Why doesn't Rosh Hashana come after Yom Kippur? Wouldn't it make more sense to first have our sins forgiven on Yom Kippur, and then go and face the heavenly tribunal on the Day of Judgment all bright eyed and bushy tailed?
Let's get a handle on this by using the following business model.
The very day you receive your MBA degree you get a call from a prominent head hunter asking if you'd be interested in heading up the sales department of a brand new, start up company for a ridiculously fat salary. After deliberating for a full eight seconds you say, "Sure."
"Hi, it's Bob from accounting. Please prepare for an audit."
Six months later, you're busy as a bee overseeing a staff of 60 salespeople, and business is definitely booming. One day you get a call from one of the higher ups in the firm. It seems there'd been a small oversight when they opened the company -- no one ever bothered to actually create an accounting department! No one knows whether the company is actually making or losing money. The call is meant to give you a heads up that after a detailed financial review of each department, there will probably be some downsizing of personnel.
A week later you get a call from "Bob from accounting" explaining that every department head is being asked to prepare for an audit which would determine whether the department was profitable or not. He asks that you gather all available records and present yourself to the pencil pushers in 30 days.
You really love your job and have every intention of staying with this firm, so you get real busy doing an internal audit to collect all the data that will show your department is in fact profitable. About two weeks into the process something starts gnawing at you. The numbers aren't really adding up. Seems you're costing the company more than you were bringing in. You're a liability.
So you remain awake night after night trying to figure out what you are doing wrong and how you are going to fix it. Maybe if you fess up to the problems and propose an impressive solution you just might be able to make the case to get another chance to make it right. Hey, unlike the new rookie replacement they'd be likely to hire in your place, at least you know where the hemorrhage is and how to stop it.
You start to tinker and make some changes here and there, examining every possible improvement with great interest, sensitivity and insight. And with each change you implement you can actually begin to feel things turning around for the better.
The day of the review finds you extremely nervous, but you think that you've created a small window of hope with all the improvements you've made. Bob politely shakes your hand and points to the far corner of the room, where the company CEO himself is seated, already deeply engrossed in poring over your documents; furrowing his brow here and widening his eyes there.
You wait just outside the office and finally, after many nail biting hours Bob emerges from the office and says, "I can see that you've been trying, but there is just not enough data to go by. Why don't we give you another ten days to continue to implement your changes and you'll take it up again then with the CEO himself."
The next ten days become a blur of motion and activity, with every possible nuance of change and improvement cautiously considered and carefully weighed. The big day arrives and you're feeling exhausted, anxious, but just the smallest bit hopeful as you walk into the meeting with the CEO weighed down with armloads of new spreadsheets and sheaves of documents.
You immediately launch into your presentation, defending your accomplishments, acknowledging your mistakes and laying out the perfect strategy to prevent a relapse of unprofitability.
The CEO examines all your paperwork and says, "I'm sorry. It's not enough."
The CEO meticulously examines all your paperwork and after what seems like an eternity he looks up at you and says, "I'm sorry. It's just not enough."
You've exhausted every avenue of hope and are about to throw the towel in, when it suddenly dawns on you that the CEO just happens to be your father!
You look directly in his eyes and, sobbing uncontrollably, you call out, "I know I didn't really measure up. But, hey Dad, it's me! Could you cut me some slack and gimme a break just this one time?"
The universe is God's global enterprise and its main product line is good deeds.
God created an amazingly beautiful, brilliantly engineered world which is perfect in so many ways but is purposefully left lacking in others. Perfection reigns in the coral reef, at Yosemite and in the ingenious design of DNA. Yet pockets of imperfection exist where children go hungry and illness causes much misery. Like any prosperous, good father, God takes His children into the business to complete His work and gives them the extra money they need to feed the starving, the wherewithal to cure the ill and strength to uplift the infirm.
In fact, the Hebrew word for charity is tzedaka, which comes from the word "justice." Charity is all about rectifying the pockets of injustice where the wealth seems to be spread unevenly. This one hasn't enough money and his brother has got a little extra. The charitable deed rights the wrong and justice prevails.
We of the human race are God's employees. Our job description is clear. Contribute to the enterprise's bottom line to the point of profitability: the spiritual assets must exceed the debits. To ensure the firm's ongoing success an accounting system is put into place which examines each employee's performance vis-a-vis the company's bottom line.
Rosh Hashana is the day of accounting where each Jew is called before the heavenly accountants who weigh every spiritual transaction, as well as every infraction, to determine whether the employee's contract will be renewed for the coming year. It is for this reason that Jews traditionally spend Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana, carefully examining their every action to see how it impacted the overall spiritual profitability of the enterprise, God's universe.
In performing teshuva, repentance, we figure out where we went wrong and just as importantly how we're going to fix it. And on the Day of Judgment we arrive at the synagogue somewhat frightened, subdued and introspective, but ready to plead for the renewal of the contract -- another year of life -- because at least we have identified the problem and have taken measures to make sure it doesn't happen again.
But who can truly say that they've done all they can do as God's employees and are therefore assured of a positive outcome on Rosh Hashana? Therefore we are asked to consider our fates as hanging in the balance and we are given until Yom Kippur to more fully examine our moral issues and better implement our fixes and resolutions. On Yom Kippur, we are so consumed by the uncertainty of our fate that we can't even think about eating or drinking. Over and over we try to account for our sins and resolve for them never to recur as we stand before the CEO, God Almighty Himself. Late in the day, we must conclude that for all our teshuva we still might find ourselves a tad less than fully qualified for a renewal of our life contracts.
Just when it seems that all is lost, we look up and notice that God is our own Father in heaven. So in the final prayer service of the High Holy Days, we beseech Him, "Avinu Malkeinu -- our Father, our King!" Hey Dad, it's me. I'm your son. I know I messed up but please, this one time, give me a break. What father can resist that kind of sincerity on the part of his beloved child.
So He forgives us but asks us to undergo one more challenge. "Now that we've made up, you and I, why don't you come on over to My house and see if you can get along with your siblings as well."
The holiday of Sukkot is all about leaving our permanent abodes and moving into a house with walls as sturdy as you want to make them, but one where the roof -- the separation and barrier between us and God -- is intentionally only loosely covered. This makes it God's house. We are further commanded on Sukkot to take the four species, each symbolic of a different type of Jew, and hold them together every day of the holiday. After restoring our relationship with the Almighty, He invites us into His home where we are asked to unify with all the Jewish People and live harmoniously as one big family for a full week.
Now that we've reunified as a family, God is loath to have us leave after seven days and longingly asks us to hang around for another day which we call Shmini Atzeret, "the eighth, extended day" of the holiday.
And, the next final day of this holiday is called Simchat Torah, "the happiness of Torah." We dance ecstatically holding the sacred Torah scrolls close to our bodies while we circle the bimah.
According to the Jewish mystics, Simchat Torah is not so much that we happily celebrate the beauty of our Jewish Torah, but that once we have restored our relationships with our Father and our brothers and sisters, it is the Torah and by extension God Himself, Who joyously celebrates us, His beloved children.
What a month! What a way to start the year!