Rosh Hashana although referred to a day of judgment is actually an annual review. The English definition of “judgment” is not quite indicative of the true feel for the day because the theme of Rosh Hashanah is God’s compassionate manifestation of Avinu Malkeinu— “our Father, our King.” Perhaps it would be better, therefore, to call Rosh Hashanah the Day of Assessment.
Think of it as a work performance evaluation. A boss would not judge his employee by saying, “Well I can do better, and therefore you are fired.” Employers generally hire employees because they cannot do what the employees can do.
So too, God’s assessment of us on Rosh Hashanah is not a judgment of who we are as people. Rather, it is a compassionate evaluation of what we have done and how we have used our potential that year. From this, He determines what measures must be taken to get us back on track to fulfill our potential. If God makes a judgment at all, He makes it with tremendous respect and love for us; with enormous sensitivity and consideration for the challenges He has given us.
If Rosh Hashanah were a day of judgment then we would simply be classified as sinners. But if Rosh Hashanah is really an annual review, whereby God assesses our actions and performance based on our potential, then the question is really whether we have succeeded or whether we have failed.
A day of assessment is actually more daunting than a day of judgment. It is not about determining whether we are sinners or saints; it is about whether we are losers or winners. As it says in the prophet, “God says to the Jewish people, ‘Return, for you have failed in your sins.’” In other words we did not just sin we have failed. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik points out that when we transgress, we are existential failures—we fail at the very purpose for our existence.
Torah is not just trying to protect us from becoming a sinner. It protects us from becoming a loser.
With great love and compassion God built into the year an annual review to evaluate our performance. It is meant to be a very empowering time for us. It should not depress us or make us angry with God for being judgmental. G-d is not out to get us. He knows that He created us with much inner conflicts and put us in a world full of challenges. The annual review is only to help us achieve our optimal personal performance and protect us from becoming failures. He evaluates and assesses us with compassion, empathy and forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah is really about getting in touch with what we need to do this year to actualize our potential and live our purpose.