Rosh HaShana 5780 / 2019
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

יאמר א/להים נעשה אדם. במי נמלך?…רבי יהושע דסכנין בשם רבי שמואל אמר בנפשותן של צדיקים נמלך… נפשות של צדיקים שבהן נמלך הקדוש ב”ה וברא את העולם

And G-d said, “Let us make Adam [Gen 1:26] With whom did HaShem consult? [For “let us…” suggests there were others involved.]…R. Joshua of Siknin said in R. Levi’s name: He took counsel with the souls of the righteous… It is they with whom He consulted before creating the world. [Genesis Raba 8:7]

The Talmud records a dispute concerning when Adam was actually born.[1]  R. Eliezer asserts Tishrey (i.e. Rosh HaShana).  R. Yehoshua claims it was Nissan (i.e. Pesach).  Kabbala resolves the quarrel by clarifying that Rosh Hashana marks the conception (when the thought of creation arose within the mind of G-d)[2] and Pesach marks the actual birth (when an actual “creature” evolved that could hold the level of consciousness, called yechida, the capacity to understand what it means that G-d is one on the 50th gate level of understanding). That “creature” is Kenesset Yisrael, the Mystical Body of Israel, born on the other side of the parted sea that served as its birth canal.[3]

Rosh HaShanna becomes the anniversary of HaShem’s vision of perfection for creation and for every creature in it. That vision of our final, glorious (messianic) frame is what arose in thought at the beginning, initiating the creative effort. Each year at this time HaShem reformulates a new, mini-vision of the highest that is possible for us this coming year.[4] Rosh HaShana is called the Day of Judgement because it’s when the great CEO (Chief Executive Officer) in the sky allocates our next budget of “lights”, based on our past performance, and our proposals (our prayer-visions) for the next year.

The midrash asks who HaShem (so to speak) consulted when formulating His/Her/Its vision, and informs us that HaShem consulted the souls of the tsaddikim. If this was true back then, then it must also be true now, meaning when Hashem devises an updated mini-vision for the coming year, He/She/It also confers with these tsadikkim.

So who are these “souls of the righteous” and is it possible to lobby for a favorable word from them. Well it turns out that these tsaddikim are us. HaShem declares: “Every one of your [Israelite] nation is a tsadik.”[5] Obviously it doesn’t look that way to us, but that is what HaShem sees when He/She/It looks upon His people. We are all tsaddikim-in-training, hidden tsaddikim, potential tsaddikim…but tsadikim nonetheless. And that means that we are consulted concerning HaShem’s allocation of blessings for us (individually and collectively) this coming year.

Given that this comes as a surprise, means that we have likely been careless in our judgments and flippant with our advice. Certainly if the state of the world is the fruit of our counsel, then there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The Baal Shem Tov asserts that HaShem never brings purgating consequences upon us without first soliciting our verdict on the matter.[6] But wait…I don’t remember being consulted about such things…I certainly would have made lots of excuses and pleaded innocent if asked to judge my own case.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that it’s like the way Natan, the prophet, confronted King David about the incident with Batsheva.[7]  Natan presented a story about a shepherd that was a metaphor for David’s misdeed.  And when King David heard the story he was angered by the callous perpetrator and voiced a harsh judgment upon him: “The man who did this should die.”  Natan then confronted King David with the words, “that man is you.” That story is your story. King David immediately got the message and repented for his wrongdoing (as expressed in Psalm 51).

The implication here is that our Rosh HaShana Judgement Day is not so much about Hashem judging us, but rather Hashem gathering the sumtotal of our judgements about each other (both positive and negative) and adjusting His/Her/Its providence accordingly, compiling a yearly vision that inputs all of our candid assessments.

If this be so, then we need to become masters of judgment.  The Mishna instructs us to “Judge everyone to the side of merit.”[8] That seems to be the standard advice. But what exactly does it mean. It can’t mean that we justify transgressions by pretending that bad is really good. Three times a day we proclaim in our Amida that “HaShem loves righteousness and judgment.” We must keep our eyes open to liars, perpetrators, terrorists and psychopaths. It’s a responsibility we owe to ourselves, our loved ones, our community and Hashem.  True, judgment is a narrow bridge that requires expertise, but we cannot abdicate it altogether, just because it’s scary.

