Aleinu L’Shabeiach: Gigantic Gratitude

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19 Sep 2019
Rosh Hashanah

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Rosh Hashanah is mandated as a two day festival even in Israel. Yet, if we agree that the main purpose of Rosh Hashanah is to coronate Hashem as King over us and over all creation, haven’t we done that on Day One of Rosh Hashanah? What purpose then does Day Two serve? Further, if this is a Day of Coronation, Why do we wish each other to be inscribed for a good, sweet year? Is it a Day of Judgment or a Day of Coronation, asks Rabbi Zev Getzel in Ashirah LaHashem?

Perhaps we can find some answers by studying the two paragraphs of Alenu which begin the section of Malchuyot/Kingship in the Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah.

According to our tradition, this prayer was composed by Yehoshua after the conquest of Jericho. The Battle of Jericho, the first in the conquest of the land, differed from the battles of the other cities. This was a miraculous conquest, preceded by encircling the city for seven days accompanied by shofar blasts. After all this, the walls of Jericho miraculously came tumbling down. Why did this particular city require such Divine intervention?

Rabbi Friedlander z”l, the Sifsei Chaim, suggests that Jericho was the seat of the forces of tumah/impurity. To overcome these negative forces and bring the kedushah/sanctity into Eretz Yisroel, Yehoshua required a miracle. With these miracles, Hashem established His sovereignty over all the world. Hashem proved that only He was God and ruled over all the forces of the world; Hashem was Adon hakol/Master over all, to Whom we are obligated “to give greatness to the Molder of bereishit/primal creation.” When Anshei Knesset Hagedolah formulated the standard Rosh Hashanah liturgy, it was this validation of Hashem’s supreme mastery over all that they wanted to establish at the beginning of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. When we recite this coronation of the Ribbonoh shel olam in Alenu, all the angels are listening and replying, “Ashrei…/Blessed is the nation…  that Hashem is their God,”tells us Rabbi Pincus z”l, as he urges us to recite this prayer with trembling.

Given the history of Alenu, writes Rabbi Meizlish it has the power to knock down all the negative forces that would testify against us, making them all fall down by the wayside.  Therefore, adds Rabbi Pincus z”l, it is logical to recite Alenu at the beginning of Malchuyot to destroy the forces preventing our prayers from ascending to the King. For the same reason, one recites Alenu at a brit milah/circumcision, to destroy the evil forces waiting for an opportunity to confuse and destroy.

How can we “give greatness” to the One Who already encompasses all greatness? We may gain some insight by studying the Psalms appropriately recited for the different days of the week, writes Rabbi Rothberg. On the first day of the week, as we begin our weekday routine, we remind ourselves that, “Hashem’s is the earth’s and its fullness.” When we get to the sixth day, the day that coincides with Rosh Hashanah, we recite, “Hashem will have reigned, He will have donned grandeur…” Although even during the creation process, parts of creation already deviated from God’s original plan (for example, the trees produced only fruit that was edible and did not include an edible bark), Hashem remains Master.

Rabbi Rothberg explains: All of creation is a physical process, a process associated with the name Elokhim. Physicality, however, is always in opposition to spirituality. However, on the sixth day, Hashem created Man, a composite of both physical and spiritual, of body and soul. Man’s purpose is to connect the two, to bring spirituality down to the physical earth, to subsume the physical self to the spiritual self and thereby to coronate God over the world. Adam failed in this mission.

Bnei Yisroel had another opportunity at Har Sinai to inaugurate a perfected world. But, by the creation of the golden calf, we failed again. But all was not yet lost. On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe ascended Har Sinai again, asking Hashem to forgive Bnei Yisroel and hoping to repair the breach. The process began on Rosh Hashanah when we again crowned Hashem as our King, and climaxed on Yom Kippur with Hashem saying, “Solachti kidvorecha/I have forgiven as you have asked.” The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah reminds us of our stand at Sinai on that other Sixth Day [of Sivan] and culminates on Yom Kippur when we received the second set of luchot. The creation of physical Man on that first Sixth Day now was integrated with the spiritual Man of Torah, as Hashem had originally conceived it to be.

But that which happened over three thousand years ago must still have meaning for us today. On Rosh Hashanah Hashem judges the entire world and in doing so, inaugurates a new world order, writes the Sifsei Chaim citing the Ramchal. A new world is born, and every creation now has a new mission. With this new mission, we each need new “tools” to be able to complete that mission. Hashem evaluates each person and, based on past performance, assigns him a new mission and the appropriate materials he will need for this task.

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of Hashem’s reign. As such, it is the day on which he reevaluates his servants and their performance in His service, just as Pharaoh, lehavdil, did on his birthday. Will we be judged worthy and successful in having crowned Hashem as our King this past year?  Are we using the gifts God gave us to bring more Godliness into the world? Will Hashem grant us another year and fill it with the blessings that will enable us to continue serving Him totally?

Rabbi Bernstein firmly establishes the connection between accepting Hashem as our Sovereign and petitioning Him to bless us with all good things. Rosh Hashanah is not about us, but about Him. Once we accept Hashem’s sovereignty over us, our requests fall within that context, that we request these blessings so that we have the tools to better serve Him.

