An annual time of judgment is juvenile. Is G-d so lazy that He is willing to sit and judge us only once a year?
Additionally, if we are to be judged but once, wouldn’t that encourage us to gamble — act lawlessly for most of the year, then repent and act like a saint for a few days before Rosh Hashanah to earn the divine pass until next year?
In truth, chazal (the sages) were not of one voice on the frequency of divine judgment.
The Talmud cites several opinions on how often mankind is judged. While Rabbi Meir’s opinion — that we are judged annually — is preached every year from the synagogue dais, Rabbi Judah opines that mankind is judged daily. Rabbi Nathan goes a step further and rules: “Mankind is judged at every moment.”
On the one hand, the idea that we are judged at every moment imports the sense that everything we do or think is important. Indeed, each act immediately molds us and defines our character.
This perspective best empowers mankind to actively try to better ourselves. Nonetheless, it is anxiety-inducing and overwhelming to believe we are judged at every moment. In fact, that belief can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and nihilism in which we feel that no matter how we try, we can never be the person we want to be. It’s similar to measuring ourselves daily as children, only to feel that we never grow taller.
When we are judged once a year, at a specific interval, we are being granted a concrete time of reflection and growth wherein we can see progress and spur future progress. Rosh Hashanah is not necessarily the only time we are judged, but it is designed to help us become better people — even if it doesn’t last.
Have a meaningful holiday season!
Rabbi Russ Shulkes is the executive director of Hillels of Georgia (hillelsofgeorgia.org)