Is there some super zechus that can guarantee our place in the Book of Life?
In a few weeks, all of Creation will pass before Hashem in judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem renews His malchus, and decides the fortunes of His subjects for the coming year. Not a single deed or even a thought escapes His scrutiny. Every Elul, we look for merits to sweeten our judgment. Is there some super zechus that can guarantee our place in the Book of Life?
Rav Yisrael Salanter writes that the key to a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah is to be a public servant — someone Klal Yisrael needs. That doesn’t mean you need to run an international chesed organization, or be the world’s most generous philanthropist. If you reach out to better the lives of those around you, you are a servant of Klal Yisrael. That, says Rav Yisrael, is the way to pass through Rosh Hashanah successfully.
At first, it sounds like a loophole. If Klal Yisrael needs us, Hashem has to keep us around and give us the resources we need to continue helping others, even if we don’t really deserve it.
But it goes much deeper than that. On Rosh Hashanah, we join together to accept Hashem as our King and renew His malchus. A malchus is a whole kingdom, united to serve the king. A bunch of individuals doesn’t constitute a kingdom. Avodas Hashem isn’t just an individual effort. It’s the collective endeavor of Klal Yisrael, helping one another serve Hashem.
The Torah likens Klal Yisrael to “ish echad b’lev echad,” a single person with one united heart. Every single second of our lives, the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. It works for the other parts of the body, never for itself. That’s how Klal Yisrael is meant to serve Hashem. When we work together and help one another serve Hashem, that’s the full expression of malchus Shamayim. Only when we are functioning as Hashem’s united kingdom can we truly make Hashem our King.
For many of us, this is a new approach to life. Let’s be honest: We usually think about ourselves. Even our noblest aspirations are often self-centered. We want to know the whole Torah. But is helping others our motivation? Do we want to know Torah so we can guide countless people who hound us with questions day and night, and don’t give us a moment’s rest? We don’t want that at all.
We want to have money, and give lots of tzedakah. But do we want to be surrounded our whole lives by people who pour out their troubles to us and destroy our inner peace? Even when we do chesed, far too often we don’t really think about the other people. How did we make them feel? Did we really address their needs? We think how generous we are to give up our time and money, and enjoy feeling like a bona fide baal chesed, without actually thinking much about others.
On Rosh Hashanah, we begin to view ourselves, and the world, in a new light. We finally realize that we’re not the stars of the show. We’re members of Hashem’s malchus, and our job is to contribute by helping our fellow Jews serve Hashem better.
Now we can appreciate the depth of Rav Yisrael’s advice. On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem renews His malchus, and examines our deeds to see to what extent we fulfill our role in it. If our avodas Hashem is all about personal advancement, we’re neglecting our mission. Because Hashem’s malchus is much, much greater than ourselves. Accepting Hashem’s kingship means doing our part in the collective avodah of Klal Yisrael. And that means working for others — to help other Jews serve Hashem better — not just for ourselves. If we accept that mission sincerely, we’re on the right track for a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah.
How do we help others serve Hashem? We simply need to be ourselves. Hashem created everyone with a unique personality. Everyone has a special quality he or she can use to help others serve Hashem better. It isn’t necessarily one of our most obvious talents. Even a subtle facet of our personality can be used to help others.
Take me, for example. I use my musical ear to help people who seek my advice. As a child, I dreamed of becoming an orchestra conductor. A conductor’s job is to balance the different elements of the orchestra to bring out all the nuances of a composition. His keen ear senses when to bring each instrument to the forefront and when to deemphasize it, how much to focus on the melody and how much to highlight the harmony.
As I grew older, I noticed that I use my conductor’s ear to give advice to others. I don’t come up with some wild idea they never dreamed of. I just make simple suggestions that change their perspective on the facts they’ve described. Maybe the issue you thought was central is in fact marginal. Maybe the project you had on the back burner should actually be your main focus. I show them a different way to balance the elements that were always before them on the table, the way a conductor does.
I never sat down and thought, “How can I use my musicality for the benefit of Klal Yisrael?” That possibility wouldn’t have even occurred to me. But in my interactions with others, I saw that I listen more keenly than most people. When people seek my counsel, I hear the different facets and nuances of the issues they present, and sense how they can be balanced properly, just like a conductor.
If you study your relations with others, you’ll notice over time that an aspect of your personality enables you to help them in a way other people can’t. An artistic person who creates vivid images may find that he uses his power of illustration to give drashos that deeply move others. Someone who enjoys thrills and risk-taking may find he’s able to tackle serious problems in his friends’ lives that others aren’t bold enough to help with. It takes work to consciously channel your strength for others. But once you see that you naturally use it to benefit the people around you, you can begin to hone it and bring it to the forefront of your personal relationships.
Not everyone has a public position. But everyone has a unique quality that can help others serve Hashem better. We simply have to notice it, nurture it, and channel it for the benefit of others. That’s the Jewish version of self-actualization: realizing our potential to help other people serve Hashem better.
Rosh Hashanah is about moving beyond ourselves. Accepting upon ourselves malchus Shamayim, which is so much greater than ourselves. Accepting our role in the grand team of Klal Yisrael, working together to serve Hashem, k’ish echad b’lev echad.
In this month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah, let’s try to find not only our faults, but also our strengths. Get to know yourself. Discover the quality within you that can help those around you serve Hashem better. That’s your contribution to Hashem’s malchus. That’s your mission, and your zechus for a sweet new year.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 875.
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