03. Times of Judgment

As we have seen (section 1 above), blessing and judgment are linked, for when God bestows life upon the world, He also passes judgment upon it, determining who will be granted life and blessing, and who will not. Since God recreates life on Rosh Ha-shana for the next year, it is the primary time of judgment for the whole world.

Thus, the Sages state, “On Rosh Ha-shana, all of humanity pass before Him like sheep, as we read (Tehilim 33:15), ‘He who fashions the hearts of them all, Who discerns all their doings’” (Rosh Ha-shana 16a). They also state: “Just as a person’s earnings are determined on Rosh Ha-shana, so are his losses” (Bava Batra 10a).

Even though judgment primarily takes place and is inscribed on Rosh Ha-shana, it is sealed on Yom Kippur. Therefore, the days between them are a time for repentance and prayer to improve the judgment. R. Meir states: “All are judged on Rosh Ha-shana, and the verdicts are sealed on Yom Kippur” (Rosh Ha-shana 16a). Similarly, the Sages state: “All of a person’s earnings are determined between Rosh Ha-shana and Yom Kippur” (Beitza 16a).

Even though the judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur, in exceptional circumstances it is still possible to improve or annul it until Hoshana Rabba and Shemini Atzeret. This is because the angels responsible for carrying out sentences receive their instructions then, so it is the final stage of the yearly judgment (Zohar III 33b; Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 6:1).

While Rosh Ha-shana is the general day of judgment for the entire year, the Mishna states that the three festivals are days of judgment for particular features. On Pesaḥ, judgment is passed about grain; on Shavu’ot, judgment is passed about fruit; and on Sukkot, judgment is passed about water (Rosh Ha-shana 16a). Since holy days are a conduit for divine blessing to descend to the world, there is consequently judgment then associated with the blessings they convey. The timing of the holidays reflects natural processes. Sukkot is at the start of winter (the rainy season in Israel), so it is the conduit for the blessing and judgment of water. Pesaḥ is when crops grow, so it is the conduit for the blessing and judgment of the crops. Shavu’ot is when fruit begin to grow and ripen, so it is the conduit for the blessing and judgment of fruit. In other words, on Rosh Ha-shana the general fate of water, crops, and fruit is determined, while the detailed judgment is reserved for later: water on Sukkot, grain on Pesaḥ, and fruit on Shavu’ot (Peninei Halakha: Festivals 1:2).[1]


[1]. The Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 16a) explains that the Mishna accords with the academy of R. Yishmael, which states: “The world is judged four times a year: on Pesaḥ for grain, on Shavu’ot for fruit, and on Sukkot for water. People are judged on Rosh Ha-shana, and the judgments are sealed on Yom Kippur.” In contrast, R. Yehuda states, “Everything is judged on Rosh Ha-shana, but each judgment is sealed at its own time: grain on Pesaḥ, fruit on Shavu’ot, and water on Sukkot. People are judged on Rosh Ha-shana, and the judgments are sealed on Yom Kippur.” It would seem that their disagreement is minor. The academy of R. Yishmael maintains that the specifics of water, grain, and fruit are determined during the holidays, although of course they are influenced by the general judgment of Rosh Ha-shana. (Ramban makes a similar point in his Rosh Ha-shana sermon: the general judgment is on Rosh Ha-shana, while the specifics of water are determined on Sukkot, etc. This is how I formulated it above.) In contrast, according to R. Yehuda, everything is determined on Rosh Ha-shana, including the specifics of water, grain, and fruit. It is only the sealing of the judgment that takes place on the various holidays. Ran, in his commentary on Rosh Ha-shana 16a, has a different approach. He writes that the general judgment for water is on Sukkot, the one for grain is on Pesaḥ, and the one for fruit is on Shavuot; it is only what each individual will be allotted of these three that is determined on Rosh Ha-shana.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman