Contributed by: R. Yaacob Savdie
Rosh Hashanah is known as "Yom Hadin"- "The Day of Judgment". As the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16B) relates: "On Rosh Hashanah all walks of life pass in front of Hashem and are judged. The truly righteous are immediately inscribed for life. The truly wicked are immediately inscribed for death. Those who are in the middle hang in the balance until Yom Kippur. If they merit they're inscribed in the book of life, if not they're inscribed in the book of death."
Rosh Hashanah is also the first of "Asseret Yeme Teshouba"- "The Ten Days of Repentance". Many have asked the following question: Why not have the days of repentance and Yom Kippur before Rosh Hashanah? If it was in this order, people would have more of a tendency to repent, increase their merits and achieve atonement for their sins before Rosh Hashanah. This in turn would increase their possibility of being inscribed in the book of life.
At first glance, the question is even greater according to many poskim (as well as Rabenu Ha'Ari) who rule that one should not mention his sins or confess on Rosh Hashanah. How then is Rosh Hashanah considered the first day of the ten days of repentance?
In reality there are two fundamental ideas connected to Rosh Hashanah that relate to repentance.
Rosh Hashanah is also the Anniversary of Creation- "Hayom Harat Olam". On Rosh Hashanah we reaffirm our belief that Hashem created the world. Throughout our prayers we accept Hashem as "Melech", as our King. The highlight of this concept is expressed in the Malchuyot portion of the Moussaf Amida. We recite ten pesoukim that describe Hashem's kingship over the entire universe.
The first step of repentance is to internalize this concept. One must perform repentance with the understanding that Hashem is the king. As the Rambam states in Hilchot Teshouba (1:1) "Hayab Lehitvadot lifne Ha'eal Baruch Hu"- One must confess in front of the blessed One". Teshouba is not a personal quest for change, it's not a program to help one achieve their "New Year's resolutions", Teshouba is a process through which one learns of his place and duty in this world.
Rosh Hashanah is also known as "Yom Hazikaron". Since Rosh Hashanah is Anniversary of Creation, it is on this day that Hashem evaluates the world. This concept is expressed in the Zichronot portion of the Mussaf Amida. We recite ten pesoukim that describe Hashem's zechira (remembrance) of his covenant with Am Yisrael and our deeds. In turn we evaluate ourselves on this day. We look at ourselves and our actions holistically. We try to determine what controls and drives us. Is it the Yeser Tob? Is it the Yeser Hara? Or is it both?
This is the second step of repentance. Before we confess or mention our sins, we must get a sense of who we are and where we stand in life. It is only after this assessment that we can start seeking atonement for our sins and changing our ways. Hence, it is only fitting that Rosh Hashanah is the first day of Repentance as its themes are essential and a prerequisite to the Teshouba process. One should look through the Mahzor of Rosh Hashanah to see how Hazal have developed these themes throughout the tefillah.
If we internalize these themes & assess ourselves truthfully, we can begin the process of mending our ways and achieving atonement. May we all merit to be inscribed in the book of life!