Rosh Hashana: Commentary to Mussaf
The three main sections of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf Shmone Esrei each contain ten verses on the theme of that section. The following is a brief commentary on those verses to aid your Kavanah when davening.
God is judging each detail of creation. The fact that He is judging them means that He cares about them and what they do. God is not simply a monarch sitting distant and disconnected from his subjects. God, as King, is intimately involved with all of His creation.
שמות פרק טו פסוק יח
ידוד ימלך לעלם ועד:
”Hashem shall rule for all eternity.”
This pasuk is part of the Shirah sung by the Jews after crossing the Yam Suf. The מכילתא says that, “The simple handmaiden saw more at the crossing of the sea, than did יחזקאל and the other prophets.” Although some of the most powerful praises of God that we have in our davening are from the songs of the highest angels praising Hashem, they do not equal the power of what was seen and sung by the simplest person crossing the Yam Suf. It was at the Yam Suf that human beings witnessed the most awesome power of God. It was there and then that we were fully aware of what Hashem would do for us. Each and every little detail was taken care of. There was water to drink. There was food to eat for both human and animal. The floor was decorated with the most beautiful mosaics. It was at the Yam Suf that we understood how Hashem had singled out the Jewish people for His love and devotion. The creator of the world was focused on us as a people. He was attentive to the details of each person. His involvement was awesome. The details almost impossible for a human being to detail. It was at that point that we understood how infinite was God’s control and attention. It was that sense of eternity that inspired every person there to sing “Hashem will rule for all eternity.”
That same level of insight can be ours on Rosh Hashanah. The same level of infinite attention to all the details to creation is shown in God’s judgment of, and attention to each and every detail of creation. In order to do so, God must be and is infinite. We can join with those who sang at the sea, and reach a level even higher than the most powerful praises of the angels.
2) במדבר פרק כג פסוק כא
לא הביט און ביעקב ולא ראה עמל בישראל ידוד אלהיו עמו ותרועת מלך בו:
“He looks at no iniquity in Jacob, and sees no evil schemes in Israel; Hashem his God is with him, and the affection of the King is in him.”
When the pasuk speaks of Hashem’s affection is refers to the highest level of friendship, רעות, which the Rambam describes as one who cares about the direction that his friend is taking in life. This friend is willing to voice constructive criticism and push the other in the direction he needs to go. Hashem is this type of friend to us, the deepest and most powerful bond. Even as we are declaring God as King, we speek of His being our friend, Who loves us deeply and pushes us to grow and develop.
3)דברים פרק לג פסוק ה
ויהי בישרון מלך בהתאסף ראשי עם יחד שבטי ישראל:
“And He became King in Jeshurun when the leaders of the people assembled, the tribes of Israel together.”
There is a certain clarity that comes when the Jewish people are united in their praises and understanding of God. They are able to see that all that Hashem does is with understanding of the entirety of the person, the people and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we stand in such unity. We are able to see more clearly than any other time of the year that all that Hashem has done over the past year and will do over the coming year is with attention to what we need. It is all good. Both the idea of unity and understanding the fairness of all that Hashem does, can be seen in two of the commentaries to this verse:
The Ramban explains, “The King alludes to God who is described as the King of Israel in their upright state. This pasuk implies that Israel will say that Hashem was King of Israel when our heads, elders and judges and all the tribes of Israel were gathered, that all of us together accepted His kingdom over us, for all time.” When we were all together we accepted Hashem as King. Achdus, or unity, is essential to our acceptance of Hashem as our King. That is why, says the Bais Halevi, we accepted the Torah by saying, “נעשה ונשמע” in the plural form, not the singular. We must accept Hashem in unity. Rosh Hashanah, when we all stand together in front of Hashem in judgment, is the most opportune time for us to declare in unity that Hashem is our King.
The Kli Yakar has another reading of this verse. He explains that it refers to Moshe and to Hashem. In the final moments of Moshe’s life and leadership the paople declared that he had been a righteous and just leader. The same people declared, after having tested God so many times, that Hashem is just and fair.
It is equally important for us. who stand at the end of a year, perhaps a difficult year filled with challenges and pain, to declare that Haswhem is just, all that He does is good. We declare this belief over the past and for the future; at this time, when we are being judged, and our future is being determined, we know trhat whatever He will do will be fair and exactly what is necessary for us.
4) תהלים פרק כב פסוק כט
כי לידוד המלוכה ומשל בגוים:
“For sovereignty is Hashem’s and He rules over nations.”
