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Rosh Hashanah – A Time For All

Rosh Hashanah begins this coming Monday evening at sunset. While it is known as the “Jewish New Year,” this holiday initiates a 10-day period of personal introspection spanning Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. During this time every person in the world has the opportunity to reestablish his or her relationship with God. The central theme of the Book of Jonah, read the afternoon of Yom Kippur, is the repentance and return to God by the ancient, non-Jewish city of Nineveh. Simply put, this time is not just a time for Jews. Rather, it is a time for all mankind.

Rosh Hashanah commences this special period with a universal plea for all mankind to recognize  God’s ultimate authority. The underlying theme of Rosh Hashanah, therefore, is the concept of קבלת עול מלכות שמים, “accepting the yoke of the kingship of Heaven.” Recognition of God’s kingship is the emphasis of the 3rd blessing found in every prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In it we pray, “Hashem, instill Your awe upon all your works and Your dread upon all that you have created. Let all works revere You and let them all become one single society to do Your will wholeheartedly.” Acceptance of this most fundamental idea is the first necessary step for every human being wishing to reconnect with God.

Noteworthy also is the מוסף or “additional prayer” we recite on every Shabbat and holiday. It mentions the holiday’s uniqueness but only regarding the nation of Israel. However, the מוסף prayer for Rosh Hashanah refers to the day’s importance for all mankind. The uniqueness of the “additional prayer,” מוסף, on Rosh Hashanah is that it contains 3 specific blessings: one called  מלכיות (kingship), a second called זכרונות (remembrance) and a third known as שופרות (shofar). Each of these blessings focuses on a different aspect of mankind’s reconnecting with the Almighty via acceptance of His kingship.

The מלכיות blessing is not a private request between Israel and God. Rather we have a universal plea expressing the desire 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 swear allegiance to You; and they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of Your kingdom.” While perhaps a vast majority 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. We assert this request within this blessing attesting a fundamental principle for all people to embrace.

The blessing, זכרונות, “remembrance,” while concluding with a request for God to remember His special covenant with the Jewish people, describes the close relationship all mankind can have with God. This section of the מוסף not only depicts the long history of events between God and Israel but also recounts events that occurred within the greater community of mankind. Here the prayer recalls 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 is not a status attainable only by Jews. That is not a Torah idea. God’s “remembrance” applies to every single individual. The righteous non-Jew is beloved and remembered by God as is a righteous Jew. The Torah asserts in its opening chapter, “All mankind is created in the image of God.”

The third special blessing, שופרות, also contains this universal desire for all people to recognize God’s sovereignty. Rabbi Soloveitchik, ZT”L characterized this third blessing as גילוי שכינה, “the revelation of God to man.” While the blessing begins with the description of the entire Jewish nation’s meeting with 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, in the messianic era, the cognitive recognition of God’s kingship to all mankind will be as clear to everyone’s mind as his or her 5 senses are 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. Individually, however, one need not wait until the messianic era to know and accept God’s kingship. Right now, today, through study, knowledge, action, and deed, every individual can attain a direct relationship with God, the King.

Thus, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah expresses great concern by God for the entire world. This idea is captured in Rav Amram’s moving and poignant prayer, ונתנה תקף. On this day all mankind will pass before You like a shepherd pasturing his flock, looking at them and judging them one by one.” It is clear. Our great Torah scholars always knew and understood that Rosh Hashanah is the day for all mankind.

May Hashem grant all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, beginning this Rosh Hashanah, 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