An adaptation ofthe Maamar found in Likutei Torah
On Rosh Hashana, the entire Jewish People unites as oneunit, so that G-d in turn may unite with us and be our king.
Relevant Verses Bearing On This Discourse
“You stand this day, all of you, before G-d your G-d:your heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers –
Because of its special relevance to Rosh Hashana, thisweek’s Torah portion, “Nitzavim,” is always read on the Shabbospreceding that holiday. This relevance is hinted at in the opening verses(Deuteronomy 29:9-11): “You [the Jewish People] stand this day, all ofyou, before G-d your G-d: [from] your heads of your tribes ... to the drawer ofyour water – that you may pass into the covenant of G-d your G-d ....” Theexpression “this day” (hayom in Hebrew) alludes to Rosh Hashana, as wefind it used in the liturgy, “This day [Rosh Hashana] marks the beginning ofYour creation [of mankind and the universe], reminiscent of the First Day.”
Specifically, the Hebrew word used here for “standing” (nitzavim)connotes cohesion: on this day – Rosh Hashana – the entire Jewish People(including every member of each of the ten spiritual categories that comprisethe Jewish nation, which categories are alluded to in the verses quoted in thesummary section above) stands united, as a single entity. By eachindividual realizing that, even if he or she is indeed a great person, theremust be at least some small advantage which his or her fellow has over him orher, we all feel a greater bond between us – both in our daily lives, and on amore subtle level perceived by our souls. This bond of unity between us Jews isa prerequisite for G-d in turn, in a similar bond, to unite with us on RoshHashana. On Rosh Hashana, G-d reveals anew His sovereignty over us and we inturn proclaim ourselves His devoted subjects – renewing the purpose of Creationand bringing about the ideal unity between G-d and Man.
For a more detailed understanding of how to achieve thisunity; also, the significance of repentance and why it is particularlyappropriate on Rosh Hashana – we may take a clue from the next part of ourverse: “that you may pass into the covenant of G-d your G-d.” The idea of acovenant (bris in Hebrew) is to cement a relationship between twoparties, to create such a strong bond of unity as to defy intellectualdefinition, as to transcend logic.
Two close friends, for instance, might establish a pactbetween-themselves to symbolize that their friendship will be eternal; even ifthey become separated or if one should eventually wrong the other – so that youwould reasonably expect their friendship to terminate – remembrance of the pactensures their continued relationship. In a similar fashion, and out of Hisgreat kindness towards us Jews, G-d made with us a pact to stand by ourrelationship in times of strain: even if we transgress the will of G-d, and onemight reasonably expect Him to abandon us (Heaven forbid), G-d remembers thiscovenant and has mercy upon us for its sake.
This concept lies at the crux of our entire worshipservice on Rosh Hashana, as is best expressed by the saying of our sagesregarding this worship (Talmud, Rosh Hashana 16a): “The Holy One, may He beblessed, says [to us Jews], ‘Recite before Me [verses that make mention of My]kingship, in order to proclaim Me King over you; [verses that serve as]reminders, so that your remembrance may come up favorably before Me; and withwhat [can you accomplish this]? With the shofar [ram’s horn sounded on RoshHashana].’”
The significance of this is as follows:
Rosh Hashana, as mentioned above, is the day on which manwas created at the beginning of time; this was an act of the purest kindness,since it was in no way prompted by any, action or merit on the part ofyet-to-be-created Man. When the first man, Adam, was created, he recitedthe psalm (93), “G-d reigns; He is clothed in majesty...” (see Midrash, VayikraRabba, beginning of chapter 29). This is because, with the creation ofmankind the awesome majesty of G-d became apparent; now that He had subjectsover whom to rule, the sovereignty of G-d could be expressed, and Adam was soinspired by this revelation of G-d's kingship that he was moved to recite thepsalm.
(And in fact, what Adam did was quite correct. Rather thanrecite psalms praising G-d for having made mankind in the first place, Adampraised Him for revealing His Kingship over us. It is worth some little thoughtthat existence without G-d (Heaven forbid), existence without some element ofthe spiritual, would render man just another species; it is the fact that G-dsingles us out and proclaims Himself king over us Jews in particular that givesour life significance – objective significance, as opposed to the subjectiveimportance any given individual attaches to their own doings. Indeed, asmentioned above, it was the creation of subjects over whom to rule thatfacilitated the expression of G-d's kingship in the first place, and it is forthat very purpose that we were created.)
Again, on the first Rosh Hashana – when Adam was created –this wonderful kindness on G-d's part – i.e., revealing Himself as king over us– was completely unprompted by any merit of ours. Now, however, we must showourselves worthy of having G-d Himself as our king. Actually, every year as theanniversary – Rosh Hashana – of that first unsolicited kindness rolls around,G-d does continue to proclaim Himself king over the Jews, but this revelationof G-dliness must first be elicited by us.
