On Rosh Hashanna, the Day of Judgement, we are commanded to eat, drink and be happy. How can this be? If everything for the upcoming year is decided on this holy day, shouldn’t we be in fear that we won’t receive a good judgement? We even prepare ourselves for our big day in court for the entire previous month (Elul), and when the big day comes we have a mitzvah to eat and feast…and to be happy? What kind of happiness can one experience when their entire year is being decided. Whether you go to synagogue once each year or every day, we all read the same supplications. No matter what movement you subscribe to, everyone is saying the same thing…”who will live, who will die…who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will become poor and who will become enriched?…” The list goes on. Can we really eat, drink and be happy on such a day?
Perhaps we can answer this apparent contradiction as follows. When a person has to “face the music,” the natural inclination is fight or flight. But this instance is unique because when it comes to the King of kings who is above time and space, is there anywhere to run or hide? If not, then the only place to run is towards this Infinite/Almighty G-d. That effectively makes this particular fear a necessary ingredient and catalyst to generate the appropriate emotion when we pray.
However, there is more to it than that. Imagine a father and son walking through the streets of a city. They are chatting and they share a very strong bond. Suddenly, the child is missing! Was he kidnapped? Simply lost? The fear and trepidation of his fate is overbearing. After 30 minutes the police inform the father that child has been found and the father runs to their location. Upon seeing his father, the child cries and hugs his father with all of his might! This unique “hug after fear” is a completely different type of hug. It is the fear that generated this unique happiness and closeness afterwards.
Rosh Hashanah is a happy and even celebratory time of recognizing the King of Kings Who ultimately calls the shots, and that he is our merciful Father in heaven.
Based on Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus, zt”l, Days of Awe p. 371. English books by Rabbi Pinchas.