– Author: Rav Jeremy Koolyk

When looking to gain insight and understanding into the Jewish holidays, we turn naturally to certain sources, such as the Biblical description of the holiday in the Torah, the relevant sources in Chazal, and the many and varied Torah commentaries.  Another primary source, occasionally overlooked, is the Tefllah—specifically Shemoneh Esrei—of the holiday in question. If we bear in mind the authorship of Tefillot, it would seem an obvious choice for inspiration and illumination about the nature of the holiday.  The Gemara in Brachot[1] records that it was the Anshei Kenesset Hagedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly, who instituted our Brachot and Tefillot. This illustrious council, comprised of Tannaitic Torah scholars and prophets[2], in response to the dwindling versatility of the Jewish people in Hebrew language as a result of Galut Rishon, streamlined and canonized a universal Hebrew prayer service for all occasions of the year[3]. Given the impressive degree of scholarship and divine inspiration of the members of this assembly, they were perfectly poised to formulate profound and penetrating Tefillot for Am Yisrael. It stands to reason, then, that powerful insights into the essence of each holiday can be gleaned from examining the Tefillot.

If we’re searching within the Shemoneh Esrei for a hint at or a description of the crux of the day, a ripe place to start would be the Bracha of Kedushat Hayom. This Bracha describes the very essence of the day, that which imbues it with its lofty sanctity. Let us take, for example, the concluding section (Chatima) of the Bracha of Kedushat Hayom in the Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Kippur:

ברוך אתה ה’ מלך מוחל וסולח לעוונותינו ולעוונות עמך ישראל ומעביר אשמותינו בכל שנה ושנה מלך על כל הארץ מקדש ישראל ויום הזכרון.

This Bracha aptly describes the essence of Yom Kippur as a day characterized by Hashem’s forgiveness and atonement for sins committed by the Jewish people.

We now turn toward the Chatima of the Bracha of Kedushat Hayom of Rosh Hashana:

ברוך אתה ה’ מלך על כל הארץ מקדש ישראל ויום הזכרון

It is apparent from the Bracha that a central theme of Rosh Hashana is recognizing Malchut Hashem, the Heavenly Kingship, over the world. This conclusion is not surprising as much of the prayer service of Rosh Hashana focuses on recognizing and proclaiming Divine Sovereignty.

However, a peripheral analysis of Hilchot Brachot reveals an anomaly in the formulation of this Bracha. The Gemara in Pesachim[4] states that a Bracha must be composed such that “מעין חתימה סמוך לחתימה,” “the penultimate phrase must parallel the concluding phrase.” For example, the Bracha which concludes “שומע תפלה” is preceded by “כי אתה שומע תפלת עמך ישראל ברחמים” and the Bracha which concludes “מברך השנים” is preceded by “וברך שנתנו כשנים הטובות”. This parallelism between the last and second-to-last phrases is preserved in virtually all Brachot and when it is broken, the Rishonim question the accuracy of that text of the Bracha[5].

With this in mind, we would expect that the penultimate phrase of the Bracha of Kedushat Hayom on Rosh Hashana to be a mirror image of the concluding phrase and therefore be an expression of Hashem’s Kingship. Something to the effect of “כי המלכות שלך היא ולעולמי עד תמלוך בכבוד” would perhaps have been fitting. What we find instead is seemingly puzzling:

כי אתה אלקים אמת ודברך אמת וקים לעד. ברוך אתה ה’ מלך על כל הארץ מקדש ישראל ויום הזכרון

The second-to-last phrase is, in essence, a declaration that God and His Word (the Torah) are true and everlasting. This, of course, begs the question: where is the symmetry? Does this formulation violate the general rule in Hilchot Brachot requiring מעין חתימה סמוך לחתימה? Is this Bracha, somehow, the one exception to this rule?

Indeed, we are not forced to resort to this conclusion. Instead, by understanding more deeply how recognition of Malchut Hashem is attained, it may become clear how the two phrases really are parallel.

