Rosh Hashanah: Balancing the scales

September 24, 2019

Rosh Hashanah:  Balancing the scales

Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. One of the symbols of the month is the scale. Not the kind one plays on the piano, or that come with a fish, but that ancient implement in which the objects to be weighed were placed on one side and stones in units of measurement on the other. The idea of the scale is to take two opposite and different things and measure the difference between them.

On Rosh Hashannah, we can take this image of the scales and apply it in a metaphysical sense to our own lives, and weigh our actions. Do our good deeds outweigh our bad ones? Presumably, the Holy One is also checking our scales to see how we measure up. Our celebrations, reflections and prayers for Rosh Hashanah are meant to help us move out of whatever stasis we have settled into on either side of the scale, closer to the center, to the place of balance.

For the rabbis, balance was critical to living well. Maimonides, one of our most important rabbis and teachers from the 11th century, advocated the pursuit of a middle path in all aspects of our lives. We should strive to be neither easily angered, nor completely unfeeling. In order to loosen the hold on habitual patterns, he encouraged us to behave in the opposite way of our own inclinations: if we tend to be stingy for example, we are encouraged to give generously. To increase happiness and cultivate compassion during festival celebrations, while eating and drinking and wearing fine clothes, one should “open the gates and give to the poor.”

In all of our behaviors, the rabbis advised personal reflection and attention to avoid excesses in order that we follow the middle path, that of moderation.

Questions such as: Do I spend too much time at work, and not enough with my family? Do I meet the needs of everyone else before I take care of myself? Do I spend more time at home in front of a screen than I do engaging with my community? These types of questions will help you determine if your life is in balance, and where you might consider making some changes. May we, in the coming year, resolve to tip the scales in the right direction, striving to bring our lives into balance.

L'Shanna Tova,

Rabbi Judith Beiner