1. The Theme of the Day of Rosh Hashanah

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1. The Theme of the day:[1]

A. The Paradox:

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment; “Who will be written in the book of life and who will be written in the book of….”. This is stated explicitly in the second Mishnah of Tractate R.H. Accordingly we find rituals done on Rosh Hashanah that reflect the concept of Teshuvah and remorse. Such is the case in the blowing of the Shofar, as the Rambam writes that its purpose is to evoke a feeling of repentance in one’s heart. Our Sages expound on the verse “Call on to Hashem when he is found” that Hashem is found during the ten days of repentance which are between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Now, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur one finds only 8 (7) days, so how can the sages state there are ten days in between? Hence, we must conclude that both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also part of the ten days of repentance. Despite the above, we also find matters on Rosh Hashanah which reflect happiness and joy. This is expressed in the law stated that on Rosh Hashanah one should have fine meals eating rich foods and tasty drinks[2], a matter which is seemingly inappropriate for a time when one is seeking forgiveness before the King. As well, during the times of the Temple, amongst the sacrifices offered on this day, there weren’t any special forgiveness offerings. This is most peculiar that on such a day, a day of judgment, a forgiveness offering was not brought. Likewise, in the Rosh Hashanah prayers which were established in correspondence to the Temple offerings, we do not find even one request for forgiveness or expression of remorse in the main prayer of Shemoneh Esrei. All this is a most puzzling approach for a day viewed as the day of judgment. This becomes even more difficult to understand when we take into account the way we act on Yom Kippur, the sealing and finalization of what was decreed on Rosh Hashanah. Not only do we not have meals with rich foods, but we are commanded to fast and do other acts of self-mortification. As well, in the times of the Temple there were a series of special forgiveness offerings given on that day. This is also expressed in the prayers of Yom Kippur which are filled with requests for forgiveness and confession of sins. Why such a drastic change in approach to seek Hashem’s forgiveness? On Rosh Hashanah, the writing of the decree, we are in a festive mood while on Yom Kippur we are remorsefully confessing our sins.

B. Ascent of Sefiras Hamalchus:[3]

In the Kabalistic teachings it is explained that every Rosh Hashanah the Divine Sefira of Malchus [i.e. the Sefira that enlivens the world] goes into a state of ascent, leaving its position in enlivening the world, and returning to its source. However, this is only the internal part of the Sefirah while the external part remains to continuously enliven the world, for otherwise the world would return to oblivion. This state of the world is similar to the state of a person who has fainted. Although he is still physically alive, all of his soul powers are found in a concealed state having returned to their source, the essence of the soul. Now the renewal of the internal aspect of Malchus is dependent on our conduct on Rosh Hashanah. To understand what conduct is demanded of us on Rosh Hashanah, in order to affect this renewal, we must first understand the Sefirah of Malchus.


C. Kabalas Hamalchus – Coronation of Hashem as King:

Malchus means Kingship. Now in order for one to be a King he must have a nation. Furthermore, he must have a nation that is willing to accept his rule as otherwise he is not a King but a dictator. A King is specifically one who has been crowned by a nation which desires his rule. By a dictator however, although they may accept his rule out of lack of choice, the will and desire for his rule is lacking. From the above we can deduce that in order for us to renew the attribute of Malchus on Rosh Hashanah, an action similar to the coronation of a physical King is necessary. Thus, just like a physical King’s coronation is dependent upon the nations desire to proclaim him as King similarly Hashem’s coronation as King over us is dependent upon our desire to have Him as our ruler. It is on this that we are being judged on Rosh Hashanah; are our actions befitting for a nation towards his King? Do we have acceptance of the King’s yoke in a willing desirable manner?[4] Now, this coronation retains all similarities to the coronation of a physical king. This explains why on Rosh Hashanah we are joyous and eat and drink delicacies, as the day of coronation is a most joyous day for both the King and his subjects. This also explains why we do not confess sins on Rosh Hashanah in order not to detract from the happiness of the event. Furthermore, since in the coronation process the nation’s will and desire for his Kingship must be expressed therefore, we express happiness and joy to show how much we want and desire Hashem’s Kingship. Confession brings to sadness which could detract from this desire, thus placing in jeopardy the entire coronation. This explains why the Sages placed such a strong emphasis on mentioning Hashem’s Kingship in the Rosh Hashanah prayers since this is the essence of the holiday.

D. Teshuvah as a prerequisite for the coronation:

Based on the above, one may feel compelled to ask why we blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah to evoke repentance, and why is it included as one of the Ten Days of Repentance. Doesn’t Teshuvah involve remorse which can diminish the desire for the coronation? The answer to this is as follows: Crowning a king comes with a prerequisite that one will be accepting his commands, and it is the abidance by his commands that creates the connection between the king and his nation. Disobedience in following the commands of the king is an act of rebellion, showing that one doesn’t truly desire the king’s rule. Therefore, just like the desire for the kingship is a prerequisite for the coronation, similarly the acceptance of his commands. This is why we also emphasize Teshuvah on Rosh Hashanah, as the essence of repentance is to accept the yoke of heaven, to follow His decrees. As for why an emphasis is not also placed in confession, this is because confession for particular sins is not necessary in accepting the king’s yoke, and it can only diminish in the desire of Hashem for the kingship. This does not mean that one should face Rosh Hashanah without any feelings of remorse, but rather that the focus of the remorse should be in pouring out ones heart to Hashem, begging Hashem to accept him as His servant and as His nation despite the lack of subservience showed to Him in the previous year. To paraphrase the above difference in approach between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah focuses on one’s future relationship with Hashem which is formed based on a general acceptance of the yoke of heaven on that day, while Yom Kippur focuses on one’s past relationship with Hashem and the accounting of particular sins that one performed. The above is similar to a deep dispute between two friends or relatives that has created tremendous animosity between the two. They came to a mediator to help make peace between them. First the mediator focused on arousing a desire and will for each one to act respectfully and appropriately to the other in the future and a desire to rekindle their friendship. He then had a second session with them to discuss the particular details of the dispute and how it can be settled in a most peaceful manner.


[1] Based on Igros Kodesh 22 p. 510; Likkutei Sichos 9 p. 434

[2] See Chapter 6 Halacha 1!

[3] See Tanya p. 121 [Epistle 14]; Likkutei Torah Netzavim p. 106; Sefer Hamamarim 1924 p. 12; Likkutei Sichos 9:220

[4] Likkutei Torah Netzavim p. 106

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