Shimon Apisdorf on the Meaning of Rosh Hashanah

I came across this quote from The Rosh Hashsnah Survival Kit when I was goggleing for something else. i had never looked at the book before Does it sound like 1980’s new age to anyone else? This view of love is more Maryanne WIlliamson or 12 step than Midrash. Human Potential and life choices seem to be generic new age. Any thoughts? In midrash, judgment is tempered by love, or God takes out his anger and judgment on an intimate object, or God teaches us to recite the 13 attributes of mercy or God accepts bribes from us in His love for us. Lots of variants, but always two parts judgment and then mercy-love.

If Rosh Hashanah could be summed up in one word, that word would be; love, potential, and life.
Let’s take a look at each of these words and reflect on their meaning in the context of Rosh Hashanah. Follow me:

On Rosh Hashanah, when we say that God “sits in judgment” what we are saying is that God loves us: He cares about each and every one of us, He cares about who we are, how we live, and whether or not we are actualizing the potential He gave us. That the creator of the universe actually cares about “little ‘ol me” is a remarkably empowering and life-giving idea. The reality that we confront on Rosh Hashanah is one that highlights the intrinsic value and preciousness of every life in the eyes of God.


Every Rosh Hashanah represents a vote of confidence from God in our individual, personal potential. Every Rosh Hashanah also presents us with a fresh opportunity to unlock more and more of that great God-given gift.


Throughout the Rosh Hashanah prayers, we ask God to “Remember us for life” and “Inscribe us in the Book of Life.” When we greet one another we say “May you have a good year, and may you be written and sealed for a year of good life and peace.”

Our prayers for life are meant to be understood at face value—we want to live—but they also have a deeper meaning. Consider this: I once met a Holocaust survivor who said, “I would choose to go through all those years in Auschwitz again rather than spend one day of my life as a Nazi.” That is an incredible statement, and what it means, I believe, is this: one can be alive, strong, and healthy yet be “dead” at the same time.
On Rosh Hashanah, we not only ask for life, we strive to be people who embrace the kinds of values, ideals, and choices that will fill our days with life: With meaning, with goodness, with spirituality—with life!

Author of Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit and Beyond Survival: A Journey to the Heart of Rosh Hashanah, its Prayers.

2 responses to “Shimon Apisdorf on the Meaning of Rosh Hashanah

  1. I’ve been reading Kaminer’s “I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional”, so I REALLY didn’t need to reframe R. Apisdorf in my inner dialogue…his was one of the few Yomim Noraim services I could weather with any sense of change and accomplishment. It’s been years now though. I would like to see your treatments of his “nutshell” series on theological matters.

  2. Presumably this is aimed at Jews who come to shul twice a year. It presents Judaism (as the author conceives it) as a whole. The focus is not really on the particular elements of Rosh Hashana.

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