Rosh Hashanah

Coming of Age: Rosh Hashana

September 12, 2012

It may seem like the easiest thing in the world—delivering a bar mitzvah speech on Rosh Hashanah. The obvious parallel to bar mitzvah—a new year, a new beginning—would seem to render any further discussion superfluous. But dig beneath the observable surface, and perhaps there is still much to analyze and discuss.

More than simply the first date on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Chavah in the Garden of Eden. It is the Day of Judgment, when not only Jews, but all people are measured and marked on their deeds of the past year. It is the start of the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminate on Yom Kippur, a period when Jews are called upon to be on their best behavior and reflect upon ways for self-improvement.

But often lost in the historical and reflective significance of the day is one notion that ties all these other themes together and serves as the key to understanding Rosh Hashanah. What is the fuel that ignites the engine of the Jewish new year? And how does that fuel similarly ignite a bar mitzvah?

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a) relates, “The Holy One Blessed is He says…On Rosh Hashanah, recite before me [verses of] kingship (malchiyut)… so that you will make me King over you.”

The Ponovizher mashgiach, Rav Chaim Friedlander, writes in his sefer, Siftei Chayyim, that the overarching theme of Rosh Hashanah is malchiyut— that is, our acknowledgement of God’s authority over the world, its events and its inhabitants. The sole purpose of the long service of Rosh Hashanah, beginning with the melodious exclamation, “Ha-Melech!—The King!” is to infuse within the worshipper the sense that God is in complete control of the world.

This simple notion—that God is in complete control of everything happening to and around us—while easy to grasp intellectually, is often difficult to experience. On an instinctual level we tend to impute authority to people who appear to exert some control over our lives: politicians, bosses, colleagues, teachers, parents, children, neighbors and friends. We don’t necessarily perceive, in all places and in all times, that God is the driving force behind everything. If I’m having trouble at work, it’s caused by my employer; if I’m having trouble at home, it’s my spouse, my kids, or my parents.

We have trouble feeling—even as we believe—that God is the ultimate source of any obstacles we face; and, moreover, that those obstacles are challenges to overcome, put there for our benefit, to help us grow and develop into better ovdei Hashem.

As a bar mitzvah you are just beginning to enter this realm. Your father recently pronounced the blessing, “Baruch she-petarani me-onsho shel zeh— Blessed is He who exempted me from the punishment of this [boy].” Your parents are no longer responsible for your actions. Like it or not, you are now an adult, responsible for what you do and for how you behave.

You must move forward with this understanding of malchiyut, “so that you will make me King over you.” You need to continually remind yourself that God reigns supreme over every aspect of your life. You must commit yourself to the understanding that everything in your life—good or bad—comes from Him. Your job is to respond appropriately, through the guidance of the Torah and your rebbeim.

This doesn’t mean that with perfect faith, everything will work out the way you want it to. Even as you take the correct, ethical, halachic path, the world around you will sometimes spin in directions that you cannot comprehend.

Additionally, no one’s perfect. You will make mistakes. But never forget that God is constantly by your side. He loves you more than you can imagine, and will never abandon you. This appreciation of God’s presence, his hashgachah peratit, will take years—perhaps a lifetime—to ingrain in yourself, but you must begin to do so now.

As you continue to focus your mind on God’s kingship, the distractions of daily living will fade, the noise that damages our senses will become muted. You will perceive more and more deeply God’s hand in every aspect of your life. As such, anger, frustration, annoyance all begin to melt away.

This Rosh Hashanah, the shofar blast is to you like a starting gun, signaling the beginning of your adult life, your life as an eved Hashem, your journey toward total dependence on God’s personal, intimate, and unconditional love for you.

From Coming of Age: An Anthology of Divrei Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvah