Trembling with Joy
Rosh Hashanah has several other names, one of which is “the Day of Judgment.” On the Jewish New Year, every single person in the world stands before God in judgment. The previous year is taken into review, and decisions are made regarding the year to come.
It was always hard for me to know how to relate to Rosh Hashanah. On one hand, it is a day of joy and celebration. We dress in our finest clothing and share delicious meals with family and friends. On the other hand, we spend half of the time in prayer, contemplating that we are being judged by the Master of the Universe. That’s a pretty scary thought!
The psalmist sums up my ambivalence with words that the Talmud, the Jewish Oral Tradition, associates with Rosh Hashanah: “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Well, which is it? Are we celebrating or are we trembling? It seems difficult to do both at the same time!
I understood the words of the psalm writer when I went through a profound experience — I moved to Israel, what we call making aliyah. Anyone who has moved houses knows that moving is no picnic. Moving to Israel, where everything is tiny compared to super-sized America, also means downsizing in a major way. You have to make decisions about every single thing that you own. Do we really need it? Does it serve a good purpose?
If you do a good job, you end up throwing a lot of stuff out. The process of de-cluttering one’s life and assessing one’s worldly possessions is downright painstaking. But at the same time, it is incredibly liberating. It’s painful, but at the same time it is joyful. There is nothing more cathartic than throwing junk out!
Now I had a better understanding about the Day of Judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, we tremble, knowing that we are being judged. We are forced to take stock of our inner world: Do I really want to behave this way? Do I really want to be that kind of person? Is this the direction I want my life going in? We take note of all of the junk cluttering our minds and interfering with our souls and we throw it out! We say to God, “I’m getting rid of all that garbage!”
And do you know what? It feels pretty good to go through such a thorough cleansing. We feel lighter, clearer, and yes – joyful.