This verse is from the chapter of Psalms that is understood to be the story of Esther. Esther was the beginning of a new era in Jewish history. We would no longer see God in miracles equal to those iof the preceeding generations. The Hand of God was hidden. We would have to choose to see His Hand in the world. God’s name is not mentioned in the Book of Esther. He was hidden. Yet, Esther saw His hand in all that had happened and understood that it was up to Hashem whether she would be able to save the Jewish people or not. She taught all generations to see God’s Hand even when it is hidden.
When we recite this verse we are declaring our belief that even when we cannot see Hashem’s involvement in the world and our lives in an open way, we will look. We understand that to stand in judgment even when we can’t see the judge or evn know the verdict we must follow Esther’s example.
Rav Yechezkel of Kozmir has an additional understanding of this verse. Earlier in the psalm Esther asks, “קלי קלי למה עזבתני” why have You abandoned me? And she answers, “רחוק מישועתי דברי שאגתי”, “My cries are distant from my salvation.” Esther originally for far less than what she really needed. Such prayers go unanswered. God rules over nations. It is important to be aware of how important are requests must be. It is at this point of Malchuyot that we must remind ourselves that although God is interested in every detail of our lives, and all oiur needs, we must not forget that we are addressing the Ruler of nations. Our requests of God should reflect that awareness. We must ask primarily for that which is most important for us, and our success in fulfilling our purpose in creation.
5)תהלים פרק צג פסוק א
ידוד מלך גאות לבש לבש ידוד עז התאזר אף תכון תבל בל תמוט:
“Hashem will have ruled, He will have dressed in granduer; He will have donned might and girded Himself; even firmed the world that it should not falter.”
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that at this point of Tehillim Hashem is no longer simply “The One on High,” now His majesty is acknowledged even here below, in the midst of mankind. Hashem has girded Himself, since He cannot be seen, many have failed to recognize Him. But now, through the events of history, He has so effectively demonstrated His wishes and His providence that He has been recognized by all men for all time to come.
It is this level of awareness that we strive on Rosh Hashanah. As we stand in judgment before Him and acknowledge that He is in control of all beings and all that happens, we are saying that we see Him as clearly as if fully dressed for all to see.
The Sefas Emes, Pesach, 5654, explains that how much God is “dressed”, visible to mankind is dependent on our choice of how much we desire to accept Him as king.
The implications of this thought as we daven on Rosh Hashanah are strong and obvious. When we are in the midst of Malchuyot, declaring that God is King, how much God will “dress Himself,” show Himself to us is dependent on how honest are our declarations, and how intense our desire to “see” Him.
6) תהלים פרק כד
(ז) שאו שערים ראשיכם והנשאו פתחי עולם ויבוא מלך הכבוד:
(ח) מי זה מלך הכבוד ידוד עזוז וגבור ידוד גבור מלחמה:
(ט) שאו שערים ראשיכם ושאו פתחי עולם ויבא מלך הכבוד:
(י) מי הוא זה מלך הכבוד ידוד צבאות הוא מלך הכבוד סלה:
“Raise up your heads, O gates, and be uplifted, you everlasting entrances, so that the King of Glory may enter. Who is this King of Glory? Hashem, the mighty and atrong, Hashem the strong in battle. Raise up your heads, O gates, and raise up, you everlasting entrances, so that the King of Glory may enter. Who then is the King of Glory? Hashem, Master of Legions, He is the King of Glory, Selah!”
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik expained these verses in his Teshuvah lecture 1975. He pointed out that we find conflicting emotions and messages on Rosh Hashanah. There is the terror of judgment, standing before God, being shocked awake by the sound of the shofar from our spiritual complacency, we witness our illusions of life being relentlessly shattered. Yet, we also find joy. We experience the joy of the coronation of the king. In Nechemiah 8:10 the people are enjoined to “Eat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portionsunto them for whom nothing is prepared…for this day is holy unto your Lord..for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The verses above allude to this pardox; At first the verse says “..be lifted up.” The gates are passive. God’s dominion is foisted upon man against his will. Hashem rules over the earth whether or not we accept Him as our Ruler. the doors are passive, yielding to an omnipotent God whose sheer power subjugates all. Such a king is distant from His subjects; the appropriate emotion is dread. However, in the concluding verse of the Psalm there is a change in tone. “Lift up your heads. O gate, lift them up…” Here the gates open of their own volition. Hashem rules with man’s consent. The gates are opened by man who welcomes His entry. Here the theme is not dread and terror, but joy.
