have acted out of duress.

In accordance with an authoritative view in the Talmud, Rosh Hashana celebrates the birth of the first human being, i.e. the first creature destined as an individual. But it is Yom Kippur that reminds Man of his responsibilities.

While other creatures, no doubt, carry some modest kind of individuality, their deeds do not carry responsibility and are therefore indistinctive.

It is, consequently, the uniqueness of the human deed that stands at the center of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. As such, the High Holidays are a protest against the notion that some of man's deeds are trivial and nothing more than common. Since all of Man's deeds take place in the presence of G-d, they must be significant.

Man's encounter with his Maker on the High Holidays teaches him an overwhelming lesson: There are no deeds of insignificance. The holy season warns Man that he should never consider his life as compatible with the common and, consequently, of little importance. However small a deed may be in the eyes of Man, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur make Man aware that his entire life -- including even the most trivial of deeds -- should be attuned to eternity. Time is broken eternity (A.J. Heschel) and, consequently, every moment counts since it is part of a great infinite mystery in which not even a second can be recaptured at a later hour.

Man does not live in his private time, but in G-d's. He is spending G-d's time every second of all of his life and therefore has to bring divinity to all of his deeds. He has to install eternity into his acts, making the passing everlasting, the common unique and the momentary eternal.

It is for this reason that Man needs to learn that it is only in the detail that he can really live a life of profundity.

Detail is, after all, the breaking down of the generalities into such subtle components that they touch on eternity. Profundity is only found in the details while boredom is the outcome of superficiality. Man needs to live profoundly because it is only the contemplated life that has meaning.

There is a need to turn every common deed into a mitzvah, making it a dignified encounter with G-d.

The High Holidays are a reminder that we should live vertically, and not horizontally. When we live our lives in the pursuit of new objects and believe it is through them that we find our meaning and joy, we should look around us and see the continuous boredom in which our Western world finds itself. The excitement of new possessions leads to the trivialization of our lives after only a few days. But this is only true, when we see them in a horizontal position.

If we look at what we have in a vertical dimension, i.e. in the process of constant spiritual growth, then we see them in the light of eternity and, consequently, in profundity.

The Torah teaches us that G-d is concerned with the "trivialities" and "common deed" of Man, because they take place in His time and in His world. It is Man's task to make sure he realizes that.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned lecturer and ambassador for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Sephardic Heritage. Comment by clicking here.


08/16/02: Keeping the faith Part II
07/26/02: Keeping the faith Part I
01/18/02: The sanctification and importance of time
09/21/01: And if the High Holidays expectations are not met?
06/29/01: Freud and belief in the Creator
06/21/01: Comprehending the Creator

© 2002, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo