Themes of Rosh Hashana

26 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Themes of Rosh Hashana #1 The Gemara writes that the books of life and death are open before Hashem on Rosh Hashana. There’s a certain tension in the air in keeping with the awesomeness of the day. Hallel is omitted, and the prayers are unusually lengthy. Nonetheless, there’s an obligation to rejoice on Rosh Hashana. Although it is the yom hadin (day of judgment) it is also called Yom Teruah (day of the shofar blast). Rav Soloveitchick explains that teruah can be translated to mean friendship from the root word reut. Rosh Hashana is the day when we rekindle our loving relationship with Hashem.

In Shemone Esrei of Rosh Hashana, we say, “U’vchen ten pachdecha. Let your fear rest upon your creations.” This seems puzzling. Fear doesn’t engender positive sentiments. Rav Soloveitchik clarifies that fear of Hashem is healthy. But there’s another kind of fear. When Rosh Hashana comes we begin to introspect, thinking perhaps we were living life with the wrong assumption and we ask Hashem to reveal to us the truth. If we would stop and ask ourselves before anything we do, “What would Hashem think of this?” we would act differently. U’vchen ten pachdecha is the recognition that all the things we’ve done are recorded and we must account for them.

There is a custom to say chapter 24 in Tehilim at the end of Maariv on Rosh Hashana. The psalm speaks about the kingship of Hashem. Rav Soloveitchik says there are two ways a person can recognize Hashem. It can happen by force, through tragedy. But it can also come through joy or intellectual understanding. Sometimes the gate to let Hashem in moves involuntarily, and other times it happens because the gates themselves have opened to let Him in. This is the challenge of Rosh Hashana. People think they can’t change, but it isn’t true. It’s a matter of making the effort. Our eye must be turned towards the future, towards perfecting ourselves and becoming better Jews.

We say in L’dovid Hashem, “Achat sha’alti…shivti b’veit Hashem. I have one request… to sit in the house of Hashem.” King David asks Hashem to dwell in His house, But then he says, “U’levaker b’heichalo. Let me visit His palace.” If he is asking to dwell permanently with Hashem, why does he then ask to visit? King David desired both. He wanted to always be with Hashem, but with the excitement and freshness of a visitor.

May we merit this Rosh Hashana to renew our connection with our Creator with anticipation and joy.

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