Full Recognition of Malchut Hashem

What does it mean to accept Hashem as our King? Is a mere verbal profession of His Sovereignty enough? Does trumpeting the arrival of His Majesty with the Shofar suffice?

In answer, let us explore another instance besides the holiday of Rosh Hashana during which we accept Hashem’s Dominion. We do this twice daily in recitation of the first paragraph of Kriat Shema, where we declare Hashem’s Oneness and the obligation of Ahavat Hashem, loving God. This paragraph is referred to by Chazal as Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim, Acceptance of the Heavenly Yoke[6]. However, Kriat Shema does not end here; it proceeds with the second paragraph, termed by Chazal as Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot, Acceptance of the Yoke of Commandments[7]. Here, we delineate our obligation to perform the Mitzvot of the Torah and the consequences both of upholding and shirking that responsibility. Apparently, Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim, acceptance of Hashem’s dominion, is not enough; in order for it to be meaningful, it must be coupled with Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot.

When we think about it, the coupling of Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim and Ol Mitzvot makes intuitive sense. Imagine, for a moment, a child who contritely declares that he is not in charge of the household but is rather under the domain of his parents. Upon further questioning, it becomes apparent that the child has no plan to follow his parents’ rules, and is wholly unconcerned with the consequences of following or breaking those rules. It is obvious that the child’s acceptance of his parents’ dominion is totally vacuous in absence of a commitment to follow their rules. To divorce Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim from Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot is to strip all meaning from the Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim.

Kabbalat Malchut Shamayim at Har Sinai

The Ramban emphasizes the close connection between Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim and Ol Mitzvot in his explanation of the juxtaposition of two famous Pesukim in Vezot HaBeracha[8]. There, as a way praising the Torah and the Jewish people[9], Moshe recounts the original reception of the Torah at Har Sinai:

תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהלת יעקב. ויהי בישורון מלך בהתאסף ראשי עם יחד שבטי ישראל.

Why does Moshe juxtapose the Jewish people’s reception of the Torah with a description of their recognition of Malchut Hashem?

The Ramban[10] explains:

והטעם כי ישראל יאמרו תמיד התורה אשר צוה לנו משה תהיה ירושה לכל קהלת יעקב לעדי עד לא נחליף ולא נמיר אותה לעולם, ויאמרו שהיה השם למלך על ישראל בהתאסף ראשינו זקנינו ושופטינו וכל שבטי ישראל, שכולנו יחד קבלנו מלכותו עלינו לדור ודור, ואנחנו חייבין לשמור תורתו ומלכותו לעולמים. וזו המצוה הוא דבור אנכי, והיא קבלת מלכות שמים כאשר פירשתי שם (שמות כ ב):

והנה הזכיר התורה בכלל, ומלכות שמים בפרט, שכל המודה במלכות שמים כופר בע”ז ומודה בכל התורה כולה.

“The reason is that Israel should always say ‘The Torah which Moshe commanded us will be an inheritance for the congregation of Yaakov for eternity, we will never trade or swap it’ and they should say ‘Hashem became King over all of Israel when the heads, elders, judges and all tribes of Israel gathered together, for all of us together accepted the Heavenly Kingship for all generations, and we are obligated to guard His Torah and His Kingship forever.’ This is the utterance of “Anochi” [the first of the ten commandments]

[Moshe] mentioned the Torah in general and the Heavenly Kingship in specific because one who acknowledges the Heavenly Kingship, denies Avodah Zarah and admits to the entire Torah.”

The Ramban makes it quite clear that included in accepting Ol Malchut Shamayim is an ironclad commitment to upholding the Torah such that one who genuinely accepts Malchut Shamayim also accepts the entire Torah.

