“You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d” (Devarim 29:9).
The Zohar teaches that the word “hayom — the day” indicates the day of Rosh Hashanah — the day on which the events of the coming year are all determined. It is a day we approach with fear of judgment. What, exactly, is the tactic to employ on this day in order to receive a favorable verdict?
Shaare Armon, a book of parables, explains as follows:
There was once a man who ran an illegal gambling operation in his basement. The local authorities were aware of the illegal business but allowed it to function as long as it operated “secretly,” out of the public eye.
The city was preparing for a colorful fair in which vendors of all types would show their wares for sale, including toys and refreshments for children. The local governor approached the gambling casino operator and warned, “Don’t dare to open a booth with your wheel of fortune — we want this fair to be wholesome and proper.”
“Why am I different from all the other vendors who seek to gain profits from visitors to the fair?” the man asked.
“The others may earn a few pennies more than what a customer may afford, but you can cause gamblers to lose all that they have,” replied the governor.
In spite of the warning, greed motivated the man to open a booth at the fair and entice people to gamble in hopes of winning a fortune. The governor came to mingle with the tourists and was taken aback when he saw the man working his wheel of fortune.
Restraining himself, he asked quietly, “Did you forget my warning?”
“No, I did not,” replied the man, “But I didn’t expect you to come here!”
In the meantime, people gathered around his booth, prepared to buy a chance at wealth. “Come one — come all!” he hawked. “Try your luck at the wheel of fortune!”
The governor could hold back no longer. He ordered his officers to confiscate the wheel and arrest the brazen perpetrator.
One might comment, “What a boor of a man! How could anyone do such a thing?” But in fact, don’t we behave the same way? Not only do we violate Hashem’s commandments, but we do so in full view of Our Creator. As Dovid Hamelech said, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Where shall I flee from Your Presence? If I ascend up to Heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there!” (Tehillim 139:7–8).
In our Selichot we acknowledge: “Compassionate Giving One, we have sinned before You!” We admit that we sin in His Presence. The Gemara says that while the shofar is blowing on Rosh Hashanah, each individual should imagine himself standing in the Holy of Holies in front of Hashem (Rosh Hashanah 26a). This awe-inspiring thought should prompt one to repent.
This is what is expected on Rosh Hashanah — to feel like “you are standing today, all of you, before Hashem your G-d…”
How one stands, how one eats, what one says — these indicate how one sees oneself. Relaxing at home on a couch or playing with children in a park do not demand perfect behavior, but standing before a holy person certainly does — and even more so before Hashem on THE DAY!
Harav Eliyahu Dessler outlines the feelings one should evoke for a successful verdict. Summarizing Rav Chaim Volozhin, he says: “One who is speaking to a King should tremble from fear, especially if one has an important request from the King; even more so if he has sinned against the King and the King is aware of the transgression. And imagine if he stole from the King and then he gave the stolen wealth to enemies of the Monarch and strengthened the opposition!”
Throughout the Yamim Nora’im we repeat: Ein lanu peh lehashiv, v’lo metzach leharim rosh — We have no mouth with which to respond, nor the audacity to lift our forehead.”
Harav Yisrael Salanter said our fear and trembling earns us merit to escape harsh judgment. Respect for the King is a vehicle to merit blessings from our King.
L’shanah tovah tikatevu.