If the Baal Shem Tov be our guide, “judging to the side of merit” does not mean inventing a far-fetched story to obscure a person’s shady behavior in order to avoid confronting it. Rather, it means that we don’t add “shame and blame” to our correct and legitimate judgments. (1) We don’t call down fire and brimstone upon the perpetrator’s head.  (2) We feel genuine compassion for the poor soul that is trapped in such a low life.  (3) We acknowledge that there but for fortune go you and I.  If we had started life with their nature and nurture we would likely be in their predicament now. (4) And finally, we pray for their spiritual awakening and teshuva exactly as we pray for our own.[9]

And then, based on our judgement, we do what’s necessary to protect the community from their threat and, if necessary (after the fact) ask the courts to compensate for damage done.

The Talmud asserts, “Anyone who claims that HaShem lets things slide (meaning that He doesn’t hold everyone accountable to the law)…better that they were never born.”[10] Hashem has an account with each person, and He doesn’t need us to interfere. That’s where we get into trouble. When we call down punishment upon someone for their misdeed, we are calling down exactly that same punishment upon us, for our own misdeed that is mirrored by the person we are judging. HaBaal Shem Tov is clear; the mirror never lies.

In the bedtime Shema we declare:

…I forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me—whether against my body, my property, my honor or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought, or action; whether in this incarnation or another incarnation—I forgive every person. May no one be punished because of me.

The idea is that Hashem holds everyone accountable to their deeds and there is no weaseling around that. Our “forgiveness” does NOT affect their karmic debt. In saying, “may no one be punished because of me” we are saying that I don’t want to be responsible for causing them more purgation than HaShem deems necessary. If my unprocessed resentments cause them more suffering than is their due, then that is a kind of spiritual assault—a wrong-doing that will incur its own debt that I will then have to pay. I need to be able to go through my internal processing without worrying about how its fury affects the one who is its focus. The bedtime shema protects me from that, and models rectified (shame-free) judgement.

When Hashem solicits our input to map out His vision for creation this year, let us follow the Baal Shem Tov’s advice and discard the shame that contaminates our judgments and makes matters worse for ourselves above all. We pray for mashiach yet counsel against it when we heap blame on the very people that must merit the redemption for which we yearn. When it comes to mashiach its all of us or none of us, no spark left behind.

Let it be that as our Days of Awe draw near, and HaShem invites our input for the vision that will guide our lives this coming year, may we step into our (albeit, hidden) tsidkut, scrub the shame out of our judgments and tilt them to the side of merit this year.

Blessings for a good, sweet, healthy, joyful, peaceful, love-filled, light-filled, truth-prospering, illusion-dissipating, mission-clarifying, judgement-sweetening, life-celebrating, Mashiach-bringing new year.

This Rosh HaShana teaching is dedicated anonymously with a prayer that the Torah’s holy lights bring healing to our people and to the world by filling us, centering us, nourishing us, and correcting us from the inside out. May we (and all) be free of the addictions that keep us trapped in a self that is so much smaller than who we are. 

[1] TB RH 11a.
[2] R. Tsadok HaKohen, Resisei Layla 39 (and throughout his writings).
[3] See,
[4] R. Tsadok HaKohen, Tsidkat Hatsadik, 169.
[5] Isaiah 60:21.
[6] Baal Shem Tov on the Torah, parshat Kedoshin, 2-6 and Mekor Mayim Chaim there.
[7] Shmuel 2:12:1-15.
[8] Pirkei Avot 1:6.
[9] Sarah Yehudit Schneider, You Are What You Hate:A Spiritually Productive Approach to Enemies (Still Small Voice, 2009, Jerusalem). And elaborated translation of teachings from R.Y.Y. Safrin, the Komarna Rebbe).
[10] TB BK 50a.

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