Rosh Hashanah: Giving Ourselves to G-d
On each one of the three Regalim we are judged. For
that reason, a unique offering was made in the Beis Hamikdosh on each Regel.
On Pesach we are judged for grain, so we brought an offering of grain: the omer.
On Shavuos we are judged for fruits, so offered a fruit: wheat, which is
considered a fruit. On Succos we are judged on water (rainfall), so we offered a
libation of water. We brought whatever we are judged on as an offering to G-d to
show Him that we know how to use them properly, i.e., we recognize that whatever
use we make of them, must be ultimately and primarily directed to Him. Our
intention to do that, above all else, makes us worthy of a blessing that would
confer a bounty of that thing—grain, fruits, water or whatever—upon us. We
show G-d that he can trust us to use His gifts as He wills.
On Rosh Hashanah our lives are judged. Following the logic of
the other holidays, we should make an offering of our lives. And this, indeed,
is just what we do when we blow shofar and recite the Malchios, Zichronos and
Shofros of the Musaf Service. Reciting them is like offering ourselves as
a sacrifice. Now, making ourselves a sacrifice does not mean negating ourselves.
To do that is not to become a sacrifice, but simply to become nothing. When we
sacrifice ourselves to G-d, we do not negate our existence. We exalt out
existence! For a person truly sacrifices himself—offers himself to G-d—when
he recognizes that without G-d he is nothing, and that with G-d, he is
tremendously important. We recite the Malchios, Zichronos and Shofros on
Rosh Hashanah because they specify the three most basic ways in which G-d
confers importance on our lives. Most simply interpreted, Malchios
affirms the existence and majesty of G-d. The Zichronos acknowledge
Divine Providence, and the Shofros affirm that we have seen the truth of
G-d’s existence and Providence in our history: the blast of the shofar
proclaims them. Malchios is sometimes taken to be an acceptance of the
rule of G-d, like saying Kriyas Shema. But we recite the Shema every day
twice a day. So why recite the Malchios? And then, the Gemara discusses
whether Shema Yisrael is acceptable as Malchios. If, in reciting
the Malchios, we were doing the same thing we do when reciting the Shema—accepting
the yoke of Heaven—there could be no question about it.
A king rises to power in two stages. First, the people have
to declare that they want a king. Once the king is appointed, the people have to
accept his authority. Whatever his dignity, a king is not a king until the
people acclaim him their king. So, in a very meaningful sense, G-d, for all His
majesty, is not King until we crown Him—until we accept Him as our King. Rosh
Hashanah pertains to the first stage of these two stages: on Rosh Hashanah we
declare that we want G-d to be the King. We crown Him and proclaim His sovereign
rule. The mitzvah of Kriyas Shema pertains to the second stage. Reciting
the Shema, we affirm the authority of the King: we accept G-d’s rule.
On Rosh Hashanah we create G-d’s rule.
A monarch exercises his power and authority in three
essential ways. He fights wars and protects his people. He instructs his
subjects in how best to contribute to the kingdom (the monarch is also a
lawgiver), and he unites the people under him to a common goal. That’s exactly
what G-d does. He protects us physically and spiritually (without G-d’s help,
we could not resist the yetzer hara). He instructs us, through His Torah,
how to use the powers He, as our creator, gave us. And He unites us under Him to
a common goal. There are many ways of experiencing and acknowledging the Divine.
But it is only when a person experiences G-d as King that He experiences the
Divine as the direct source of the inner resources, the wisdom and the sense of
purpose that sustain, not only his existence, but, more significantly, his
humanity. The rule of G-d, as we learn from the crowns that the Jewish People
received when they said “Na’aseh Vanishmah”—when they accepted
the rule of G-d—is the crown of man.
There are two ways of forgetting something. One way is that,
in the course of time, something once known is lost—forgotten. That doesn’t
apply to G-d. The other way of forgetting something is to decide that it’s not
important, as when one person advises another, “Forget it!” Remembering—the
opposite of forgetting—also has these two sides. Insofar as remembering
recalls something forgotten, something we once knew that has slipped our minds,
it does not apply to G-d. Nothing slips from the mind of G-d. But when we
remember something, it’s because it’s important to us, if only in that
moment. When we say that G-d remembers something, we are saying that it’s
important to Him. And, of course, what’s important to G-d is truly important. Zichronos
is not asking G-d to remember us, but realizing that we are important enough
for G-d to take into consideration.
Malchios and Zichronos represent fundamentals of
faith. Shofros reminds us that these fundamentals are not merely
theological speculations. For the passages of Shofros affirm that there
is communication between G-d and man: revelation, proclamation and awakening. We
know of G-d and we know what He wants of us because He, Himself, has told us.