Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | September 9, 2015

FACE the BOOK of Life

Smile, you're on camera...

Smile, you’re on camera…

On Rosh HaShana, we are told, HaShem has three books opened in front of Him.  The books are simply lists of names.  Each of us falls into one of the books’ categories.  The first book is for people who are righteous.  They are immediately sealed for life and a good year.  The next book is those who are wicked.  They are immediately condemned to death.  The final book, which is likely the thickest book of all, is those who are in-between, neither righteous nor evil.  For them, the judgment is suspended for the duration of the Aseres Yemei Teshuva to see how they will behave.

Now, certainly, there are people who are righteous who pass away during the following year, and evildoers who seem to live forever.  However, this judgment is based, Chazal tell us, on Olam HaBa.  Though the judgment for a person’s life will come when they die, their lives are judged yearly based on the direction they’re taking.  Are they heading for Gan Eden, or are they on course for a different destination?  Based on that, they may be judged on the coming year in a way that corresponds to that.  A tzaddik may suffer more now, to eradicate minor sins, while a wicked person may prosper so that he is owed no good in the world to come.  If peace and tranquility will help a person grow closer to HaShem, then that’s what they’ll be given.

This also helps explain how there can be so many people who are left hanging in the balance. While the number of good deeds versus sins may be at 49% or 51%, it’s not a clear indicator of where a person is headed.  Therefore, we have more time to show which way we’re moving.

What struck me about this judgment is that it’s a snapshot of where the person is on Rosh HaShana.  We don’t make it into those books necessarily by scrutiny of each of our actions the entire year, but rather by what those actions have transformed us into.  We are at that moment a semi-static individual, being looked at as the cumulative effect of what we’ve done.

It brings to mind a quote from the Rambam that when we die, we remain for eternity whoever we became in life.  Whatever growth we’ve done is the growth we’ve attained and the midos development we’ve achieved defines who we are in the afterlife.  It’s when the points are tallied and we reveal the finished product.

I found an analogous circumstance in modern-day life.  Many of you know that last Rosh HaShana it was decreed that a close friend of mine, R’ Dovid Winiarz z”l, known to thousands by his moniker, “The Facebuker Rebbe,” would not live out the year.  Perhaps because he’d fulfilled all he was intended to fulfill in life, or perhaps because he had no years left, but for whatever reason, HaShem called him back to headquarters.

During the week of Shiva, I scrambled feverishly, trying to find a way to capture all the Torah, humor, warmth, and goodness he had shared with his flock on Facebook before his account was inactivated and it was deleted.  He had dedicated years of his life to Kiruv and Jewish outreach on Facebook, under the guidance of his Rebbi and with his Rosh Yeshiva’s annual bracha for protection.  In case you’re not familiar with Facebook, it’s like a giant series of bulletin boards where people can share photos, thoughts, and ideas to be seen by others.  When you connect with others, you make new “friends.”  People from around the world (over 350 million at this point) use it to connect with others and share their feelings.

What happened next was astounding.  Facebook “memorialized” his page.  That means it’s locked.  It can’t be modified by anyone but stands as it did when he passed away.  His last post showed exactly the direction he was heading.  He died in a car crash on his way to a Kiruv convention.  His last post says, “Before I leave on my road trip I came to learn Torah with my son and his friend…”  The very last thing he shared was a Dvar Torah from his son. (Viewed by over 21,000 people!) This was what was important to him, and the snapshot of his life clearly shows the direction he had been heading.

Before he got in that car, he could have deleted, altered, and changed any of those previous comments and messages.  Afterwards, it was out of his hands.  He was who he was and everyone can go through and see it.

That, to me, is what Rosh HaShana is like.  We have a whole year of activity which we’ve posted on our “page.”  When HaShem reviews it on Rosh HaShana, He will determine which book that page belongs in.  Now is the time to make the changes we want and correct any negative posts.  It’s the time to review the year for ourselves in advance of it being one for the books.

And on the outside chance that we’re going to be in the third book and given a little extra time, let’s make sure we’re using the opportunity to rewrite our life’s story, and cast ourselves in the role of the hero, the tzaddik, and the person we’d be happy to be for all time.

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