Rosh HaShanah - The King's Coronation - Weekly Lesson
הרב שבתי סבתו
כז אלול תשעו
 
Firstly, we see here a perfect example of Rabbi Akiva's approach to the Torah. He feels that G-d encourages us to seek and understand the reasons for the various mitzvot, and to thus identify

 

ב"ה

 

ערב ר"ה ה'תשע"ז

Sept. '16

ראש השנה

Rosh HaShanah

       הרב שבתי סבתו

         Rabbi Shabtai Sabato

 

 

 

תרועת מלך
The King's Coronation

 

The Reasons for the Commandments

The following teaching by Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud (Tr. Rosh HaShanah 16a) lays down several concepts fundamental to the world of Torah and mitzvot. It begins as follows:

 

R. Yehuda said in the name of R. Akiva: Why does the Torah instruct us (Vayikra 23,10-11) to bring before G-d an omer - the first pickings of the barley crop - on the Pesach holiday? Because Pesach is the season of grain, and Hashem said: "Bring before Me an omer on Pesach so that your grain crops in the fields will be blessed."

 

Firstly, we see here a perfect example of Rabbi Akiva's approach to the Torah. He feels that G-d encourages us to seek and understand the reasons for the various mitzvot, and to thus identify more deeply with the Torah. This approach is not self-evident: We might have thought that because the Torah is Divine and beyond our human intellect, we must not "cheapen" it by defining it in terms of concepts that we can rationally understand. But Rabbi Akiva teaches us the opposite: The very glory and splendor of the Torah lies precisely in our comprehension of the justness of its laws. It is the Torah's vitality and relevancy for us, our lives, and our welfare that most especially exalts it.

 

Support for this approach is found in the parting speech of Moshe Rabbeinu that makes up the bulk of Book of D'varim. Towards the beginning of his words, we read as follows:

רְאֵה לִמַּדְתִּי אֶתְכֶם חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוַּנִי ה' אֱ-לֹהָי...

See, I have taught you laws and statutes, as Hashem has commanded me.

...כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן אֵת כָּל הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה
וְאָמְרוּ: רַק עַם חָכָם וְנָבוֹן הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה.

For this Torah is your very wisdom and insight in the eyes of the nations;
when they hear of all these laws, they will say:
"This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people."

כִּי מִי גוֹי גָּדוֹל... אֲשֶׁר לוֹ חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים צַדִּיקִם כְּכל הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת.

For what nation is so great …
that they have righteous laws and statues, as this Torah.
(D'varim 4,5-8)

 

Moshe is saying that the Torah's commandments are the pride of Israel in the nations' eyes – but only when the precepts' justice and integrity are made evident.

 

Elsewhere in his speech, Moshe emphasizes not only the justness of the Torah's commandments, but also their vitality and importance for us:

וַיְצַוֵּנוּ ה' לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה לְיִרְאָה אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ
לְטוֹב לָנוּ כָּל הַיָּמִים לְחַיּתֵנוּ כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.

Hashem commanded us to perform all these laws, to fear Hashem our G-d
for our benefit forever, and to give us life as this day.
(D'varim 6,24)

 

Finding the "logic behind the mitzvot" helps us identify emotionally with the Torah's commands – to feel joy and a sense of lifted spirit as we fulfill them, and not to do so merely as a burden forced upon us. It must be emphasized, however, that this does not mean that the reasons we find are the only ones. It is obvious that there are many levels to comprehending every mitzvah, each one deeper and more sublime than the other.

 

 

Partnership
 Let us now quote Rabbi Akiva's teaching in full, relating to four "firsts:"

Why does the Torah instruct us to bring an omer - the first pickings of the barley crop - on the Pesach holiday? Because Pesach is the season of grain, and Hashem said: "Bring before Me an omer on Pesach so that your grain crops in the fields will be blessed."