We may begin Rosh Hashanah with dread. However, as we recite Malchuyot, and we on our own, not forced “open the gates”, we coronate the King with love, our mood changes to joy.
7)ישעיהו פרק מד פסוק ו
כה אמר ידוד מלך ישראל וגאלו ידוד צבאות אני ראשון ואני אחרון ומבלעדי אין אלהים:
“So said Hashem, the King of Israel and its Redeemer; Hashem of the Legions: I am first and I am the last and aside from Me there is no other god.”
Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world. On that day Hashem was clearly the King of the entire universe. All that existed accepted Him as King. As the world grew people no longer accepted God as their King. There were other rulers of the world. Conqerors of the world, who for a short time called themselves King of the World. However, at the end of history, God alone will be king. All will recognize Him as such, just as when the world was first created. On Rosh Hashanah, we should all accept God as the King of the universe. This is based on the Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim chapter 1, #211, which speaks of ten who ruled the world. But God says, “I was first, and I will be the last.”
8)עובדיה פרק א פסוק כא
ועלו מושעים בהר ציון לשפט את הר עשו והיתה לידוד המלוכה:
” The saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Eisav’s mountain and the kingdom will be Hashem’s”
When Yaacov confronted Eisav after a 34 year absence, Eisav offered to travel together with Yaacov. Sensing the dangers of travelling with his older brother, Yaacov said no, and that he would meet his brother in Seir. However, there is no mention in the Torah of Yaacov ever going to Seir to meet Eisav. The above verse is when the two will meet in the time of the Messiah. Only when Yaacov’s children will be willing to confront Eisav directly and judge them for what they are, will we be able to meet and destroy Eisav. When Moshiach comes we will have the confidence and power to confront them and deal with them as we should. In fact, the Midrash says that when Yaacov said that he would not travel together with Eisav, he was in fact surrendering עולם הזה to his brother. Yaacov lost the opportunity to claim both this world and עולם הבא for the Jewish people, and therefore for God. (See the ילקוט שמעוני עבדיה פרק א סימן תקמט)
As we recite Malchuyot we are reclaiming this world for ourselves so that we can in turn claim it for Hashem.
9) זכריה פרק יד פסוק ט
והיה ידוד למלך על כל הארץ ביום ההוא יהיה ידוד אחד ושמו אחד:
“Then Hashem will be One and His name will be One.”
We refer to God as Hashem which means “The Name” because the only way that we know Hashem is through our perceptions of Him, for which we have numerous names. We refer to Him as Elokim when we speak of Him as Judge. Tziva’ot as the Master of all that exists. We have perceptions of Him, and only perceptions, because we with infinite minds could not possibly understand Him as He is. At this time His name is not one, unified, but is broken into parts, those perceptions we have of Him.
We speak in this verse of a time when our names for Him will be unified. As the Gemara says in Berachot, there will come a time when we no longer perceive His chesed when good happens, and His judgment when “bad” happens. We will understand all things that happen as coming from the One Source of all.
When we stand before Him on Rosh Hashanah in unity with all creation we can speak of that time when His name will truly be One.
10) דברים פרק ו פסוק ד
שמע ישראל ידוד אלהינו ידוד אחד:
“Hear Israel, God is our Lord, God is One.”
Rashi reads this verse as, “…God Who is our Lord will be called to by all the nations of the world, and on that day He will be the One Master.” After we have recited all the above verses we can speak of that day when all the nations of the world will call upon the One Who is now judging all, as the One Master of the world.”
In this section of the Shmone Esrei we confront the judgment more directly. God remebers all that was done, said, and even thought. All is revealed in front of Hashem, and all goes into consideration in His judgment of us.
However, as we will see in the verses below, the image of a scale on whci God weighs Mitzvot against Aveirot is inaccurate. God is not an accountant who simply counts pluses and minuses. We wouldn’t need God to judge us. Everything could be simply input into a computer with a programmed judgment delivered. God is involved in the din, has to be involved in the din, because numbers are not what count. God looks at us in terms of our environment, how we were raised, our psychological makeup, what went into each mitzvah that we observed, and each mistake that we made. The image of us in front of God is whole, complete. He measures our growth, how we have used the gifts He has given us, and how many of our weaknesses have been overcome. God’s involvement in this Din reflects His deep care and concern for us. It is an expression of His love.
