Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rosh Hashanna: when the nations are judged

(This is a re-write of an essay that originally appeared September 24, 2014)

The Jewish New Year of 5776 begins at sundown on September 13, 2015. This two-day period is called, Rosh Hashanna. It’s also called, the ‘Day of Judgment’.

Our Heritage talks about that judgment. It teaches that each of us will pass before HaShem as sheep pass before a shepherd. It teaches also that nations will be judged (Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett, “Abarbanel on the Parsha: Parshat Emor, ohrsomayach, May 3, 2014).  

We have to guess how nations are judged on Rosh Hashanna. But we don’t have to guess what will happen to them on their Final Judgment.

At that time, they will pass before HaShem (our G-d), one at a time, perhaps just like us (Avodah Zarah 2a-b).

The first nation to appear before HaShem will be the most prominent among them, Rome. Rome is the ‘forefather’ of the modern West.

Ancient Rome created the Jewish exile we now live through. The modern Roman West creates and supports much of the anti-Jewish agitation we see almost every day in the news.

The ancient Rome was responsible for the destruction of our beloved Jerusalem. The modern Rome was responsible for the Holocaust that murdered 6 million Jews, killing perhaps 3,600 Jews a day for perhaps five years.

This Rome will stand before HaShem. It will tell HaShem it deserves reward, not punishment for its deeds. It will say, ‘we have established many marketplaces. We have constructed many bath houses. We have amassed much silver and gold’ (ibid, 2b).

Rome will argue, ‘we have done all of this for the benefit of the Jew. Because of our actions, Jews were able to involve themselves with Torah study’ (ibid, 2b).

To this claim, HaShem will reply, your actions did indeed benefit the Jewish people. Your efforts did help Jews involve themselves with Torah study. But that wasn’t your intention. Whatever you have done was done for yourselves only, for your own interests. Your motivations for your efforts were not altruistic.

HaShem will tell Rome, you established markets, but not for Jews. You did that for your own commercial interests—and to create places for prostitutes. Your bath houses were mostly for you, to ‘luxuriate yourselves in them’ (ibid).

HaShem will judge Rome. He will tell Rome, your actions do not merit reward.

Think about how Western nations have treated Jews over the last 2,000 years. Think about how the West still vilifies the Jewish people. Think about how HaShem might judge them, based upon the evidence he sees from those 2,000 years.

The next nation to stand before HaShem will be Persia—Iran. HaShem will ask, ‘in what did you involve yourselves?’ (ibid,2b).

Persia (Iran) will reply, we constructed many bridges. We have conquered many cities. We have fought many defensive wars. We have done all this for the Jews, so that they should be able to involve themselves with Torah study (ibid).

HaShem will reject Persia’s argument. He will tell Persia, ‘whatever you have done, you have done for yourselves only. You constructed bridges to collect tolls from those who used those bridges. You conquered many cities not for Jews, but in order to press their citizens and livestock into serving your kings. The wars you have waged were possible only because I allowed them to be fought’ (ibid).

HaShem will judge Persia-Iran. He will say, your actions do not merit rewards.

The Persians, our Heritage tells us (ibid, 2b), will be shocked. They will expect reward because, they will argue, they weren’t Rome.

You see, Rome had destroyed the Jews’ last Temple (70 CE). The Persians, however, had allowed the Jews to return to their homeland with Ezra (perhaps 510 BCE), to rebuild the first Temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians.

Nevertheless, Persia-Iran will not merit reward. Indeed, think about how modern Iran speaks of Israel today. Will this modern anti-Semitic Persia be rewarded for how it treats the Jewish people—or punished?

Other nations will follow. Each will plead its case before G-d. Each will argue that it had worked to benefit the Jews. Each will praise its own secular accomplishments. Each will claim that Jews clearly benefited from those accomplishments. Each will argue that its actions and behaviour merit reward, not punishment (ibid).

They will all compare themselves to Rome. They will all say, ‘we are not Rome. We never destroyed the Holy Temple’. Each will claim that it never subjugated the Jewish people—certainly not like Rome has done.

HaShem will reject their claims. We learn from this rejection that He will judge them all by one standard: the way each treated the Jewish people (see ibid, 2b, the notes in the ArtScroll Avodah Zara Shottenstein Edition).

Their behaviour towards the Jewish nation will determine their fate. As they treated Jews, so, too, now, will they be rewarded--or punished. Think about how the nations treat Jews. Can you imagine the verdicts they will receive?  

Rosh Hashanna is here. This holiday is about Judgment. It reminds us that we are all accountable. We will all be judged for our actions. Nations will be no different (Rosh Hashanna, 8b).

How do you think that’s going to work out?


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