And why did G-d command us to bring before Him the two loaves of bread (sh'tei halechem, made from the first pickings of the wheat crop) – on the Shavuot holiday (Vayikra 23,17)?  Because Shavuot is the season of fruits of the trees, and Hashem said: "Bring before Me the two loaves so that the fruits of your trees will be blessed."

And why does the Torah instruct us (see Taanit 2b) to pour spring water on the altar on the Sukkot holiday (when we ask for the year's first rains)? Because Hashem said: "Pour before me the water on the altar on Sukkot so that the year's rains will be blessed."

And G-d said, "Recite before Me on Rosh HaShanah (the first day of the year), when the shofar is sounded, three special prayer passages: Malchuyot (bringing the Kingdom of Hashem upon us), Zikhronot (G-d's remembrance of us), and Shofarot (concerning the shofar-blasts at Mt. Sinai and elsewhere). Say the ten verses of Malchuyot so that you will make Me King over you; say the ten verses of Zikhronot so that your remembrance will come before Me; and with what [i.e., how will this come about]? Via the shofar." (see also Rosh HaShanah 32a)

 

R. Akiva is teaching us another lesson as well: The mitzvot are completely in sync with nature and the seasons of the year, and are designed to help us enjoy the abundance of goodness from Hashem.

 

Why does the Creator require us to bring a small something – such as an omer on Pesach, or the two loaves on Shavuot – so that we be blessed? What can He possibly need from us? The answer is that Hashem desires that, in the framework of our Free Will, we include Him and make Him a partner in our deeds and thoughts. By bringing Him these symbolic gifts, which are clearly less than what He deserves for His efforts in the partnership, we declare that Hashem is a full partner in all our efforts. We thus open the gates for rains of blessing and abundance in our crops.

 

R. Akiva also teaches us that our partnership with Hashem does not end with working the land and making a living. It rather expands on Rosh HaShanah when we become full partners in making Him the King over the entire world. R. Akiva's words, as we saw above, are:

"Malchuyot - so that you will make Me King over you; Zikhronot - so that your remembrance will come before Me; and with what? The shofar."

 

The last question, "With what?", is not very clear. Firstly, why is it asked only regarding the Zikhronot and not on the Malchuyot? Secondly, why is the shofar needed to bring our remembrance before G-d, if we are already reciting the Zikhronot verses for that purpose?

 

Rather, what R. Akiva means is something else. When we recite the Malchuyot verses, we are setting ourselves an objective: Having G-d rule over us as our King. Similarly, our recital of the Zikhronot verses is the way we set our objective of being remembered before G-d. But now that we have set these goals, the question is: How do we achieve and fulfill them? The answer is: The shofar.

 

The shofar helps us both coronate Hashem as King, and bring our memory before Him. Royal coronations are always accompanied by trumpets and shofar blasts, as we read in the Torah and in Psalms:

... ה' אֱ-לֹהָיו עִמּוֹ וּתְרוּעַת מֶלֶךְ בּוֹ.
Hashem his G-d is with him [Israel], and he can coronate the King.
 
(Bamidbar 23,21)

 

בַּחֲצֹצְרוֹת וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר הָרִיעוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ ה'.

With trumpets and the sound of a shofar, raise your voices before the King, Hashem. (Psalms 98,6)

 

עָלָה אֱ-לֹהִים בִּתְרוּעָה ה' בְּקוֹל שׁוֹפָר. זַמְּרוּ אֱ-לֹהִים זַמֵּרוּ זַמְּרוּ לְמַלְכֵּנוּ זַמֵּרוּ.
כִּי מֶלֶךְ כָּל הָאָרֶץ אֱ-לֹהִים זַמְּרוּ מַשְׂכִּיל.

G-d shall be exalted with the trumpet blast; the Lord, with the sound of the shofar.
Sing to G-d, sing; sing to our King, sing.
For G-d is the King of all the earth; sing a song composed with wisdom.
(47,6-8)

 

We can now understand why Rosh HaShanah features eating and drinking, singing and joy – for these are activities that typify coronation ceremonies.