However, the fact that everything that we have done over the past year exists in front of Hashem, and has not been forgotten or diluted should strike terror in our hearts. We are overwhelmed by this reality, and it becomes difficult to articulate our prayers and present ourselves in front of Hashem. Our mouths open, but it is difficult to speak. Our hearts are heavy inside but cannot find relief. The sound of the Shofar becomes our cry. It voices our terror, pain and need. God’s love, expressed by His attention to us as described above, assures us that our moans and cries will be heard and accepted.
(See Derech Hashem, Volume 2, Chapter 3, for a description of each human being’s place in the overall creation, each having a specific role to play in the fulfillment of the purpose of creation.)
God does not forget. Therefore, when it says that God remembers it does not mean that He remembered after forgetting. Zikaron is the mechanism of integration, the way all the details are drawn together into a whole. Memories connect the different aspects of our lives, our past and our present. They are the key to our wholeness as a person. (By the way, Malchus is wholeness!) God’s memories are our key to being part of the past, present and future of the universe. They are the key to our eternity. By mentioning Zichronot on Rosh Hashanah we are connecting ourselves to every Rosh Hashanah past, present and future. In doing so, we become connected to something much greater than ourselves. We are connected to the very beginning of existence.
1) בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
ויזכר אלהים את נח ואת כל החיה ואת כל הבהמה אשר אתו בתבה ויעבר אלהים רוח על הארץ וישכו המים:
בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
ויזכר אלהים את נח ואת כל החיה ואת כל הבהמה אשר אתו בתבה ויעבר אלהים רוח על הארץ וישכו המים:
“And the Lord remembered Noach and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and the Lord caused a wind to pass over the earth and the water subsided.”
רמב”ן בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
א) ויזכור אלהים את נח ואת כל החיה ואת כל הבהמה – הזכירה בנח מפני שהיה צדיק תמים וכרת לו ברית להצילו. ונח יכלול זרעו אשר אתו שם, ולא הזכירם כי בזכותו ניצולו. אבל הזכירה שאמר בחיה ובבהמה אינה בזכות, שאין בבעלי נפש זכות או חובה זולתי באדם לבדו. אבל הזכירה בהם, כי זכר את דבר קדשו שאמר והיה העולם, והרצון אשר לו בבריאת העולם עלה לפניו ורצה בקיום העולם במינין אשר ברא בו, והנה ראה עתה להוציאם שלא יכלו בתיבה. ולא הזכיר העוף והשרץ, כי זכירת החיה שוה עמהם, ויגיד עליו רעו:
The Ramban says: “The remembrance of Noach was because he was a perfectly righteous man, and God had made a covenant with him to save him. …However, the remembrance of the beast and cattle was because ‘He remembered His holy word’ (Psalms 105:42) which He had spoken causing the world to come into existence, and the Will which was before Him at the creation of the world arose before Him and He desired the existence of the world with all the species that He created therein.”
Even those things that did not have merit of their own to be saved were simply because they were part of the creation that Hashem had willed into existence. The “will” mentioned by the Ramban, was the desire to share His good with an other. It was a will of chesed. As God remembers, He remembers all, back to the moment of creation, the moment of deepest chesed. Even as we realize the God is remembering us to judge us, we understand that we are being reconnected to that moment of chesed, closeness and love.
רש”י בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
(א) ויזכור אלהים – זה השם מדת הדין הוא, ונהפכה למדת רחמים על ידי תפלת הצדיקים, ורשעתן של רשעים הופכת מדת רחמים למדת הדין, שנאמר (בראשית ו ה) וירא ה’ כי רבה רעת האדם וגו’ ויאמר ה’ אמחה, והוא שם מדת רחמים:
ויזכור אלהים את נח וגו’ – מה זכר להם לבהמות, זכות שלא השחיתו דרכם קודם לכן ושלא שמשו בתיבה:
ויעבר אלהים רוח – רוח תנחומין והנחה עברה לפניו:
על הארץ – על עסקי הארץ:
וישכו – כמו (אסתר ב א) כשוך חמת המלך לשון הנחת חמה:
Rashi points out a number of ideas on this verse, each of which has relevance to Zichronot on Rosh Hashanah;
“And the Lord remembered:” This name represents Divine Judgment which was transformed to Divine Mercy due to the prayers of the righteous.
When we recite this verse as part of Zichronot we are hoping that our prayers will accomplish the same transformation from Divine Judgment to Mercy.
“And the Lord caused a wind to blow,” a spirit of comforting and calming passed before Him.
We hope that as God remembers on Rosh Hashanah that He will cause the same spirit to pass before Him for our sake.
