To Be or Not to Be? The Question of Rosh Hashana
According to Jewish tradition, before God created the first human being, a debate took place in the heavenly court.
When the Holy One blessed Be He came to create man, the ministering angels formed into groups, some saying that man should be created, some saying that he should not be created…[the angel of] Kindness voted to create man, because people would perform acts of kindness,[the angel of] Peace voted not to create man, because people would argue and fight, [the angel of] Truth voted not to create man because he would be full of falsehood …”
No such discussion took place prior to the creation of the rest of the world. Only the creation of the human was open to debate, because the human being alone has free will; only his actions can be good or evil. All other creatures merely do what they are programmed to do by instinct, and are therefore morally neutral. As Mark Twain once said, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” Adam is never neutral: he must justify his existence by his actions. We can be judged because we have free will, because we were created not merely to be part of the eco-system, but to use our free will for moral and spiritual achievements. In the words of a contemporary sage, “We are judged because we were created, and we were created because we are judged.”
We have the ability to achieve the greatest heights of morality and altruism or to be the most depraved, evil creatures in existence; the choice is in our own hands. It is this unique capacity of the human being to be good or evil that is marked by the festival of Rosh Hashanah. We celebrate our incredible potential to become similar to our Creator, but at the same time, we tremble before our awesome responsibility and the judgment that awaits us.
Judaism does not view time as a linear progression but rather as a circular path. The specific spiritual energies of each part of the very first year in history returns every year at the same point in time. (See the chapter on the Jewish Calendar for a more detailed explanation of this idea.) As the anniversary of the creation of the first human being18 is Rosh Hashanah, the “angelic debate” is renewed every year at this time, “Does man deserve to exist? Has he justified his existence?” We stand in prayer before our Creator on Rosh Hashanah and declare our commitment to act in such a way that we will be deemed worthy to exist.