What, though, can anybody possibly do to prompt G-dHimself to relate to us? Theanswer is that we must invoke the pact of love between G-d and us Jews. The wayto do this is symbolized by the blowing of the shofar, and that is the meaningof “and with what [can you bring about this favorable remembrance of our pact,and My therefore proclaiming Myself King over you]? With the shofar.”
A shofar blast is the most basic of sounds, a simplehorn-blow uncomplicated by notes, words, etc. It represents the inarticulatecry of our soul as it yearns for G-d, which cry, paradoxically, is the mosteloquent expression of our love for Him. For there are two kinds of love forG-d: the more superficial is aroused by the individual’s contemplation of howwondrous is G-d’s universe, the staggering multiplicity of His creations, andhow He is the One who gives life to them all. But when a Jew realizes that allthese things are but creations of G-d; they are nothing but things He made, buthave no resemblance whatsoever to G-d Himself – he or she breaks throughto emotions at the very core and essence of his or her soul, awakening theinnate feelings of love for G-d and yearning for Him alone that are buried deepin the heart of every single Jew. (Only the soul, being literally a partof G-d, can experience such an all-consuming, fiery love for G-d, its source.)
This yearning is all the more intense in one who repentsof whatever transgressions he or she may have, since the very thought of havinggone against the will of G-d makes one long all the more to come back, to unitewith G-d from then on. Some emotions are simply too deep, too basic, to beexpressed in words, and the inarticulate cry of the shofar is intended torepresent this deeply rooted love and inexpressible yearning for G-d that weexperience with heartfelt repentance. When G-d sees how deeply felt – from thevery core of the soul – is the person’s, repentance and desire to unite withHim, He reciprocates by allowing His holiness to rest upon that person: it isas though G-d responds to heartfelt repentance by “putting His own heart” intothe relationship, so to speak.
One may now really wonder, in view of all theabove, how such a thing is possible, for now that we have explained that through repentance G-d’s own “Essence” actuallyrelates to a person (and on amore collective level, to all the Jews), the original question – how can anyonepossibly attain this level – is strengthened rather than answered.
This is where the unique nature of our covenant comes in.As is the nature of such a pact, this supra-rational covenant serves toperpetuate our relationship with G-d even when logic, reason, demandsotherwise. In this case, it does indeed appear impossible, logicallyincomprehensible, that G-d Himself should relate to us as our king. One cancertainly only be a king over those who at least relate to him: a man couldnever proclaim himself king over sticks and stones, only over other men. Whenyou think about it, it seems as absurd for G-d, the Creator of the universe, toWhom any created being (including the loftiest angels) does not relateany more than stones relate to man, to be king over us mortals, as for the manwith the sticks to “reign” over them. Yet out of His love for us Jews, G-d gaveus this wonderful pact, which, transcendent of all that appears logicallypossible, arouses in G-d the desire to go beyond the natural order of things(for, after all, G-d is omnipotent) and relate to us as our king anyway. G-d onthe one hand raises us up, and on the other hand, allegorically speaking,“lowers” Himself, so that we may indeed meet at the level of king and subjects.This is the meaning of the verse (see “summary” section above), “that you maypass into the covenant … in order to establish you [literally, “raise you up”]... to be for Him a nation, and that He may be to you a G-d.” How truly awesomethis pact is!
Still, we must ourselves be worthy of being G-d’ssubjects. Just in case we are not exactly the most perfect subjects fit for theKing of Kings, we try our best to bring G-d to renew His kingship over usanyway through heartfelt repentance, and through our worship on Rosh Hashana.That is the good advice G-d gives to us in the saying of our sages quoted above(for G-d truly wants to accept our repentance and be our king), “[Theway to pray before Me on Rosh Hashana is to] recite before me verses ofkingship and of remembrance, accomplished through the shofar”: Rosh Hashana isthe most auspicious time to elicit G-d’s kingship, since it was on the firstRosh Hashana that G-d revealed his kingship over us out of pure kindness, notmerited by anything we had done. By reciting verses on Rosh Hashana thatmention this fact, we hope that G-d will overlook our sins and reveal Hisrenewed kingship this year as well, regardless of our own spiritual standing.These are the verses on the theme of G-d’s sovereignty that we recite duringthe mussaf prayer on Rosh Hashana. We also “remind” G-d of thewonderful, supra-rational covenant between us, by means of the verses ofremembrance in the mussaf prayer (which refer to G-d remembering thecovenant). Finally, through heartfelt repentance, from the very essence of oursouls – symbolized by the inarticulate soul-cry of the shofar, mentioned in themussaf verses referring to shofar – we indeed bring G-d to respond to us on a level stemming from His ownvery “Essence,” as it were, and thus relate to us as king on Rosh Hashana.
Good Shabbos! May we, together with all our brethren and sisters, the JewishPeople everywhere, be blessed with a k’siva vachasima tova.