The Zohar 1:69b remarks; “When justice has been done and the punishment carried out, He remembers those who had thought themselves forgotten and who were giving up hope of Divine Salvation.” The opening moments of Rosh Hashanah are filled with strict justice. Many who felt abandoned during the year, those who suffered and were lost are sure that in these moments of Divine Judgment they will be forgooten again, and will fall to another year of suffering and pain. The Zohar says that no, in Zichronot, as God remembers. he reaches out to those who thought themselves forgotten.
But the Zohar is teaching us far more. It is reminding us that the first and most important step of Teshuvah is to not feel that because of our sins we have destroyed our relationship with Hashem and that there is no hope of restoration. Those who feel that they are lost, and have forfeited their connection to Hashem cannot do Teshuvah. Hopelessness is the most powerful enemy of Teshuvah. That is why the Zohar includes those “who were giving up hope of Divine Salvation.” As we read Zichronot, we must remember that the connection is not lost. We cannot give up hope of being able to fix our world.
2)שמות פרק ב פסוק כד
וישמע אלהים את נאקתם ויזכר אלהים את בריתו את אברהם את יצחק ואת יעקב:
“God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaacov.”
Every groan in the world, in its very essence, is a cry of prayer to Hashem. Even though it is a natural response to suffering it is still considered prayer. We can see this from this verse; The people were crying from suffering, and not from the fact that their children were being slaughtered for their blood to be used for Pharoah’s baths. They were unmoved by their children’s suffering. Their children were dying and they were crying from their work! They had lost some of their basic humanity. Yet, their groans were enough to make God remember the covenant with the Avot. The most basic groan is a powerful voice of prayer. We mentioned earlier that part of what happens during Zichronot is that we groan a basic groan, unable to express my prayers in words. Such groans are also a form of prayer and can accomplish worlds.
The covenants with each of the three Avos are alive, which is the reason that we can derive benefit from their merit, which is the essence of Zichronot, connecting the past and the present.
3) ויקרא פרק כו פסוק מב
וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב ואף את בריתי יצחק ואף את בריתי אברהם אזכר והארץ אזכר:
“I will remember My covenant with Yaacov, and also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham will I remember, and I will remember the land.”
This verse is in the curses listed in the portion of Bechukotai. Rashi points out that Yaacov’s name is spelled with an extra “vav”, taken from Eliyahu Hanavi as a security that Eliyahu will come and bring the news of the forthcoming redemption to Yaacov’s descendants. Why did Yaacov take security from Eliyahu as security for the news of the redmption instead of from Moshiach as security for the actual redemption? Plus, is Eliyahu the one who determines that he will bring the news, won’t it be God Who will send Eliyahu when He so desires? How does it help to take security from Eliyahu?
The news of the redemption is the gift of hope. That hope will move people to change and rethink their way of life. It will fill them with promise and potential and the belief in that potential. That is why this verse does not come at the very end of the curses but close to the end. Eliyahu will come just before the end.
Yaacov took the security from Eliyahu because it was the message of hope that was most important to him. He asked for that assurance from Eliyahu and not from God, because the bringing the news of the forthcoming redemption is the most significant aspect of the mission of Eliyahu in this world. By asking Eliyahu, Yaacov is working under the assumption that each detail of creation will fulfill its purpose. Eliyahu must be able to bring the news of Moshiach.
Hope is part of Zichronot as is the idea that each of us must fulfill our purpose in creation. We can always hope because we know of God’s commitment to His creation, manifested by His caring enough to judge us and by our connecting back to the first moments of creation. This also includes the idea of each fulfilling the purpose for which he was created.
4) תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ד
זכר עשה לנפלאתיו חנון ורחום ידוד:
“He made memories of His wonders, compassionate and merciful is Hashem”
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch: Men in particular are given God’s everlasting care, because they are endowed with more freedom to develop than the animals, and therefore experience more changes in the course of their lives than the latter. The mighty acts in which Hashem revealed Himself as חנון and רחום, therefore, were wrought not only for that generation which actually witnessed them, but He established זכר, a continuous memorial of those revelations so that the succeeding might learn from them to look up to Him at all times as רחום וחנון. All the institutions which Hashem has appointed as זכר ליציאת מצרים are such זכר לנפלאותיו.
The mitzvot we have to remember the Exodus from Egypt are a gift from Hashem to help us remember the miracles He has performed for us, they are for our benefit. And yet, we receive reward for observing those commandments. That is His compassion and mercy.