Perfect Parallelism

            With this understanding of the inseparability of Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim and Ol Mitzvot, we can return to our original question. The Bracha of Kedushat Hayom is indeed totally symmetrical and conforms to the standard Bracha format. The Anshei Kenesset Hagedolah are hinting to the fact that a co-requisite of recognizing Hashem as the “Melech Al Kol Ha’aretz,” “King over the whole land” is affirming that “Elokim Emet Udvarcha Emet Vekayam La’ad,” “God is true and Your Word is true and forever enduring” The two are, in effect, synonymous and therefore perfectly parallel each other within the context of the Bracha. Only with the recognition that every commandment in the Torah is eternally true and binding can we genuinely coronate Hashem as our King.

Kol Gadol Velo Yasaf

Rav Sa’adiah Gaon enumerates ten ideas of which Tekiat Shofar on Rosh Hashana is symbolic. Chief among them is that the Shofar blast is a coronation of the King (as one would blow a trumpet before the arrival of a human king) and that the Shofar reminds us of the Shofar blown at Har Sinai[11].  What is the connection between these two ideas? Why is it important at this juncture of our coronation of the King that we invoke the memory of Har Sinai?

At Har Sinai, we were privileged to God’s glorious Revelation. We heard there a “Kol Gadol Velo Yasaf[12],” “a great voice which did not cease[13].” During Tekiat Shofar, we remind ourselves of the auspicious occasion of Har Sinai in order to attune our ears to the Kol Gadol which can still be heard for those willing to hearken. When we view the Torah given at Har Sinai as literally still ringing true, we have readied ourselves to also use the Shofar as the blasting instrument signaling the coronation of the King.

Rosh Hashana and the Teshuva Process

So busy are we on Rosh Hashana with extended Tefillot, festive meals, and Simchat Hachag that there is little time left for Teshuva. Yet, we know that Rosh Hashana is the first of the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Teshuva, during which Teshuva is particularly susceptible to being accepted[14].

Often, our Teshuva journeys use a narrow lens focused on rectifying particular weaknesses (avoiding Lashon Hara, forbidden foods, Chilul Shabbat, etc.).  Indeed, these are important and necessary elements of Teshuva, as fixing the details of individual Mitzvot perfects our overall service of God. We might refer to this process as the Bottom-Up approach to Teshuva, a perfection of details which influences the bigger picture.

But we must also take advantage of the broader, perhaps more literal sense, of Teshuva, returning to Hashem.  We must make a paradigm shift, in which we commit ourselves to viewing God’s Word as eternally true.  Many of the specifics will naturally fall into place after this step is taken.  Who could be careless about Shemirat Shabbat or Torah study when one bears in mind the eternal relevance of God’s word? Who could be lax in the honor of one’s parents while the commandment of Kabeid Et Avicha Ve’et Imecha reverberates in his ears? This process can be described as the Top-Down approach to Teshuva, a major shift in mindset which has far reaching impact on the particulars of religious life.

Perhaps, the Teshuva of Rosh Hashana is the second type of Teshuva described above. The genuine Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim—the one that goes hand-in-hand with Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot—which transpires throughout Rosh Hashana inspires us to rededicate and reorient our lives toward fulfilling God’s eternally relevant commandments. Armed with this major change in mindset, we are ready to use the coming days for Bottom-Up Teshuva by rectifying specific sins and misdeeds.

May it be Hashem’s will that we take advantage of this Rosh Hashana to authentically recognize Malchut Shamayim and recommit ourselves to Ol Mitzvot, and in this way be worthy of Hashem’s merciful judgment for a Ktivah Vechatimah Tovah and bountiful blessings.

[1]     33a

[2]     Megillah 17b

[3]     Rambam Hilchot Tefillah 1:4

[4]     104a

[5]     See Tur and Beit Yosef OC 59 regarding the first Bracha of Kriat Shma and the propriety of preceding the Chatima with Or Chadash Al Tzion Ta’ir.

  1. [6] See Brachot 13a

[7]     Ibid.

[8]     Devarim 33:4-5

[9]     Rashi Devarim 33:1

[10]   Devarim 33:5

[11]   Shemot 19:15, 19

[12]   Devarim 5:19

[13]   Targum Onkelos

[14]   See Rosh Hashasna 18a, Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 2:6

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