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Home » Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish Calendar

Rosh Hashanah Shabbat Shuva: On Credit

Submitted by on September 9, 2018 – 12:56 amNo Comment | 1,878 views

A Year on Credit?

Everyone knows that the last festival of the High Holidays season is Simchat Torah when we dance around the Bimah with the Torah in a ceremony called Hakafot. But did you know that hakafot is not only the mark Simchat Torah, the last holiday of the High Holiday season, but also the mark of Rosh Hashnah, the first holiday of the High Holiday season?

Hakafot in Hebrew means to circle, and the Simchat Torah dance is called hakafot because we dance in a circle around the Bimah. But hakafah in Hebrew also means to loan something on credit, which is the name of the game on Rosh Hashanah.

The Yearly Cycle

In 1764, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, also known as the Alter Rebbe, traveled to Mezritch to learn at the feet of the Rabbi Dovber, the Magid of Mezritch, who was to become his mentor. The Alter Rebbe returned from Mezritch with a teaching from his mentor in the name of the Baal Shem Tov.

Every year, on Rosh Hashanah, taught the Baal Shem Tov, G-d chooses to give us a good year. The fact is that if G-d were to truly consider our behavior in the year that passed, we would discover that we don’t deserve this year. However, G-d decides to give us the good year on credit. The idea is that we receive the good year as an advance, and we will pay it off over the course of the year.

To pay it off means that we utilize the gifts that G-d gives us to serve G-d. G-d gives us good health, energy, resources and funds, and we use it for a life of Torah and Mitzvah.

At the end of the year, during the month of Elul, we act as accountants and sit down to tally our accounts with G-d. Invariably, we find that we are in G-d’s debt–G-d gave us more than we gave in return. We used many resources for ourselves instead of for G-d. We ate for self pleasure, not to gain energy to serve G-d. We used our extra money to obtain luxury items instead of charity. We used our home for our own purposes instead of opening it to visitors and hosting Torah classes and the like.

Knowing that we cannot possibly pay off the entire debt in a single month, G-d negotiates a payment plan. He agrees on terms for minimum payments and we begin to pay off our debt. During the month of Elul, we grow more serious about our relationship with G-d. We pray a little harder, we become a little more fervent, a little more devout. We hear the Shofar every weekday and think about G-d. These are minimum payments toward paying down our loan–the year we received last Rosh Hashanah on credit.

Then comes the final week of the year and we take it up a notch. We begin to wake up earlier in the morning to chant additional prayers of supplication, the Selichut. We prepare for Rosh Hashanah with thoughts of repentance and reconciliation. At this point, G-d takes a lenient position on our loan and decides to wipe it clean.

Most banks are just the opposite. They can’t wait until you can only afford the minimum payments because that is when they can start to make some real money. At this point, your credit is maxed out, you can’t take any more money from the bank, all you can do it is pay it back. Except the bank has you exactly where it wants you. You can’t begin to pay down the loan, you can barely make a dent in the interest. And so long as you can’t pay the loan, the interest continues to rise. You are doomed to owe the bank for the rest of your life.

G-d is just the opposite. Come the last week of the year and G-d sees that you have made minimum payments for a month and pushed yourself even more for a week, and He wipes the slate clean.

New Year

You no longer owe for last year. That is the good news. But what about the coming year? This is where hakafot comes in on Rosh Hashanah. Comes Rosh Hashnah, and G-d floats the idea of giving us another year on credit. Now, G-d knows that we didn’t pay up our loan from last year, or the previous year or the year before that. Yet, G-d considers giving us another year on credit.

But He leaves the idea floating for ten days until the final decision is made on Yom Kippur. During these days, we do our best to pay off whatever balance we owe from the previous year. There are seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Jewish tradition holds that each day of this week, represents the entire year. The Sunday represents all the Sundays of the year. The Monday represents all the Mondays of the year. The same pertains to each day of the week including Shabbat, which represents all the Shabbats of the year. What we do during these days, make up for everything we missed throughout the year. It is our last-ditch effort to pay off the debt from last year though it had been wiped clean.

We spend the week in intense prayer and introspection. We are more scrupulous during this time in our Mitzvot. Things we don’t usually do all year, we make a point of doing during this week. We study more Torah than usual during this week. We give more charity during this week. We seek one another’s forgiveness during this week. We put our best foot forward during this week to make up for the year that passed and to give G-d reason for giving us another year on credit.

And on Yom Kippur, G-d comes through. He provides what we hope will be a year of health and goodness, happiness and blessing.[1]

Sukkot Simchat Torah

After Yom Kippur we are thrilled to have received yet another year on credit. We know we did not deserve it, and we recognize that G-d did it purely out of love. He does not want to let His children down. We celebrate this love during the next festivals, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

We don’t only celebrate G-d’s love, we also celebrate our commitment to pay off the loan this year. To ensure that we will not disappoint. That G-d’s trust will not be displaced. This is why the Sukkot and Simchat Torah are marked by hakafot, which mean both circles and credit.

During Sukkot, we circle the Bimah every day while holding our willow branches in a ceremony called Hoshaanot. We sit in the Sukkah, where we are encircled by the holiness of the Mitzvah. And finally, on the last day of the festival, we reach the pinnacle, the zenith, with joyous dancing around the Bimah, in celebrations called Hakafot.

These celebrations fortify our spirits to pay off the credit in good faith and in good time.

May we all have a good year and we may make regular payments as the debt comes due.


[1] Kesser Shem Tov, 218.