Every choice we make has meaning. But sometimes we don't see it right away.
Rosh Hashanah is called the "Day of Judgment." It's a day when God looks at each of us and at the choices we made during the previous year. How did we choose to treat other people? To treat ourselves? To relate to God?
During the rest of the year we may have convinced ourselves that our choices didn't matter, but on Rosh Hashanah it becomes clear that these choices determined the kind of people we have become, and what kind of a year our next one will be.
Rosh Hashanah is a day to think about who we are now. Who we would like to become and what kind of choices we should make in the future in order to get there.
"A Tale of Two Fishes"
Dave and Ari loved it when their Bubbie would come and visit. It was fun spending time with their grandmother and listening to the interesting stories she would tell about when their dad was a boy. Every Friday morning she would bake delicious oatmeal cookies just in time to tuck them, still hot, into their lunch boxes before they went off to school.
But now after two weeks it was time for Bubbie to leave, and the brothers felt sad.
They said their good-byes, Bubbie gave them each a kiss and told them to go look in the den where they would find a surprise. They dashed off and their eyes popped when they saw two fish tanks, one with each of their names on it. Inside each tank were two sparkling orange goldfish.
"Thanks Bubbie!" they chimed out at the same time.
"Take good care of them," said Bubbie. "When I come back in the winter, I look forward to seeing how they've grown," she added with a smile.
Each tank came with an instruction booklet explaining how to take care of the fish.
Dave followed the instructions to the letter. Each day he would measure out just the right amount of fish food, and make sure the water temperature was just right.
Ari, on the other hand, didn't pay much attention to the instructions. "So what if they eat a little more," he would say as he threw a handful of food into the tank. "It'll only make 'em bigger, right?"
When the boys went away for the weekend with their parents, Dave made sure to change the water of the fish tank first so it would be fresh. Ari shrugged his shoulders and said, "Water's water. Why should I bother?"
Meanwhile, Dave's fish grew and grew. They even had baby fishes. Some were gold like the parents and some were silvery gray.
The day before Bubbie was due for her yearly Rosh Hashanah visit, Dave noticed that Ari's fish didn't look so good. There were swimming slow and kind of funny. "Hey Ari," he said to his brother "Your fish look kind of sick. Maybe you should call the man at the pet store and ask him what to do."
But Ari just said, "Oh they're probably just tired. I forgot to turn off the light in the tank last night."
By the next morning, Ari's fishes were dead.
Later that day, their Bubbie arrived. When she saw the boys she gave them a big hug. "Wow you two have gotten so big since I last saw you," she exclaimed. The boys grinned, then noticed their Bubbie taking out a package for each of them. "If your fish grew as much as you did, you'll be needing these" she added with a smile.
They hurried to open the shiny gift wrapping. The boxes inside were full of plants and decorations for the fish tanks.
"Just what I needed!" burst out Dave. "The baby fish needed some things to play with."
"And what about you Ari?" asked Bubbie.
Ari looked down, shuffled his feet, and said, "I'm sorry Bubbie, my fish died."
"Oh my, what happened?" asked their grandmother with concern.
Ari thought a minute and said," I guess I didn't take such good care of them. I thought they would be okay anyway, but I guess it wasn't enough.
"Ari," said Bubbie, "I know you feel bad about your fish. One of the reasons I gave them to you was to learn about taking care of things. Sometimes even if we choose not to, things can seem okay for a while. But sooner or later we have to face up to our choices. Just like on Rosh Hashanah, when we face the choices we made the year before. If the choices were good ones we can look forward to a sweet new year. It looks to me like you understand that now."
Ari nodded sadly.
"These gifts might not be so useful to you now, but ... " Bubbie added with a smile, "this honey cake I brought with me should taste good anyway."
Ari munched on the cake and chewed over Bubbie's words too. He realized she was right, and thought, "From now on I'm really going to try to make the right choices so my new year will be as sweet as this cake."
Q. How did Dave feel when his Bubbie brought him the toys for his fish tank?
A. He was happy that he had chosen to take care of his fish, and now could enjoy the new present.
Q. How about Ari?
A. He felt bad because he didn't have fish anymore. He wished he had taken better care of them.
Q. Do you think it's right not to take care of our things and just hope they'll be okay anyway?
A. No. We are responsible to do our best to take care of what we have. Whether our things stay nice or get ruined has a lot to do with how we choose to take care of them.
Q. Why do you think Ari didn’t take care of his fish -– a choice he later wished he hadn't made?
A. When he made his choice he didn't think about how he would feel afterwards. Instead he focused on the effort involved in taking care of the fish, and decided to go with the more comfortable option. On Rosh Hashanah we take the time to look at the choices we made in the past year, and try to learn from them.
Q. What does it mean to look at the "big picture" and plan for the "long term" instead of the "short term?"
A. It means to get an overall view of a situation and consider what is likely to give us greater meaning and pleasure. Sometimes planning for the long term means postponing instant gratification in order to reap greater rewards later.
Q. Will looking at the big picture motivate us to make better choices? Why?
A. Yes, because we will realize that sometimes the choice that feels harder right now will really make us feel happier in the end. This might be enough to make us choose what's really best for us.
Age 10 and up
Q. It has been said that "one good deed leads to another." Why do you think that is?
A. Every time we do a good deed, we accustom ourselves to doing good. So the next time a similar choice comes up, we are more likely to choose to do that good.
Q. Is there such a thing as an insignificant choice?
A. If it's just a simple matter of taste, such as choosing chocolate or vanilla ice cream, it's really not a choice but a preference, and therefore not so significant. But as for a moral choice -- i.e. how to behave or treat others -- each choice, no matter how small, is helping to form our character. This will, in turn, affect the very big choices we will make in the future. On Rosh Hashanah, God gives us a chance for a "yearly review" to see which direction our choices have been taking us, and think about whether we are "on the right track" or not.