28 Elul 5777 – September 19, 2017
Rosh Hashana 5778 Torah Portion: Ha’azinu – Shabbos Shuva
I would venture to say that a standard Rosh Hashana checklist would look like this: Synagogue tickets purchased. Clothing cleaned. Challos with raisins, honey, sweet apple. Delicious meals prepared – this year for three days!
We are expected family to join. We expect the curtain in front of the Ark to be changed to white, the cantor to sing familiar tunes, the Shofar blower to be flawless and the Rabbi to offer words of inspiration. Tashlich is planned for Thursday.
However there is one element of the Rosh Hashana preparations that gets overlooked, and that is looking over the Machzor – the prayers before the holiday – which, generally speaking, we don’t look at until we get to Shul.
I recall that while I was a student in Yeshiva, the dean, Rabbi Yaacov Schnaidman would encourage us before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to take time out to review and become familiar with the prayers in preparation for the holiday. Needless to say, this preview made a great difference in our expression and experience of the recital of the prayers.
Our Sages tell us that our day of judgement – Rosh Hashana – differs from an ordinary trial. Usually, when one is placed on trial he does not dress in his finest nor does he share festive meals with his family during the course of the trial. Yet, on Rosh Hashana, when we are being judged by the King of Kings and every aspect of our lives is being scrutinized with our future depending on it, we dress regally and eat festively. We seem to exude a confidence that our judgement will be for the good – for life! Obviously, this is how G-d wants us to approach Rosh Hashana; that we should look our best.
Looking through the prayers, it is almost astonishing that there is no mention of our sins or the repentance process. If so, what are we praying for on Rosh Hashana?
The answer is we are praying and recognizing that G-d is our King and that we are subservient to Him. The Hebrew word for king is Melech, and it is worthwhile to be cognizant of how many times the word Melech comes up in our prayers.
A few years ago, Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon visited the Yeshiva of Scranton at Rosh Hashana time and he related something that he had heard in his youth from one of his Rabbis that had an impact on him.
“Rosh Hashana is like taking a photograph for a portrait, while Yom Kippur is like going to a doctor’s visit.”
Rabbi Solomon explained. When one prepares to be photographed, he covers up all of his flaws and tries to look his best. In contrast, when one visits the doctor, he points out all his flaws and aches.
So too, on Rosh Hashana, G-d wants us to look our best. We don’t get depressed and bogged down with mentioning our sins or going through the steps of repentance. We are to have in mind that we are standing before the King and we are praying and expressing our loyalty to Him. G-d judges us based on our presentation and allegiance to Him.
After going through the Rosh Hashana experience we gained the confidence that G-d accepted our prayers. G-d then gives us a week to implement and review our lifestyles, actions and inactions and only then do we enter into Yom Kippur pointing out our flaws so that the Almighty can heal us from the malady of sin.
Right after the Shofar is sounded, we recite the longest Musaf Amidah of the entire year. In fact, this is one of the main features of Rosh Hashana.
The centerpiece of the Musaf contains, Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros, three prayers that end with distinct blessings, each containing ten scriptural verses.
The first one is Malchiyos – exalting G-d that He is King – during which, ten verses culled from our Tanach – scriptures – describing G-d in the capacity as King, are recited.
During this blessing we recite the familiar Alainu prayer that we recite at the conclusion of each prayer. In fact this prayer we say at the end of each prayer was “borrowed” from this Rosh Hashana prayer.
The next blessing is called Zichronos – remembrances, where we recite ten verses from Tanach which mention that G-d recalls our deeds, historical events and our forefathers.
Interestingly, the Torah calls this holiday, Zikaron – a day of remembrances. The Holiday’s familiar name, Rosh Hashana, originated through our Rabbinic sources.
The next blessing is called Shofros – the blasting of the Shofar. Again, ten verses from Tanach are recited which describe our duty to blow the Shofar and the various Shofar blasts in our history.
During this prayer, verses of G-d’s Revelation at Mount Sinai accompanied by the Shofar blasts and the Shofar blasts that will accompany Moshiach are recited.
During the Chazon’s repetition of the Musaf, series of Shofar blasts are conducted at the conclusion of each of these three blessings.
The sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana is the main feature of the day. The Shofar, the instrument G-d instructed us to sound, has the power to silence the Satan – the prosecutor on High – and allows G-d to convert strict judgment into merciful judgment.
The wailing sounds of the Shofar also serve to awaken us to aspire to dedicate ourselves to higher levels of loyalty to the Almighty.
May G-d grant us all a Shana Tova – a year filled with goodness, kindness, success and peace, within our homes and throughout the world!
Wishing you a most uplifting Rosh Hashana,
and a happy, healthy and blessed New Year!
Rabbi Dovid & Malki Saks & Family