 

In saying this, R. Akiva is being quite consistent. Elsewhere in the Gemara (p. 32a), he teaches that the shofar should be blown during the malchuyot verses (having to do with Hashem's kingdom). As he said: "If the shofar is not blown during malchuyot, why should these verses be mentioned at all?" The purpose of the shofar-blast then, is to coronate Hashem as King, and, as stated above, to bring our remembrance before Him.

 

But we must still clarify another aspect of this point: We say in our prayers that "there is no forgetfulness before Your honored throne, and nothing is hidden from Your eyes"! Why, then, must we take pains to remind Him of our existence and "bring our memory before Him?"

 

The answer appears in Parashat Vayelekh:

וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא...
and I will certainly hide My face on that day… (D'varim 31,18)

 

When G-d "hides His face," it means he "ignores." Of course He sees and knows all, but there are times when He chooses to act as if He does not see and is not paying attention. In practice, it means He leaves Bnei Yisrael to the control of natural law in their struggle against their enemies who may very well outnumber them in weapons and manpower.

 

When we blow the shofar and emplace G-d as King over us, we are restoring His supervision and attention to us, manifest by His leadership over us beyond natural law. This is what R. Akiva meant when he said, "Recite zikhronot before Me, so that your memory will be brought before Me – and how? Via the shofar!"

 

 

Freedom

תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר ... הֲסִירוֹתִי מִסֵּבֶל שִׁכְמוֹ...

Sound the shofar on the [covered] New Month…
 I removed his shoulder from burdens…

(Psalms 81,4-7)

 

The Radak (R. David Kimchi, a classical Biblical commentator, d. 1235) notes in his commentary to this passage that it was on this day, Rosh HaShanah, that the enslavement decree against the Israelites in Egypt was revoked. He explains that we blow the shofar on Rosh HaShanah for precisely this reason: to remember this day's historic turning point for the Israelites in Egypt, from slavery to freedom. The shofar blast is a sign of freedom from slavery, just as we blow the shofar on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year when all slaves are freed.

 

Along the lines of the Radak, but in contrast with his conclusion, let us formulate the following thought.

 

Just like our forefathers in Egypt had to be freed of all enslavement before they could stand at Mt. Sinai and take upon themselves the yoke of Heaven, the same is true for us: In order for us to install Hashem as King over us, we are bidden to free ourselves of all enslavement to our urges and physical lusts. With the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, we break the chains of our physical inclinations and declare, instead, that G-d is our King.

 

Let us see this concept as reflected in the first time the Torah commands us to blow the shofar on Rosh HaShanah:

בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ.

In the seventh month, on the first day, you are to have a Sabbath for you,
a remembrance of the shofar blast, a holy occasion.
(Vayikra 23,24)

 

The difficulty in this verse is apparent: Since the mitzvah is to blow the shofar, as written in Bamidbar 29,1, why do we read here that we must have only a "remembrance of the shofar blast"? The answer is that the shofar blast sounded on Rosh HaShanah is a remembrance of a different shofar blast – the one heard during the Jubilee year.

 

In the Jubilee, the shofar heralds the release of all slaves to their homes and the return of all fields to their original owners. On Rosh HaShanah, the same shofar announces our freedom from enslavement to our urges, and declares our return to the source of our life and vitality. And it is this that brings our mention before Hashem in a positive manner, R. Akiva explains.

 

This explains, too, why our Sages combined the solitary shofar teruah of the Jubilee and the two teruah blasts mentioned on Rosh HaShanah to make one series of three teruah blasts, on which the entire structure of tekiah, sh'varim and teruah sounds was built.

 

 

The Beginning of the Year

Why is all this done on the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei)?

 

The Gemara teaches us that it was on this day, Rosh HaShanah, that the world was created. Just like in any large enterprise, it is only logical that on the day that marks the beginning of the year, the objectives and budget for the coming year should be set.

