Rabbi Galinsky - Rosh Hashanah
Considering the seriousness of Rosh Hashana as a day of judgment, many are baffled by a short chapter in Sefer Nechemia which relates to Rosh Hashana. In Sefer Nechemia perek 8 we are told of a large gathering of jews listening to Ezra Hasofer teach Torah from a Sefer Torah while standing on a specially constructed platform erected in the street. The pasuk there tells us that this took place on "the first day of the seventh month" (Nechemia 8.2) which is the first of Tishrei-Rosh Hashana. Later on, (Nechemia 8.9) we are told that Nechamia and Ezra told the nation "do not mourn and do not cry". However, they should rather "eat fatty foods and drink sweet drinks". If this took place on Rosh Hashana wasn't the attitude of the nation more appropriate than Ezra and Nechemia's directive, to eat and drink?
In order to answer this, allow me to share with you an observation on Rosh Hashana which I heard from Rav Leib Mintzberg zt"l who passed away this past year.
On each and every Yom Tov, we recite a special Bracha in Shemonah Esrei termed "Kedushas Hayom". During this Bracha, we declare ותתן לנו ה' א-לוקינו באהבה את יום and then we add the name of the Yom Tov. In essence, this Bracha teaches us that each and every Yom Tov was instituted as a Yom Tov because on that day a special gift was given to the Jewish nation. Days that commemorate events that relate to the entire world were not given as Yamim Tovim to the Jews. Only days that commemorate a special gift to the Jews warrant declaring it as a Yom Tov.
Consequently, the fact that Rosh Hashana is a day of judgment for the entire world is not reason enough to make Rosh Hashana into a Yom Tov for the Jews. Rosh Hashana is a Yom Tov because a special gift was given to the Jewish nation on this day. This gift is termed "the day God remembers us for the good" -in Hebrew יום הזכרון. Meaning the day God will judge us favorably because he remembers the merits of our fathers and Akeidas Yitzchak. In addition, he instructed us to blow the Shofar which in its merit we will be remembered for the good.
Lets now return to Ezra and Nechemia. True it was a day of judgment, and were we to be as all other nations it would be a reason to mourn and cry. However, we as Jews must rejoice because of the fact that God gave us the recipe and the promise to "remember us for the good" and make sure we are judged favorably on this day.
may we all be zoche to utilize these days and to use the recipe God gave us (teshuva shofar etc..) to be judged favorably this Rosh Hashana, just as God promised us.