As we begin the month of Elul, the sequence of the Yomin Noraim begins. The actual beginning is Rosh HaShana, when the new year starts. But there is an interesting problem with that Yom Tov. All the other Chagim their names are given to them in the Torah. But Rosh HaShanah is called various other names in the Torah. Yom HaZikaron, Yom Teruah, but not Rosh HaShanah. Where does the name Rosh HaShanah come from?
The one place where the phrase Rosh HaShana is mentioned in in the context of a Pasuk about the difference between Eretz Yisroel and Mitzrayim :
For the land, which you go in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from where you came out, where you did sow your seed, and did water it with your foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, where you go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water as the rain of heaven comes down; a land which the LORD thy God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.
But what is interesting is that we see that Rosh Hashana and Eretz Yisroel are tied together. In what deeper way are these two ideas connected? In order to explain this let us examine how the Pasuk defines Eretz Yisroel.
In order to emphasize what is unique about Eretz Yisroel it is contrasted to Egypt. Specifically it compares it to the fact that in Egypt the water comes from the irrigation of your feet. What does that mean?
Egypt has a constant flowing seemingly unending source of water, the Nile River. In Egypt when you need water, you can depend on the fact there is water. The agriculture of Egypt is built on the fact there will be water, and using canals that water can be distributed throughout the land, to wherever it is needed. In ancient, and not even so ancient, Egypt, there were human powered bicycle-like contraptions, that by the use of their legs, the water would be distributed throughout the country. That is the meaning, that in Egypt you drink from your legs. But, there is no need to look up to HaShem. Everything is in control, all is taken care of, and the world is organized. It is a regular world.
The word for ‘feet’ and the word for ‘regular’ in Hebrew are from the same root. That is also the same root as the word for ’spies’, “Meraglim”. They are the ones who want to make Eretz Yisroel into a regular place, or to return us to the land of Regel- Egypt.
But Eretz Yisroel is the opposite. There is no water that runs on a continuous basis through the country. The water comes down from the sky. It requires you to look up to Shamayim. The only way to live in Eretz Yisroel is looking up constantly to HaShem. If you try to live in Eretz Yisroel not looking up, but looking at your feet that is the sin of the Meraglim. Eretz Yisroel is the place where HaShem is always involved.
That is what Chazal mean that whoever lives in Chutz La’Aretz is as if they are worshipping false gods. Worshipping other gods does not always mean bowing down to idols of gold and silver. It includes that even if you consider there are any other powers in the world, you are acknowledging another god. One who lives in a world where they feel in control, and they do not have the need to look up to HaShem, they are disconnected from HaShem. You can find Him if you look very diligently in Chutz La’Aretz, but in Eretz Yisroel it is extremely clear Who is in charge. Everything comes directly from HaShem.
That is what Rosh HaShana is about, in a manner similar to Eretz Yisroel. It is not just that we are judged for the previous year and rewarded or not for what we did. It is much more sophisticated than that. We are receiving our directives from the King for the upcoming year. What our responsibilities will be. What our challenges will be. What we can accomplish. But in order to do this we need resources. And Rosh HaShana is when we are allocated what we need for the upcoming year. But it is based on what we did the previous year. Did we use the resources wisely? Did we accomplish, and overcome our challenges? So Rosh HaShanah is about realizing that HaShem runs the world with a plan, and requesting and pleading that I want to be a part of that plan, in order to accomplish.
In that way Rosh Hashana and Eretz Ysroel are the different facets of the same idea. It is the recognition that HaShem directs the world in a specific way, and how we are going to be part of that.
But the Pasuk also mentions the ‘end of the year’. That is Elul. What is the special gaze of HaShem on us during Elul as the year comes to an end, that is also part of this idea? Elul in Hebrew is “I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me”. It is the time when we approach HaShem, and say we are yours. But shouldn’t that be after Yom Kippur when we are cleansed of sin?
If we look at all the Chagim of Klal Yisroel, they are created by the actions of the previous generations. What was Elul? Elul is when Moshe told us that we have a chance to repent and do Teshuva. When Moshe goes up to Har Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul, he tells the Jews, you can overcome the temptation of the Satan, and we can get the second Luchos. And the Jews spend Elul doing Teshuva for the sin of the Eigel . And when Yom Kippur comes they accomplished and got the second Luchos. Elul is the time when HaShem looks at us and says, whatever you messed up before, now you can rectify it. So when we know that HaShem trusts us, and is looking at us in that way, we feel closer and bring ourselves to HaShem.
When at the end of the year we look at what we did with the Kochos and maybe we squandered some of them, we know that even if we wasted a Matan Torah HaShem still loves us. So Eretz Yisroel, Rosh Hashanah, and Elul are about the realization of our direct connection to HaShem, and his involvement with us, and what we can accomplish.