Now it is important for us to recognize, as Alenu continues, that our assigned portion and task is not the same as that of the other nations, neither individually nor nationally, and therefore the tools given to a Jew must also be different from those given to a gentile.

From the time of Adam, each of us has an obligation to fulfill God’s commands. When Adam sinned, Hashem approached him in the Garden of Eden and asked him, “Ayekah/Where are you?” Hashem was not asking Adam for his physical location. After all, Hashem knows everything. Rather, writes the Shvilei Pinchas citing the Baal Hatanya, Hashem was asking Adam where he was spiritually, psychologically, emotionally. Adam, do some introspection. Are you still on the same lofty level your were on just a short while ago? This question is asked of each of us, the descendants of Adam, on every Rosh Hashanah. [Today’s yeshivish question would be, “Where are you holding?” CKS] The Shlah Hakadosh extrapolates further and connects the dialogue to the sounds of the shofar. Hashem created us pure and simple, like the straightforward pure blast of tekiyah. But we have taken that purity, broken it and adulterated it through our sins, as the shevarim/broken sounds of the shofar signify. But if we truly regret our sins, if we cry and whimper in recognition and atonement/teruah, we will again return to tekiyah, the purity of our earlier state.

But on Rosh Hashanah we should not focus only on our shortcomings, writes Lefanav Navod.  That is a ploy of the yetzer horo to depress us so that we will feel worthless and incapable of moving forward and succeeding. Even though we are not yet where we should be, we need to focus on our progress. We need to recognize that Hashem has implanted greatness within us, and it is our desire to use that greatness and return it to Him. When we wish others that they be inscribed for a good year, we are wishing them success in their mission, with opportunities to demonstrate this greatness in making Hashem King.

We are still left with the question of why we keep two days of yom tov for Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Mintzberg z”l in Ben Melech provides some insight into our practice. Citing the Arizal, Rabbi Mintzberg z”l proposes that there are two aspects to Rosh Hashanah reflected in the two days. The first day is a day of strict judgment whereas the second day’s judgment is softer. Rabbi Mintzberg z”l suggests that our celebrating a second day of yom tov as a way of remaining connected to Hakododsh Boruch Hu and showing our love for Him acts as a merit in our favor. Day One parallels the day of Adam’s creation, the day of his sin and of his judgment, while Day Two was the day after creation, the first Shabbat. Shabbat in its essence is a day that celebrates Hashem as our King and our Creator, and the love Hashem demonstrated by creating the universe to receive His love. Even the liturgical poems of the two days reflect this difference. Those of the first day are poems of harsh judgment, while those of the second day are poems of the loving relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisroel.

Rabbi Wolbe z”l gives us a simple method of ascribing greatness to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. As we pray, the words of our tefillot bear witness to Hashem’s creating the world. But our subservience to Hashem is most clearly demonstrated in the Alenu prayer, both in words and in action. It is in this prayer that we prostrate ourselves before Him as we declare Him to be King of kings Who stretches out heavens and establishes the foundations of earth, writes Rabbi Pincus z”l. It is all Hashem, and nothing exists save Him. All else is illusion. Since everything else is illusion, anything that blocks me from connecting to Hashem can be torn down by the shofar blasts.

It is through Shabbat that we can hope to understand the different levels of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, the Ribbonoh shel olam, the ain od milvado/the One within Whom all exists and outside Whom nothing exists, that all existence is an expression of Divine will. Rabbi Pincus z”l explains three levels of understanding this concept and the three combinations of the names of God that reflect each of these understandings. On the first level, we understand that Hashem is the Master of the world and He alone decides what we will receive. This understanding is expressed by our refraining from working on Shabbat, relying on Hashem for our sustenance. This concept is symbolized the four lettered name of Hashem, YKVK connected with the name ADNI/Master.

The next level of ain od milvado expresses the thought that YKVK ELOKIM finished all the work that He did, He created the world and continues to sustain it at every moment.

The final level is an almost incomprehensible level. “Vayishbot bayom hashvi’i mikol melachto…/On this day Hashem brings the existence of the world to a halt. In other words, on this day everything else ceases to be. There is no reality other than Hashem. This concept is so difficult to understand that we can only hope to understand it in the future, bringing us to the name Hashem revealed to Moshe when He sent Moshe on his mission to redeem Bnei Yisroel, the name EHKH, I will be in the future.

If we now add the gematria/numerical equivalents of these three names we arrive at 250, the same number as NeR/candle. When we light the Shabbat candles, these truths which seem to be hidden all week long, are suddenly revealed. “Hashem is the Master over all, He sustains it all and “there is nothing else besides Him.” It is on Rosh Hashanah that we truly recognize that Hashem Ori/Hashem is my light, and all else is illusion, writes Rabbi Roberts.

In Moda Labinah Rabbi Rothberg tells us that every Rosh Hashanah Hashem again reveals the primal light of creation as He creates the world anew. The shofar blasts remind us of the Shabbat at Sinai when we accepted Hashem as our King. We have two days of clarity that nothing exists but Hashem, the Ribbono shel olam, and that our purpose is to serve Him and bring greatness to His name. May He bless us with all the tools we need to fulfill this mission in the coming year.

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