 

The Talmudic Sage R. Nachman bar Yitzchak states clearly that Rosh HaShanah is the first day of the year in terms of judgment:

As is written, "G-d's eyes are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year" (D'varim 11,12): that which will occur in the end of the year is judged from the beginning of the year. (Rosh HaShanah 8a)

 

Rosh HaShanah is thus the Day of Judgment. It is the day on which the "budget" and "goals" of our lives – how many minutes they will include, how we will earn our daily bread, etc. – is determined.

 

In actuality, every person must stand trial on this day and answer this question: "Are you fulfilling the mission for which you were brought into this world? If so, you will be granted additional moments of life, as well as other necessary means, to continue to play your role for the coming year."

 

We find support for this concept in the following verses, partially quoted above:

תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר בַּכֶּסֶה לְיוֹם חַגֵּנוּ. כִּי חֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא מִשְׁפָּט לֵא-לֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב.

Sound the shofar on the New Month, on the appointed time for our festival day.
For it is a statute for Israel, the judgment of the G-d of Yaakov.

(Psalms 81,4-5)

 

This is referring to the day on which both a festival and a New Moon fall – namely, Rosh HaShanah – and this is the day of judgment for the G-d of Yaakov.

 

All of the above does not detract, of course, from the simple meaning of the verse: The mitzvah of blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a permanent, annual Divine statute for the Nation of Israel. But our Sages also saw in this verse an allusion to the law and judgement that the world undergoes before the G-d of Yaakov.

 

 

Awakening

The Rambam, in his Laws of Repentance (3,4), takes a different approach:

Although the Torah commands us to blow the shofar as a Divine decree [with no explanation], the very nature of the mitzvah alludes to its own explanation, as if to say: "Awaken, you sleepers, from your slumber, and search your deeds; repent and remember your Creator."

 

The function of the shofar is thus both to arouse us and to serve as our warning signal. It reminds us of our Creator and of our true mission in this world. We must not be, as the Rambam continues,

… those who forget the truth and [prefer] the foolishness of the times, and spend all their time erring in nonsense…

 

Accordingly, the phrase "remembrance of the shofar blast" means not "remembrance before G-d," as R. Akiva explains, but something that we ourselves should remember. What is the Rambam's source for this understanding? It is based on the surprising words of R. Yitzchak in the Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 16b):

"Why do we blow the shofar on Rosh HaShanah? To confound the Satan."

 

The Rambam takes this strange concept of "confounding the Satan" and understands it to means "doing Teshuvah," as in "confounding the Prosecution's case against us." The Prosecutor is confused as to whom he is prosecuting: the man he saw committing a sin, or the man who has repented and is now a new person. Thus, the purpose of the shofar, according to R. Yitzchak, is to arouse us to repent of our sins and to remember the ultimate truth.

 

However, the Gemara relates that while R. Yitzchak's words were being taught in the Beit Medrash, the scholars and students there interrupted with this question: "What do you mean by asking why we blow the shofar? We blow it because G-d commanded us to!"

 

Their question was this: "If you're referring to the actual shofar blasts of tekiah and teruah, they are a Torah command. You must therefore be referring to something else, namely, the fact that we sound the series of blasts twice, both sitting (after Shacharit) and standing (during Mussaf). If so, your question is a good one: Why do we do this?"

 

The answer is then given: "To confound the Satan." Based on this exchange in the Beit Medrash, the Rambam writes, "Even though the Torah commands us to blow the shofar and gives no explanation, its very nature alludes to its own explanation…"

 

 

Three Books

One of the most puzzling Talmudic passages concerning Rosh HaShanah is the following:

R. Cruspedai said in the name of R. Yochanan: Three Heavenly books are opened on Rosh HaShanah: one for the absolutely wicked, one for the wholly righteous, and one for those who are in-between. The completely righteous are immediately written and sealed for life. The wicked are immediately written and sealed for death. The judgment of the others remains pending from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur; if they are meritorious, they are written for life, and otherwise - for death. (Rosh HaShanah 16b)

 

This passage is quite difficult. For one thing, it means that everyone now living is a complete tzaddik (even if he may have started out as an in-between), and that everyone who has died was a totally wicked person. This is quite hard to accept.