Yesterday, we discussed the Mishna’s ambiguous remark in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (16a) that we all pass before God on Rosh Hashanah like “benei maron,” a phrase interpreted by the Gemara (18a) in three different ways. First, the Gemara explains this term as referring to sheep passing one-by-one through the entrance to their corral. The second interpretation is that this phrase refers to a particular narrow road which led up an incline, and could be traveled by only one person at a time. The Gemara’s third explanation is that we are judged like soldiers who are counted individually as they go out to war.
Reflecting on these different contexts, we might suggest that the Gemara speaks here of three different aspects of our lives that come under scrutiny as we stand in judgment before God on Rosh Hashanah.
The image of sheep perhaps symbolizes our day-to-day routine, our ordinary affairs, tending to our basic needs. Sheep do little more than try to survive, spending their time eating, drinking and procreating, and thus the Gemara’s first explanation of “benei maron” refers to the judgment of our normal routine. When we go about our regular daily affairs, caring for our basic physical and material needs – such as working, shopping, eating, sleeping, and tending to our households – do we ensure to follow the Torah’s laws and values, and carefully adhere to the demands of Halakha which govern daily life?
The Gemara’s second interpretation speaks of a grueling hike, a challenging project which one undertakes. Symbolically, then, it signifies the pursuits to which we devote a great deal of time, energy and attention. Which challenges do we choose to take upon ourselves? Which ambitious goals have we set? What do we prioritize in budgeting our time, money, energy and focus? Do we strive and exert effort in the pursuit of moral and religious excellence, or in the pursuit of vanity?
The final judgment mentioned by the Gemara concerns the role of “soldiers” which we often choose to fill, the various battles which we wage. Which battles do we choose to fight? What makes us angry and upset? Are the causes that we fight for legitimate and worth the struggle, or do they inflict unnecessary harm? Do we wage battles and take on causes out of sincere motives, or for self-aggrandizement or personal interests? When we complain and protest, are our grievances valid, or petty?
The Gemara here stresses that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is all-encompassing, covering the totality of our lives – both our ordinary, day-to-day affairs, as well as the ambitious undertakings and struggles in which we choose to involve ourselves. We are called upon to carefully assess the entirety of our conduct and all the decisions we make to determine whether we have truly devoted ourselves to the faithful service of God and to fulfilling His wishes to the very best of our ability.