During my years as a shul rabbi, I observed how Rosh Hashanah functioned as a community reunion of sorts. There was (and still remains possible, albeit virtually, this particular year) a definitive buzz associated with having nearly everyone, all together for the first time since the previous year’s Yom Kippur services. Amidst that glee of togetherness, however, I found a sobering tension from within the themes of introspection and judgement that pop up continuously in the liturgy (and which spilled over, inevitably, into sermons). Although outwardly sweet and celebratory, the advent of our Jewish New Year -- pointedly dubbed Yom Ha-Din by the Rabbis -- should make us feel humble, if not vulnerable.
And yet, there is a remedy for this conflict. Judaism does not necessarily view judgement as a negative experience, because judgement is a statement that things really matter. When we are judged, it means that what we do matters, and that we are accountable for our actions. But, even more, it means that what we do actually makes a difference.
If someone can judge me, it means that they care, because if they didn’t care, why would they bother passing judgement? Indeed, the people we judge the most, are the people we love the most. And this is the essence of Rosh Hashanah: on this day Hashem tells us, each of us, that we really matter, and that God really cares.
This is why discipline and judgement, in their proper proportions, are so critical in relationships, indeed, it is so sad to see children sometimes who never get judged, because often the message they take away is that no-one really cares….
And this is very much part of why Judaism takes such issue with the idea that God created the world and then moved on; a God that is not involved, is a God that does not care.
And more than anything else, Hashem is the Judge on Rosh Hashanah precisely because what we do, indeed, whatever we do, really does make a difference.
And of course, a critical part of this process is not just how we are judged, or even how we judge others, but how we judge ourselves. This does not have to mean that we need necessarily be harsh on ourselves, but at the very least means that what we do matters to us, and that we think we are worth being judged.
Taking stock of where I am, and judging myself in terms of how I can improve, means that I matter to myself, (and have self-worth), such that I not only want to be better, but I am actually worth the effort and investment in becoming better. And, the blessing of community is that we have thoughtful, caring allies who are taking their own parallel rides of judgement alongside us - a gift that enables that buffer between gleeful reunion and sobering self-scrutiny to shrink without liability.