Rosh Hashanah(Day 1: Genesis 21; Day 2: Genesis 22)
The Shofar Helps Us Reclaim Our Citizenship
"When the cat's away, the mice will play." When the king was on a distant journey, Robert -- the servant who always cleaned the king's bedroom -- decided to try out the king's bed, the most comfortable bed in the kingdom. "I wonder what it would feel like to take a little nap there?" he thought. So for the entire afternoon he slept soundly in the royal bed.
John, who was in charge of the king's stable, wondered how it would feel to mount the king's stallion. At that, he was riding all over the king's forest.
William, in charge of the king's crown, constantly kept the diamonds and rubies shining. "I would like to be king for a day," thought William as he seated himself on the royal throne wearing the shiny crown.
Suddenly the palace was in an uproar! The king had returned unexpectedly! One servant was sound asleep in the king’s bed, another was riding the royal stallion, and a third was wearing the king's crown and sitting on the throne. "Off with their heads!!" the king cried.
This story relates to our task as we prepare for the coming Rosh Hashana. We think of ourselves as the decision makers and catalysts of our lives. We imagine ourselves in the driver’s seat and wearing the crown. Before Rosh Hashana we must contemplate the fact that the "King" will soon appear in our little world, with all His glory. So we must quickly remake the bed, return the horse to its proper place and take off the crown before it is too late. Recognize the true Ruler of the universe and humble ourselves before Him. And let us proceed to blow the shofar -- the coronation of the King of Kings. (heard from Rabbi Yaakov Mendelson)
The Sages teach that on Rosh Hashana, God judges every individual. If someone is perfectly righteous or totally evil, the verdict is immediately given. If, however, one is in the middle (as we typically see ourselves), the judgment is left dangling until Yom Kippur. If the person repents during the Ten Days of Repentance, they will survive; if not, they are condemned.
Question: Why not have Yom Kippur first -- so we can repent for our misdeeds before the trial begins?!
KING OF KINGS
Although Rosh Hashana is the first day of the "Ten Days of Repentance," we find no mention of "sin" in the prayers of the day. The entire theme of Rosh Hashana is the coronation of the King. What is a king? When in the presence of someone who had the power of life and death, one would shudder every minute. Our modern society has no concept of a total monarch, so it is difficult for us to picture God as a king. (Someone once suggested calling Him the "President of the World," but don't forget that this is no democracy!)
However, there is a fairly recent concept that can serve as an analogy to the situation of God's kingdom -- a "government in exile."
When the Germans invaded Poland in World War Two, the king of Poland fled to London where he established the Polish government in exile. Although the Poles were forced to abandon their country, they remained the legal monarchs until they could liberate their homeland. They directed the activities of the resistance movements and broadcast over the radio. Various other governments have emulated this concept.
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
When we refer to the kingdom of God, what are the borders of this kingdom, and who is the enemy? Of course, we mean it in a metaphysical sense.
According to Jewish tradition, God created a force called the "evil inclination" (yetzer hara) to counterbalance the natural tendency of man to seek spiritual growth and relate to Godliness. (This force is not an independent power, but only doing the will of its Creator in order to test mankind.)
Thus the battlefield consists of the Kingdom of God and enemy territory, the turf of the "evil inclination." The parameters of God’s kingdom are the boundaries of halacha (Jewish law). When observing Shabbat or keeping kosher, one has placed himself within the Kingdom of God. The moment one oversteps the bounds of halacha, he has entered "enemy territory."
Question: Any casual observer of the street scene, the media scene, or even the political scene can detect that the "evil inclination" is largely "calling the shots." What ever happened to the kingdom of God?
In any monarchy, the king has the prerogative of pardoning criminals -- a thief, a burglar and even a murderer. There is only one criminal the king may not pardon. A traitor who divulged information to the nation's enemies receives no clemency; he must hang.Imagine the police come to hang the traitor, and find him waving the national flag. He is reformed; now he's a patriot.
This helps explain the shofar that is blown on Rosh Hashana, celebrating the coronation of the King. Until now we were working for the enemy, following the "evil inclination" at the expense of God’s Torah. Although superficially the "evil inclination" seems to have people in his control, the "real" boss is the Almighty. He is only temporarily a "government in exile."
On Rosh Hashana, our prayers are that God should reveal His kingdom, so that all mankind will recognize His awesomeness. "May every soul proclaim: the God of Israel is King and his reign is all encompassing." We may already know this, but we are bothered that not all of mankind is aware of His Divine greatness.
As long as we are working for the enemy, we dare not even request a pardon from the King. The first thing to do is declare our loyalty to the Almighty. That is the theme of Rosh Hashana and the reason we don't mention any misdeeds on that day. Only after accepting God's kingdom on Rosh Hashana can we begin to deal with the mistakes committed during the past year -- and ask the King to pardon us.
PLANTING THE SEEDS FOR NEXT YEAR
On Rosh Hashana we eat special foods that hint to a sweet year (e.g. apples and honey), and foods that hint to a prosperous year with the downfall of our enemies. We don't eat certain foods that have negative connotations.
Rosh Hashana is the time we plant the seed of the new year and everything we do on these days is crucial. If we don't eat a sour food, certainly we shouldn't say a sour word! For two full days we strive to be on our best behavior. Not to get angry or upset. Not to waste a minute. Not to say anything that may hurt another person.
This will effect the entire year to come. May we all have a very sweet year, and be written and sealed for a good and prosperous new year!
based on the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt'l