There is another dimension as well; Even as we are speaking of God remembering we mention how God created memories for us to maintain our awareness of His miracles and might! This is because on each Jewish Holy Day Hashem influences us and interacts with us through the same Middah, or attribute, with which He related to us on the original Holy Day. Pesach is a time of freedom, because that is how Hashem relates to us on Pesach. Shavuot is a time of Giving the Torah because that is what Hashem is offering us on that day. On the days that Hashem appointed to help us remember, He gives the original day eternity by relating to us the same way on that day every year. This idea of eternality is the essence of Zichronot. With this verse we are saying that Hashem creates eternal moments in the life of the Jewish People so that He can continue to relate to us as He did in the past on that day.
5) תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ה
טרף נתן ליראיו יזכר לעולם בריתו:
“And He provided food for those who fear Him, He eternally remembers His covenant.”
The Radak explains that this verse is refering to the spoils of Egypt; “God gave the riches of Egypt to those who feared Him because He remembered His covenant with Avraham (That the Jews would leave Egypt with great wealth.)” When the Jews left Egypt with money, the past was changed. They were collecting payment for their work. They no longer had to look back on their long labor as slavery, but as work for which thay were paid. God changed their perspective on the past.
How ironic that even as we speak of memories we speak of changing them! But this is the whole idea of Zichronot and its role in Teshuvah; Hashem keeps the past eternally alive through Zichronot, and it is that which allows us to change the past with our Teshuvah. The past is not dead. It is still alive and fixable!
6) תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ה
טרף נתן ליראיו יזכר לעולם בריתו:
“He remembered His covenant for them and relented, in accordance with His abundant kindness.”
It is important to know the context of this verse in order to appreciate it:
This chapter of Tehillim is a review of Jewish history, focusing on the fact that we constantly forget Hashem despite all that He has done for us. Beginning with verse 43 which is the immediate context of our verse; “Many times Hashem saved them, and they did not listen to Him, they went as their hearts desired. They were humbled by their sins. And He saw their suffering, when He heard their prayers, and He remembered for them His covenant…” Rashi explains that He remembered them when they did Teshuvah.
The Teshuvah was forced by their suffering for their sins. Teshuvah which seems to be only part of a cycle of sin, punishment, prayer and Teshuvah, and salvation isn’t always believed to be Teshuvah. Yet, each time Hashem treated their Teshuvah as real, as He does ours. He allows us to connect to those moments in the past of relationship and love as if they are all that is real at this time. This gift of connecting to certain moments kept alive for us, is the gift of Zichronot.
7) ירמיהו פרק ב פסוק ב
הלך וקראת באזני ירושלם לאמר כה אמר ידוד זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך אהבת כלולתיך לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה:
“Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem saying: ‘So said Hashem: I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me in the wilderness in an unsown land.”
The Midrash Tehillim, 36 says; “Said R’ Yannai, ‘If a person lights a candle when it is fully light he derives no benefit. When will he derive benefit? When it is dark outside. So too, the kindness that the Jews did when they followed Moshe into the desert was kept until the times were dark. When was that? During the time of Yirmeyahu.”
This Midrash is teaching us that it is possible to do a “chesed” for God! It is also telling us that the power of Zichronot also works to keep merit alive for a time when it is more necessary.
Rav Tzadok of Lublin in his record of his dreams (#3) records that he once dreamt that the souls of those who live in the generation of the Moshiach will be the same souls as the generation of the desert. The verse in Yirmeyahu speaks of the “youth” of those who left Egypt, and the verse that describes the generation of the Moshiach speaks of renewing their strength to be as the/a youth. Hashem will give the generation that had everything only to lose in the desert after testing Hashem ten times, will be given another chance. Even such a generation is not lost forever.
8) יחזקאל פרק טז פסוק ס
וזכרתי אני את בריתי אותך בימי נעוריך והקמותי לך ברית עולם:
“But I will remember My covenant with youof the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant.”
This chapter in Yechezkel is one of the most powerful and poignant in all of Tanach. It describes someone, God, who finds a newborn baby abandoned, its umbilical cord still uncut, unbathed, filthy and naked. He takes the baby in, cleanes her, bathes her, swaddles her and raises her up until she is grown. He dresses her in the most beautiful of clothes, with jewelry and makeup. She became so beautiful that she was fit for royalty. After he has done all this for her, she rebels against him, rejecting his love and his care.
This is a metaphor, explains the Navi, for the relationship between Hashem and B’nei Yisrael. She has rejected God Who took her in and protected her. When we reach this verse God is saying that I will remember when you were young. I am willing to enter a new covenant with you. No matter what she has done, no matter how much she has rejected Him, Hashem still remembers her youth, and responds to her as if she is still that young child.
