The goal of Rosh Hashana – the sacred and awesome New Year – is to cause a revolution on earth. The Rosh Hashana revolution comes to liberate the earth from the most dangerous tyrant on earth: the human being. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was a noted 19th century sage and biblical commentator, and he refers to this tyrant in his classical work, “The Nineteen Letters”:
“The human being’s intellectual eminence poses the threat of pride: his power to dominate all things and to modify them according to his intentions, might make him think of himself as the master. He might come to forget God, to forget that everything belongs to Him and was lent to the human being only for a specific purpose; and he might thus come to usurp for himself the right to follow only his own will. The human being will reach the greatest depth of degradation when all his efforts are devoted to the gratification of his animalistic urges …At this point, the human being is reduced to the most dangerous beast of prey, for he is armed with intellect, and the world is not safe from his tyranny.” (Letter 5)
Rabbi Hirsch reminds us that human arrogance and selfishness can cause the human being to become a dangerous tyrant. The antidote to this arrogance and selfishness is to remember that the human being was created in the image of the Giving One. As Rabbi Hirsch explains:
“Your own inner awareness tells you, and the Torah states that the human being’s purpose is to be tzelem Elokim – a likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). You are to be more than everything else; you are to exist for everything else. You can know God only though His acts of love and justice; and in turn, you too are called upon to act with justice and love, not merely to indulge or endure. Everything bestowed upon you – mind, body, fellow human being, material goods, other creatures, every talent and every power – all are merely means to action, l’avdah u’l’shamrah, to further and to safeguard everything (Genesis 2:15). With love and with justice! The earth was not created as a gift to you – you have been given to the earth, to treat it with respectful consideration as God’s earth, and everything on it as God’s creation, as your fellow creature, to be respected, loved and helped to attain its purpose according to God’s Will.” (The Nineteen Letters - Letter 4)
The human being, however, has forgotten that
he was created to serve the life-giving
Divine purpose; thus, he views himself as
the sovereign of the earth with the freedom
to exploit the earth for his own
self-gratification. On Rosh Hashana, we
begin to liberate the earth from the
tyrannical rule of the human being, for on
Rosh Hashana, we publicly acknowledge the
Divine sovereignty, and we therefore
proclaim that “Hashem” is the Sovereign of
the earth. What do we mean when we say
“Hashem”? The term Hashem – which
literally means, “the Name” – is a
respectful way of referring to the most
sacred Divine Name which was only pronounced
(as it is spelled) in the Holy Temple by the
Kohanim – Ministers. This sacred
four-letter Hebrew Name expresses the Divine
attribute of compassion, and a source for
this idea is found in an ancient teaching of
Wherever Hashem is mentioned, it designates the Divine attribute of compassion, as it is written (Exodus 34:6): “Hashem, Hashem, Compassionate God.” (Sifri on Deuteronomy 3:24)
This most sacred Divine Name also reveals that the Compassionate One is the Life-Giving One. According to the Vilna Gaon, a noted sage of the 18th century, this most sacred Divine Name refers to the One Who gives existence to all (cited in “Shaarei Aharon, Genesis 2:4). As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, the meaning and grammatical form of this Divine Name denotes not only the One Who grants existence, but the One Who is always ready to grant new life (commentary to Genesis 2:4).
On Rosh Hashana, we publicly acknowledge the sovereignty of Hashem – the Compassionate and Life-Giving One! A highlight of the Rosh Hashana prayers is when we proclaim Hashem as Ha-Melech – the Sovereign. In many congregations, the Cantor – the one leading the congregation in prayer – begins to softly chant the awesome traditional melody that introduces the word Ha-Melech. Gradually, the Cantor increases his volume and chants the word Ha-Melech in a loud voice. He also stresses this word whenever it appears in the prayers.
According to the Vilna Gaon, the Hebrew word for sovereignty – malchus – refers to a sovereignty that is willingly accepted by the people. A melech (king) or malkah (queen) rules with the consent of the people, unlike a moshel – one who rules by force. In the messianic age, explains the Vilna Gaon, all the peoples of the earth will willingly accept the Divine sovereignty and join together in unity to serve the Divine purpose. (Commentary of the Vilna Gaon to Proverbs 27:27).
The Vilna Gaon is alluding to the following prophecy regarding the unity of the nations during the messianic age of universal enlightenment: “They will all proclaim the Name of Hashem and serve Him with a united resolve” (Zephaniah 3:9).
The Vilna Gaon also cites the following prophecy regarding this new age:
“Hashem will be the Sovereign over all the earth; on that day Hashem will be One and His Name One.” (Zechariah 14:9)
The following excerpts from a Rosh Hashana prayer express our yearning for the new age of universal enlightenment when all human beings shall willingly acknowledge the Divine Sovereignty:
“Then all shall come to serve You; they shall bless Your glorious Name and declare Your righteousness in far-flung islands. Peoples that knew You not will seek You out…The mountains will burst forth with glad song, and far-flung islands will exult in Your Sovereignty; they shall accept the yoke of Your Sovereignty upon themselves, and exalt You among the assembled peoples. Distant ones will hear and come, and they will present You with a crown of Sovereignty.”
During the 20th century, there arose secular tyrants who refused to acknowledge the Sovereignty of the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, and they brought destruction and death to the world. In recent years, however, we find groups that are bringing destruction and death to the world in the name of Divine Sovereignty! They are the suicide bombers and terrorists that are currently causing many deaths, even among their own people, in the name of God. Despite their religious rhetoric, they are actually the enemies of the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, and regarding such murderers, King David prayed to Hashem: “Men of blood...They utter Your Name for wicked schemes, it is taken in vain by Your enemies” (Psalm 139:19,20). As King David indicates, these cruel murderers are the enemies of Hashem, for although they speak about God, they are actually serving a god of death.
On Rosh Hashana, we proclaim the Sovereignty of the God of life! We therefore pray on this sacred New Year:
“Remember us for life, O Sovereign Who desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life – for Your sake, O Living God.” (Shemoneh Esrei).
May we be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
P.S. Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 12th and continues until the arrival of Shabbos, the Sacred Sabbath.