Rosh Hashana- Our Annual Resurrection
Rav Naftali Trop (1871-1928), one of the most illustrious disciples of the Hafetz Haim, once observed a common mistake that many people make as they go into Rosh Hashanah. Many people enter Rosh Hashanah with the mindset that they rightfully deserve everything in their lives – their families, their health, their homes, their bank accounts, and all their other assets – and G-d needs a reason to take it away from them. Rav Trop compared this mindset to the situation of two litigants coming to court. The defendant is the "Muhzak" – the presumed owner of the property or money in question, and the burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to show that the plaintiff owes him something. Similarly, people see themselves as the "Muhzak," as the presumed rightful owners of everything they have, and some "proof" needs to be brought that there is something they have which they do not deserve and should be taken away from them.
But this mindset, Rav Trop explained, is incorrect. As we recite in our Selihot prayers, "Ke’dalim U’ch’rashim Dafaknu Delatecha" – "We have knocked on Your doors like paupers and mendicants." When we begin Rosh Hashanah, we have nothing. We have no assets. We do not even have our very life.
Each Rosh Hashanah, if we earn a favorable outcome, we are given a one-year lease on everything, including our very lives. That lease expires as Rosh Hashanah begins each year. And so when we begin Rosh Hashanah, we are, in a sense, dead. We do not even have our lives. We need to earn everything anew.
This explains a remarkable Halacha in the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 225). The Shulhan Aruch writes that when a person sees a close friend or family member for the first time in thirty days, he recites the Beracha of "She’hehiyanu" to express his joy over the reunion. But if he has not seen the close friend or family member for the first time in a year, then he recites the Beracha of "Mehayeh Ha’metim," thanking Hashem for "resurrecting the dead." (We do not discuss here the question of whether or not this requirement applies nowadays, when, even if two friends or family members do not see each other for an extended period, they are, in most cases, in contact.) The Mishna Berura cites those who explain that this Beracha is recited because the two friends or family members had not seen each other since Rosh Hashanah, and thus they did not know whether or not they earned the right to continue living. When we go into Rosh Hashanah, we are "dead," in that we no longer have a right to anything, including our lives. And thus when we see somebody after Rosh Hashanah, we can recite "Mehayeh Ha’metim" – because that person has been "resurrected."
This understanding of life should not cause us anxiety or depression. To the contrary, it should invigorate us. If we recognize that each day is a precious blessing from Hashem, then we will take full advantage of it. If we understand that nothing is guaranteed, not even our right to life, then we will cherish every moment and utilize it properly.
This is the purpose of our "annual resurrection" on Rosh Hashanah. When we reinforce our awareness that life is a gift granted to us by Hashem in His boundless grace and compassion, then we will commit ourselves to use our lives the way they are meant to be used – productively, meaningfully, and for the purpose of serving our Creator. We must enter this day with a keen awareness that everything we have is a great blessing which we need to earn – and which, once we have earned it, must be used the right way and for the right purpose.