I was reflecting on my visit two years ago to a farm in New Jersey with my family. Immediately upon entering the farm, the experience of Rosh Hashanah was thrust upon me. There were numerous rams in an enclosed area. Seeing their horns, I was reminded of their bent shape to symbolize how we must bend and be flexible with our fellow man yet be mindful that these horns also produce a stern sound to awaken us for the final judgment.
Next, we went picking apples and vegetables. I was struck by the magical idea that the apples and vegetables would serve as reminders for us to have a sweet year and rise above our enemies.
Third and perhaps most important I saw an eclectic mix of Jewish people including Chassidim, Lubavitchers, Modern-Orthodox and the unaffiliated.
The unaffiliated Jews were so excited to converse with our eclectic mix and announce how they would have apples for the New Year and how they knew many religious Jews in Brooklyn.
Lastly, I was struck with the notion that there were sheep on the farm. This reminded me that we will all soon pass before G-d as a flock of sheep. I reasoned that if we are sheep, then G-d is our shepherd. We know that a shepherd is known to be compassionate to its flock, a comforting thought, knowing that we will soon be judged by the Almighty. I also realized that all the Jews on the farm will be judged, not just the observant ones. That being the case it dawned upon me that we are a collective group and it was especially incumbent upon us to pray for all the Jews that were represented on the farm as we are all that flock of sheep that needs to survive as a unified whole.
I thought, the Torah reading before Rosh Hashana can help internalize this message. Nitzavim (standing) is the antithesis of Vayelech (moving), yet they’re read together on Shabbos. What’s the message? In life you must first stand and reflect and then move with the knowledge you absorbed. It would be counter-intuitive to walk in your ways without a contemplative introspection beforehand. Rosh Hashana is a time of judgment but also one of reflection and goal-making. Beginnings bring with them renewal, the opportune time for goal-setting. Setting mindful goals at the outset of the year will ensure a year of calculated and successful movement. Using this idea, it would be incumbent upon us to absorb the fact that we’re one nation (“on a farm”) and need act upon this realization by engaging in fervent prayer for our brethren.
The simanim at the farm prepared me for the upcoming holiday and impressed upon me the collective judgment that will soon ensue.
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