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by Rabbi Altein, September 19, 2011

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new Jewish Year. Why of all days, do we observe New Years on this particular day? Jewish history began when the Jews left Egypt in the spring. Does it not make sense that the Jewish New Year should have been observed six months earlier, in the spring?

The answer is that New Years is not just a celebration of Jewish history. Rosh Hashanah has universal meaning; it is the beginning of all life on earth. Our sages explain that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the very first humans, Adam & Eve. The sixth day of Creation, the day when G-d created the human, was designated by the Torah as the beginning of the year because the creation of the human gave meaning and purpose to the creation of all creatures.

Only the human is endowed with the ability to choose right from wrong. Animals have a certain level of intelligence, but their intelligence is limited to helping them satisfy their instinctive needs. The ability to think in the abstract, to recognize values and judgments about what is ethical and right or what is unethical and wrong, is the prerogative of a human being.

This week’s Torah Reading emphasizes the value of having free choice. The Torah says: “Look. I place before you today the ability to choose life by doing what is good or choosing death by doing evil. Choose life.”

It is a marvelous privilege to be free to choose. That privilege, however, brings with it awesome responsibility. When we decide on a living a particular lifestyle, we have no one to blame for the consequences but ourselves.

Adam and Eve, as human beings, were capable of recognizing that there is more to life than the pursuit of bodily needs and pleasures. They recognized that there is a higher force, a Creator, and that He expects us to do Mitzvot.

Adam composed a song (included in the book of Psalms 93) on the day of his creation, where he acknowledged G-d as ruler of the universe. We too recite that Psalm on the night of Rosh Hashanah, because the day of Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of man’s creation, is a day reserved for self-reflection. It is a time to reassess the direction that our lives are taking and to reaffirm our commitment to live with meaning and purpose by keeping the Torah’s directives. It is a day to accept the supreme ruler into our lives.

People exercise their freedom of choice in different ways. For some, it means that as long as I can get away with doing less, I choose the least. Free choice to these people is the opportunity to sink to the lowest level. But the true gift of free choice is that it allows us to soar to great spiritual heights. Free choice is the window to greatness.

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