“L’maan lo niga larik, Let us not toil in vain.” The deepest wish of each of us is that we achieve what we set out to accomplish, and therein lies our greatest satisfaction. Rav Yitzchak Hutner, zt”l noted that this is a quality that was built into us from our very inception. Whereas creation generally is described in a single phase, “God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light,” when it came to the creation of man, God began with a planning phase: “Let us make man in our image….” Explained Rav Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak, Shavuot 25:18-19):
“It appears that the path of man’s creation is suited to his ongoing existence. The uniqueness of man lies in his capacity for conscious and thoughtful choice, in which behaviors and actions are a product of premeditated decisions (shilton hada’at). It is therefore fitting that within the very process of his creation the value of thoughtful planning is apparent, with two phases: first the decision to make man and then his actual creation. This is why when a person achieves a goal that they had planned and envisioned, they experience deep satisfaction. The perfect match between the plan and its actualization brings to the person the most uplifting and inherent satisfaction, irrespective of the specific goal.”
This reality is underscored in the negative by our parsha’s sobering description (Devarim 28:29-33) of the terrible difficulties included in its words of warning, tochacha:
“You will not carry your pathway to a successful conclusion … You will betroth a woman and another man will be her husband, you will build a home and you will not live in it, you will plant a vineyard and will not enjoy its first vintage. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes and you will not eat from it … The fruit of your soil and that of your toil will be consumed by a people that you do not know, and you will only be cheated and crushed all the time.”
There is nothing more frustrating and painful than a failed mission, and there is nothing more satisfying than achieving our goals.
Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the day Hashem said, “Naaseh adam, let us make man,” planning and achieving our creation. It is the day when we follow God’s model by planning and building our own future and redesigning ourselves. Indeed, the Talmud (Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 4:8) derives from the biblical word va’asitem, and you shall make, (Bamidbar 29:2) that is used uniquely regarding the Rosh Hashanah offerings, that this is the day when we recreate ourselves. Whereas the teshuva of Yom Kippur has us look back on past failures, on Rosh Hashanah each of us is empowered to look to the future, to say to ourselves—na’aseh adam, let us make man—planning and imagining who we want to be and what we wish to accomplish. That is the formula for our ultimate satisfaction, the fulfillment of our unique human qualities and capacities.
Let us not toil in vain.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.