Although this is a time for remembering, God chooses to remember the highest and most beautiful moments of our relationship with Him. He keeps those powerful moments alive, waiting for us to return and reach out to Him. We are terrified as we stand in judgment. Hashem is loving as He judges.
9) ירמיהו פרק לא פסוק יט
הבן יקיר לי אפרים אם ילד שעשעים כי מדי דברי בו זכר אזכרנו עוד על כן המו מעי לו רחם ארחמנו נאם ידוד: ס
“Is Ephraim My most precious son or a delightful child, that whenever I speak of him I remember him more and more? Therefore My inner self yearns for him, I will surely take pity on him. These are the words of Hashem.”
The Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 2:2, and Devarim Rabbah 7:12, both describe the word “לי” as being an indication of a relationship that will last in both עולם הזה and עולם הבא. The memories of Zichronot are not simply for this world, they are for the World To Come as well.
All of this is in potential as we stand before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. This is our opportunity to grasp the highest moments of the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people and make them last forever, for all eternity, even into עולם הבא!
10) ויקרא פרק כו פסוק מה
וזכרתי להם ברית ראשנים אשר הוצאתי אתם מארץ מצרים לעיני הגוים להית להם לאלהים אני ידוד:
“And I shall remember for them the covenant of the early ones, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be their God; I am Hashem.”
The Ramban says that even if we don’t do Teshuvah, and their sins have not been forgiven, I will redeem them so that My name will not be disgraced. Hashem will not separate between Him and us.
The Shofar is the instrument that not only arouses both Malchuyot and Zichronot, but merges them together as well. We find in Halachah that its sound is considered prayer, cry and song. It reminds us of judgment, sacrifice, Revelation, unity and power. It is at this point of the Shmone Esrei that we connect all the themes of Rosh Hashanah together.
1) שמות פרק יט פסוק טז
ויהי ביום השלישי בהית הבקר ויהי קלת וברקים וענן כבד על ההר וקל שפר חזק מאד ויחרד כל העם אשר במחנה:
“And it was on the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning, a heavy cloud was on the mountain and the sound of the Shofar was very strong, and the entire people in the camp trembled.”
Before the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, there was Revelation. The people saw God in more clarity than people would ever again. Much of what we believe and know about God was perceived at Sinai. (See Derech Hashem, Section 1, Chapter 1, paragraph 2.) The Shofar is a symbol of the Revelation.
Rashi, in a famous comment on this verse, teaches us that God appeared on the mountain and waited for the people to come to Him. The imagery is powerful. God did not wait for us to appear. He came and waited for us. He reached out to us. He wanted a relationship with us. On Rosh Hashanah when we blow the Shofar we realize that Hashem is rushing to be there first. Hashem is reaching out to us. He wants the relationship.
2) שמות פרק יט פסוק יט
ויהי קול השופר הולך וחזק מאד משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול:
“And the sound of the Shofar became increasingly stronger, Moshe would speak and Hashem would repond with a voice.”
Rashi explains that the sound of the Shofar became increasingly strong, which is not what we naturaly expect. Hahem was “breaking our ears,” so that they could understand beyond human comprehension. Torah is beyond our understanding. It is infinite. We must understand when we are studying Torah that it is beyond Human reach. It is Divine. Yet, it was given to us. We have the ability, through Torah, to reach beyond our limitations into the infinite. It is this that empowers a successful Rosh Hashanah. We must use this opportunity to reach beyond ourselves, to grasp for the greatest heights.
The Haamak Davar explains that this verse alludes to the Oral Law, “Moshe would speak,” to this too God would respond.
The Oral Law is the strongest expression of the partnership that we can have with God. We determine what God’s will is. We decide when Rosh Hashanah will be, for it is we who declare the New Month. Even to the point of ”תורה לא בשמים היא“, Torah is not in heaven. Even if God would send a miracle to tell us what the Halachah is in a given situation, we would not be bound to listen. As long as we follow the basic system of the Oral Law we are empowered to determine the Halachah.
3) שמות פרק כ פסוק יד
וכל העם ראים את הקולת ואת הלפידם ואת קול השפר ואת ההר עשן וירא העם וינעו ויעמדו מרחק:
“And the entire people saw the sounds and the flames and the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled and they stood from afar.”
They saw sounds! The Ibn Ezra explains that all the senses are connected. Rabbeinu Bachya says that each sound immediately took on a physical form.
