Divrei Azriel: Rosh Hashanah Messages

This week's Divrei Torah are by Nesanel Fishman and Moshe Watson.

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YU RIETS Israel Kollel,

One of the common misconceptions that many people have regarding Rosh Hashanah is viewing the Yom Tov as a day of teshuva, repentance. If one looks through the davening, prayer services, this notion is not mentioned. In fact, we do not mention “Ashamnu Bagadnu” (we have sinned until Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the real day of teshuva. The main focal point on Rosh Hashanah is all of creation declaring that Hashem is the King. This theme is ever present throughout the davening phrases such as “Vetimloch atah hashem levadecha (and You alone will reign)" and “galeh kavod malchutcha aleinu (reveal Your majesty).” personify what this day is all about.

However, the order of the chagim, holidays, seems a bit strange. Shouldn’t Yom Kippur, the day of teshuva precede Rosh Hashanah, the day of prayer,Tefila? It would seem more appropriate to declare that Hashem rules over the entire world once we are cleansed and pure, and not when we are still soiled in iniquities.

The book "Zerah Yitzchak" gives a mashal, parable, to further explain this question. On a certain day when someone was announced to become king over the country a huge party was made in his honor. In the fanciest hall in town there was festive food, the finest wine, there was a grand orchestra playing in the background. During the party however, a couple of people strolled inside with improper attire. They were wearing ripped jeans, a t-shirt with mud strains on them. Their skin was covered in dirt and their clothing was beginning to fray.

What happened? Immediately, security threw them out of the hall. How could these people have had the audacity to come to this glorious celebration in such a manner? This mashal illustrates how we act on this day. Rosh Hashana is the day which we have a gala event proclaiming Hakadosh Baruch Hu, G-d, being in charge. However, we enter in a filthy state because at this particular point in time we have not yet done teshuva. It would make more sense to proclaim this once we are cleansed. Therefore, why isn’t Yom Kippur before Rosh Hashanah?

The "Zerah Yitzchak" answers that having Rosh Hashana first shows Hashem's love and affection for Am Yisrael. Hashem loves us because we are his children and his nation. His love and desire for a relationship is not dependent on our mitzvot or aveirot, sins. He loves us even when we make mistakes. The pasuk in Parshat Re’eh says “banim atem La'Hashem Elokeichem” declaring that we are the children of G-d.

The "Mesilat Yesharim" however, speaks about Hashem's love for Bnei Yisrael in a slightly different vain. In the end of nineteenth perek he writes that the love that Hashem has on Bnei Yisroel is conditional on the amount of love Bnei Yisroel has for each other. The more Bnei Yisroel loves each other the more Hakadosh Baruch Hu will love us.

Rosh Hashana is the day of Malchus, declaring Hashem as king. We eat festive meal in honor of this celebration. As we enter into this day of prayer and blowing the shofar we should remember these ideas. May we all merit to have a wonderful year.

Shofar: The King and His Nation

Every Rosh Hashana, right after the haftorah, I join the many Jews scrambling through the Artscroll introduction to tekias shofar. However, this year I would like to break with that tradition and think about tekias shofar farther in advance. We must therefore ask ourselves a few questions about this unique mitzvah.

What should we think about while hearing the shofar blasts? Why do we blow the shofar specifically on Rosh Hashana; that is to say, how does shofar fit into the general theme of the day? Finally, how can we use the mitzvah of shofar to change the coming year?

The Rambam gives us one of the most famous ideas about the mitzvah of shofar. In Hilchos Tshuva 3:4, the Rambam writes that “even though tekias shofar is a gezeiras hakasuv, shofar hints to us: ‘wake up sleepers from your slumber!’” In other words, the shofar is a very scary alarm clock that is meant to shake us out of whatever rut we may have fallen into. The cry of the shofar is the cry of tshuva, according to the Rambam.

While the Rambam tells us that we should wake up, what exactly are we waking up to? So far we have only learned  that shofar should shake us, but why? Can we find any other messages inherent in the mitzvah of shofar to help us?

Rav Saadia Gaon writes that we blow the shofar to coronate Hashem as our King. If Hashem created the world, and today is the anniversary of creation, then every year we stand on Rosh Hashana to celebrate Hashem’s kingdom. The way we express this celebration is through the medium of shofar, much like a mortal king would be celebrated with ceremonial trumpet blasts. Thus, when we listen to the shofar, in addition to thinking about tshuva per se, as the Rambam says, we should be awoken to accept Hashem as our king.

At first glance, the concept of accepting Hashem as king through the shofar is purely bein adam lamakom—between man and G-d. However, our Rosh Kollel Rav Dovid Miller points to a different approach. Rav Miller is fond of mentioning that the Alter of Kelm has a beautiful and eye-opening take on the mitzvah of shofar. The Alter points out that if we truly internalize Hashem’s coronation, this recognition has much broader implications. If the king’s subjects are not unified, all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the king is just a sham. If there is a civil war or revolution, the king can march through all the towns he wishes, yet his dominion is clearly diminished. Therefore, when we accept Hashem as our king we must do so not as individuals but as a nation. Based on this beautiful and insightful perspective, the mitzvah of shofar can be viewed as both 'between man and G-d' and 'between man and fellow man'.

Let us look a little closer; I think this idea is hinted to in our davening. Before we blow shofar we recite Lamnatzeiach livinei Korach mizmor seven times. The word am—nation—appears in this perek four times. Additionally, immediately after we blow shofar we recite the pasuk “Ashrei haam yodei seruah Hashem bior panecha yehaleichun.” Praiseworthy is the nation that knows the teruahs. Finally, we end off the bracha of shofros in mussuf: “Shomeia kol truas amo Yisrael birachamim.” We bless Hashem as the one who listens to the cries of his nation with mercy. I am no expert, but it seems like a lot of repetition of the word nation; why such an emphasis on the nation?

Apparently, the shofar is meant to strengthen us as one nation and therefore the word Am is accentuated. We can only really blow the shofar when we blow as a nation. To really have a proper coronation for Hashem this Rosh Hashana, the Jewish people have to be a nation. A king without a nation is like a rebbe without chasidim—it just doesn’t work. Sadly, in our world it seems almost impossible to achieve this level of national unity at the moment; however, if we really are serious about Rosh Hashana we must take this message to heart. However different we may be from other types of Jews, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are all one nation and must act as such. Whenever we may disagree with others, we should recall that they too are part of Hashem’s nation.

This Rosh Hashana, let us all take this message to heart. The mitzvah of shofar is meant to strengthen our relationship with Hashem – but it can only be done when we recognize that we are all part of a great nation. We can’t simply accept Hashem as our king individually; we must do so as one nation. Let us end off with a bracha that this year, by finally internalizing this unique message of shofar, we will merit to see the fulfilment of the end of the bracha of shofros—teka bishofar gadol licheiruseinu—with the shofar of Moshiach tzidkeinu bimheira biyameinu.