The second Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah begins as follows:
The are four times in the year that the world is judged: on Pesach for grain; on Shavuot for the fruits of the tree; on Rosh Hashanah everyone passes before [Hashem] like sheep, as it says “Who fashions the hearts of them all, Who understands all their doings”; and on Sukkot for water.
We therefore find that grain, fruit, water and people are all judged at separate times of the year.
The Ran explains that it is from tradition (diverei kabala) that we learn that people are judged on a yearly basis. The Torah teaches: “… the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end” (Devarim 11:12). It is therefore understood that from the beginning of the year it is determined what will be until the year’s end.
The Tosfot Yom Tov asks, if a person is judged on Rosh Hashanah then surely everything impacting him in the coming year is encompassed in that judgment. This would include produce, fruit, water, etc. What then is different about the judgments of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot?
The Tosfot Yom Tov answers, citing the Ran, that those judgments apply to the world, to the congregation at large. On Rosh Hashanah however, as the Mishnah teaches, every person is judged on an individual basis. It is then that it is decided what share each person will have in that which was decided in the other festivals.
The Mahariach provides two different answers. The first answer is that only “life and death” are determined on Rosh Hashana. He cautions that the judgment’s impact on life is not to be understood literally since we see that the righteous pass away, while the wicked live long lives. Rather Rosh Hashanah’s primary focus is on the eternal life, even though life and death in this world is ostensibly still determined then.
The second answer is that indeed on Rosh Hashanah one’s livelihood is also determined. One’s personal livelihood however is not determined solely by what grows in the fields. It is possible that in a particularly bad agricultural year, an individual can enjoy business success and not feel the impact of the rises prices. Alternatively, one may not enjoy the prices that come with bountiful crops if their personal business fortunes have taken a turn for the worst. It is interesting to compare this answer of the Mahariach with the Tosfot Yom Tov’s. We find that that while the Mahariach appears to maintain that on Rosh Hashanah people’s fortune are determined independently of the rest of the nation, according to the Tosfot Yom Tov the individual is not completely separate as it is his share in the community’s fortune that he is being allotted.1
1 Perhaps this difference is evident in another discussion. The Tosfot Yom Tov continues by asking why Rosh Hashanah was chosen as the day of judgement. Before explaining this question, we need to understand that there is actually a debate when the world was created. According to R’ Eliezer the world was created on the 25^th^ of Elul, meaning that Man was created on the first of Tishrei, while R’ Yehoshua maintains that the world was created in Nissan. According to R’ Eliezer it is clear why Rosh Hashanah was selected as the day of judgement. It was on Adam’s first day that he sinned and was forgiven with mercy. That day demonstrated Hashem’s mercy in judgment and Hashem guaranteed that the future generations would receive similar treatment in judgement. According to R’ Yehoshua however why was Rosh Hashana chosen?
There are a number answers given for this question. The Ran answers that Hashem wanted to select an auspicious time for atonement. On Yom Kippur the Jewish people were forgiven for the sin with the Golden Calf. Rosh Hashanah,the beginning of that month, was selected so that the period of ten days culminating in Yom Kippur would be appropriate for repentance. Alternatively, the Ran suggests that on Rosh Hashanah, Hashem had already begun to be appeased by Moshe after that sin.
Note once again according R’ Eliezer, that it reflects Adam’s atonement;,the focus is very much on the individual. The Ran’s explanation of R’ Yehoshua, that Rosh Hashanah was selected because it coincides with the forgiveness for the Golden Calf, brings the communal aspect of forgiveness aside for the judgment of multiple individual. It highlights the individual’s positive judgment can only be dependant on the positive outcome of the nation.
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