The Revelation and Torah go beyond what we know as our senses. They unified our sensations and took us to a higher level even as we maintained our physical forms. Torah has the capacity to change even the way we experience the physical world. We have that potential on every Rosh Hashanah as we blow the shofar and recite Shofarot.
4) תהלים פרק מז פסוק ו
עלה אלהים בתרועה ידוד בקול שופר:
“The Lord has ascended with a blast, Hashem, with the sound of the shofar.”
The Gemara in Berachot 6b draws a parallel between the sounds at Sinai and the sounds of joy at a wedding. “One who joins at a wedding feast merits Torah which was given with five sounds, just as there are five sounds associated with the rejoicing of a groom with his bride.” The giving of the Torah at Sinai is often described as the wedding between God and the Jewsih People. Sinai was held over the people’s heads as a chupah, the two tablets are the gift from the groom to the bride. The Torah was the marriage contract. We recall that joy today, and yearn for that level of relationship. The joy of Rosh Hashanah, the day of Coronation is equal to thejoy of that day.
5) תהלים פרק צח פסוק ו
בחצצרות וקול שופר הריעו לפני המלך ידוד:
“With trumpets and shofar sound, call out before the King, Hashem.”
We are familiar with this verse from קבלת שבת. These paragraphs address the idea of the world being completed with God as the King. The opening psalm speaks of the promise of the Jews in the desert and how it was lost to their constantly testing Hashem even as He was constantly taking care of them with the most awesome miracles. We know that to reclaim that potential we must “Sing a new song,” start fresh. Then we speak of Hashem coming to judge, to set all the parts of this world in their correct places. This perfected world is the context of this verse. We are rejoicing as a world that has been fixed, a world in which everything has a place, and balance has been restored.
The Midrash Tehillim on this verse comments that the joy of the world cannot be complete until the Jewish People have been redeemed. We pray for that redemption, and understood that this day isfilled with the potential for that redemption.
6) תהלים פרק פא פסוק ד
תקעו בחדש שופר בכסה ליום חגנו:
כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלהי יעקב:
“Blow the shofar when the moon is covered, at the time appointed for our festive day. Because it is a decree for Israel, a judgement day for the Lord of Jacob.”
The moon is a metaphor for the Jews who reflect the light of the sun, the metaphor for God. On Rosh Hashanah, the new moon is covered, it doesn’t reflect the light of Hashem. That it why it is a time of judgment. We are not reflecting the light of God.
We blast the shofar to awaken ourselves to reflect the light of Hashem and be deserving of His Mercy.
The Gemara in Beitzah 16a learns from this verse that all of a person’s sustenance for the entire year is set on Rosh Hashanah. It derives this from the word חק which also means sustenance. Everything is set on Rosh Hashanah. It is the day of potential. (One of the reasons we read the Akeidah is that it was an act of potential; the sacrifice never actually took place.) It is the day on which we pray for potential.
The shofar is the symbol of potential, because it is a sound of air, or the soul, it is the music of the soul. All the potential of a human being is latent in his soul.
7 -10) תהלים פרק קנ
א) הללו יה הללו אל בקדשו הללוהו ברקיע עזו:
(ב) הללוהו בגבורתיו הללוהו כרב גדלו:
(ג) הללוהו בתקע שופר הללוהו בנבל וכנור:
(ד) הללוהו בתף ומחול הללוהו במנים ועוגב:
(ה) הללוהו בצלצלי שמע הללוהו בצלצלי תרועה:
(ו) כל הנשמה תהלל יה הללו יה:
“Hallelukah! Praise God in his Sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of his power. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him as befits His abundant greatness. Praise Him with the blast of the shofar; praise Him with lyre and harp. Praise Him with drum and dance; praise Him with organ and flute. Praise Him with clanging cymbals; praise Him with resonant trumpets. Let all souls praise God, Hallelukah!
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik spoke of a father who was absent from home for an extended period of time. His son fantasizes that upon his father’s return he will relate in detail everything that has happened while his father was away. Once his father returns, with all the excitement of the reunion the son forgets most of the details he had been waiting so excitedly to tell. He ends up with fragmented and disorganized stories and ideas. A Jew often has similar feelings at the end of davening; he has spoken, yet said nothing. How could he possibly say all that he wants to say, all that he is desperate to say? How can he describe everything that he is going through, all that he feels, all his love and longing for God?
In this final Psalm we imagine all the souls, and musical instruments singing to God. Above all, there is the sound of the shofar. Even if we have not been able to say all that we wanted to say, the shofar will take all that we feel inside and express it for us.