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Rosh Hashanah: Two Days for All Mankind

Rosh Hashanah begins this Sunday evening at sunset. While it is known as the “Jewish New Year,” in fact this holiday initiates a special time for all mankind. It begins a 10-day opportunity, spanning the time from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, during which every person in the world has the opportunity to reestablish his or her relationship with God. Simply put, it is not just a time for Jews. Rather, it is a time for all mankind. Thus Rosh Hashanah begins these Days of Awe with a universal plea for the recognition of God’s ultimate authority.
The underlying theme of Rosh Hashanah, therefore, is the concept of קבלת עול מלכות שמים, “acceptance of the yoke of the kingship of Heaven.” Proof that this idea is the main focus and purpose for everyone from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, is that there is a mandatory change that must accompany the expression we use to close the 3rd blessing of every שמונה עשר prayer. We change “Blessed are You holy God,” to “Blessed are You holy King.”
Noteworthy also is the מוסף or “additional prayer” we recite on every Shabbat and holiday. It always mentions the day’s specialness but only with regard to the nation of Israel. The מוסף for Rosh Hashanah, however, makes reference to the day’s importance for all mankind. Furthermore, unlike the מוסף prayer on Shabbat or on other holidays, on Rosh Hashanah the מוסף prayer contains 3 unique blessings: מלכיות (kingship), זכרונות (remembrance) and שופרות (shofar). Each of these blessings focuses on a different aspect of mankind reconnecting with the Almighty via acceptance of His Kingship.
The מלכיות blessing is not just a private request between Israel and God. Rather expresses quiet strongly the prayer and hope “that all humanity will call upon Your name and all the earth’s wicked will turn toward You; every knee should bend and every tongue swears allegiance to You; and they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of Your kingdom.” While it is true that most of humanity does not yet recognize God as the “King of the universe,” it nevertheless remains our belief that this recognition will eventually come about. Hence we assert it within this blessing as a fundamental principle.
The next blessing, זכרונות, while concluding with a request for God to remember His special covenant with the Jewish people, describes the close relationship all of mankind can have with God. This section of the מוסף not only depicts the long history of events between God and Israel but recounts events that occurred within the greater community of mankind. Here the prayer demonstrates that while Noach and his family did not have a special covenant with God, yet He remembered them and saved them because of their individual righteousness. Righteousness, then, is not just a status attainable only by Jews. God’s “remembrance” applies to every single individual. The righteous non-Jew is beloved by God as well.
The third special blessing, שופרות, also contains this universal desire for all people to recognize God’s sovereignty. Rabbi Soloveitchik characterized this third blessing’s theme in the middle of the מוסף as גילוי שכינה, “the confrontation between man and God.” While the blessing begins with the description of the confrontation between Israel and God at Mt. Sinai, it immediately adds that in the messianic era, “All mankind will perceive God as they are able to see a banner placed on a high hill or hear the sounds of the shofar.” In other words, the cognitive recognition of God’s kingship to all mankind will be as clear to everyone’s mind as are his or her 5 senses right now. The mental perception and recognition of God for all people will be as natural and real as the objects we see with our normal vision or hear with our normal auditory ability.
Thus the holiday of Rosh Hashanah expresses great concern by God for the entire world. This idea is also captured in the moving and poignant prayer of Rav Amram’s, ונתנה תקף, “All mankind will pass before You like a shepherd pasturing his flock, looking at them and judging them one by one.”
May Hashem grant all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, beginning this Rosh Hashanah, with the opportunity to reestablish our “acceptance of the yoke of the kingship of Heaven.” In so doing may Hashem inscribe us in His Book of Life for a year of health, happiness, success, prosperity, and most of all a year of kindness, caring, charity, understanding, and peace toward one another.
Shabbat Shalom and שנה טובה תכתבו
Rabbi Robert Kaplan
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