Hakadosh Baruch Hu said: “Recite before Me on Rosh Hashanah Malchuyos [verses of kingship], so that you will make Me King over you.” (Rosh Hashanah 16a)
The main mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is to accept and proclaim Hashem as King. But how is that different from what we do every day, when we recite Shema and many, many tefillos that proclaim Hashem as King? Surely, the essence of the day must be more than the recitation of a few pesukim describing Hashem as King.
And how does teshuvah figure into the equation? After all, Rosh Hashanah is part of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, so even if we don’t recite Viduy, there must be some connection between internalizing Hashem as King and our striving to be better Jews.
Hagaon Harav Eliyahu Lopian, zt”l, says that the main goal of Rosh Hashanah is to make Hashem King aleichem — “over you” — meaning over each and every one of us. It isn’t enough to feel that Hashem is the absolute, all-encompassing, infinite Power that sustains the entire universe every second of every day. We have to take the global awareness and make it personal. Hashem is my King and that obviously has consequences for my behavior and attitudes.
Rosh Hashanah is about putting our relationship with Hashem back on course. And while that can be a daunting challenge, Chazal, as usual, provide us with a roadmap.
The key to repairing our relationship with Hashem is not guilt and fear, but hakaras hatov and love. The Chofetz Chaim says that we have an obligation to feel love for Hashem when we recite the opening words of the first paragraph of the Shema, v’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha. Otherwise, we’re giving false testimony.
And how do we go about fulfilling the mitzvah of loving Hashem? Citing the Chovos Halevavos, the Chofetz Chaim says we start out by contemplating His greatness, His romemus. And this leads to recognition of “all the good that the Creator has bestowed upon us, the steady flow of His kindness to us…”
The Chofetz Chaim says we must make a set time each day to contemplate the kindness that Hashem showers upon us. He suggests doing it before we eat breakfast, just as we’re careful to fulfill other mitzvos, like tefillin or lulav, before eating.
If we took a few minutes each day to focus on one aspect of Hashem’s mercy — as regards our health or family or parnassah or shalom bayis or learning — if we peeled away the layer upon layer of Divine kindness, it would make ahavas Hashem the most natural thing in the world.
That’s the work we need to do to make Hashem King over us. Not to live in dread or fear over what will be in the coming year — who will live and who will die — but in gratitude over what is and has been, and with confidence that Hashem will continue to do what is good for us.
We are going into judgment; about that there is no doubt. But we are to be judged by a merciful Father who is waiting for us to take the first step to repair the relationship, ani l’dodi v’dodi li.
As Harav Lopian puts it in Lev Eliyahu: “By being grateful to Him Who has done, is doing and will continue to do good and kindness to our fathers, to us, and to our children throughout the generations, we make Hashem King over us, to love and fear Him with a complete heart, to be immersed in His Torah, to keep His mitzvos, and to merit the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.”
Along these lines, Harav Avigdor Nebenzahl, the Rav of the Old City of Yerushalayim who was a talmid muvhak of Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, explains that there are two ways to knock down a building. One is to take a sledgehammer and pound away at the walls. The other is to dig down underneath the foundation until it collapses by itself.
On Yom Kippur we “pound away” at our sins with Viduy and heartfelt resolutions not to repeat our indiscretions. On Rosh Hashanah we undermine the foundation of sin, which is based on a failure to recognize the truth, namely, that the only thing that matters is doing retzon Hashem.
Rosh Hashanah reminds us that Hashem alone runs the world and decides everything that will take place in the coming year, large and small. The shofar proclaiming Him King in a sense blows away all the supposed “partners” of Hashem and makes it crystal clear that Israel’s security isn’t dependent on the U.S. Congress, that the yeshivah world in Israel isn’t dependent on government funding, that our individual parnassah doesn’t come from our flesh-and-blood bosses.
This understanding that Hashem is King both obligates us and frees us. It obligates us to make kiyum mitzvos the only priority, but frees us from any sense of dependence on a world that is neither fair nor just.
A final thought on a subject that is of utmost importance to all of us. Harav Lopian says that on Rosh Hashanah fateful decisions for the coming year aren’t just made on material things such as health and parnassah, but on spiritual matters, as well. How much siyatta diShmaya will we and our children have in learning? Will there be obstacles strewn in our path toward avodas Hashem? Will our child who has struggled with Yiddishkeit issues find the friend or rebbi who helps him make his way back?
“Everything is decided on Rosh Hashanah and we need rachamim merubim,” writes Harav Lopian. “The tefillos of the masses don’t go unanswered at any time, at any place.”
If we are truly concerned about the “at- risk” phenomenon, then it’s our job to storm the Heavens with our tefillos that every Jewish youngster, whether he or she is from my family or the neighbor’s, has siyatta diShmaya in finding his or her way back home.
Imagine the nachas ruach such a mass outpouring of tefillah would bring to our Creator, seeing that our primary concern is that all of Am Yisrael, young and old, unite in accepting ol malchus Shamayim. Is there any doubt that such tefillos would bring the Geulah?