The Mishna in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (16a) famously teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, all people on earth pass before the Almighty “ki-vnei maron,” which the Gemara (18a) explains to mean that we all pass before Him individually, one at a time, for judgment. Interestingly, however, the Gemara then immediately adds, “Ve-khulan niskarin bi-skira achat” – “And they are all surveyed in a single survey,” meaning, we are all judged together. It appears that alongside the personal judgment of each and every individual, we are also “surveyed” altogether.
Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Mussar Ha-mishna, offers several explanations of the Gemara’s comments, one of which is that it refers to each person’s impact upon the world. We are judged not only on the basis of our actions, of the positive and negative things we’ve done, but also in light of their effect on other people. Specifically, people of stature yield considerable influence upon others, either positive or negative. An important part of our judgment is the nature and magnitude of our influence, whether, and to what extent, we have impacted positively or negatively upon our surroundings and upon the world at large. And thus in addition to the weighing of our merits against our wrongdoing, we are also judged “bi-skira achat,” in consideration of how and to what extent we have affected the world.
Rav Ginsburg cites in this context the famous story told by the Gemara (Berakhot 28b) of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s final moments or life. The Gemara relates that Rabban Yochanan’s students came to visit him as he lay on his deathbed, and when he saw them, he began weeping. He explained that he wept out of fear, as he would soon be departing this world and facing judgment. From the Gemara’s account it appears that Rabban Yochanan started weeping only upon seeing his students. Why, we might wonder, would he weep out of fear of judgment only upon seeing his students enter the room? Rav Ginsburg suggests that when Rabban Yochanan saw his large group of disciples, and he realized the scope of his influence, he felt anxious. Knowing that his judgment would take into account the influence he has had, he wept. A person of stature has the capacity to wield profound positive influence, but can also produce far-reaching, gravely harmful consequences by speaking or acting improperly, or by making an incorrect decision. These unsettling thoughts went through Rabban Yochanan’s mind when he saw his students and realized just how many people he had influenced, and this caused him to cry.
As we introspect during the Yamim Nora’im and consider where and how we need to change and improve, we must take into account the impact our speech and conduct has upon the people around us. We are judged “bi-skira achat,” in reference to the effect – positive and negative – that we have upon the world. Our process of teshuva, then, must relate not only to our conduct itself, but also to the broader question we need to ask ourselves, the question of what kind of effect our conduct has on the people in our lives, and whether we are contributing positively and significantly upon Am Yisrael and the world.