Rosh Hashanah: New Year’s Greetings

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Shanah Tovah
17 Sep 2009
Rosh Hashanah

The Rama writes that it is customary on Rosh HaShana to greet with the expression, “May you be inscribed for a good year” (OC 582:9). However, some people adopt a slightly different expression, which is not mentioned in the early commentaries: “May you be inscribed and sealed immediately for a good year!”

The basis for this alternative greeting is the gemara which states that it is only the ordinary person whose judgment is written on Rosh HaShana and sealed on Yom Kippur. The complete tzaddik, however, is immediately sealed on Rosh HaShana for a good year (Rosh HaShana 16b). By wishing our friends an immediate sealing, we are implying that they are perfectly righteous individuals, in the exalted category of the “tzaddik gamur”.

The most basic understanding of this passage is that for those who are completely righteous, G-d does not have to wait ten days to scrutinize their actions and determine if they are worthy of a good year, which will afford them the maximum opportunity to sanctify His name. He is sure of their steadfast commitment. This understanding affirms the modified greeting we often hear.

However, there is an alternative understanding which confirms the traditional blessing. This understanding makes a special inference from the word “completely” righteous.

No human being is perfect, and everyone needs to constantly grow in all good qualities. Someone who is “complete” is really “finished” – he or she, although a saintly person, is done growing. (In modern Hebrew when we say that someone is “gamur”, we mean he or she is “done for”.) We could say that such a person, though written for life, does not benefit from the special opportunity the 10 Days of Repentance provide. Unlike the ordinary person, who has until Yom Kippur to revise his inscription, such a person is inscribed on Rosh HaShanah and then HaShem so to speak closes the book on him.

It follows that being sealed for life already on Rosh HaShanah is not necessarily the blessing it is sometimes made out to be. Perhaps the traditional blessing mentioned in the Rema is really best. (Based on an explanation of Rav Yisrael Sonnenblick.)

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.