Rosh Hashana: Exodus Examined

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22 Aug 2023
Rosh Hashanah

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

We are well aware that our Shabbat and holiday liturgy differs from our weekday liturgy. However, even within these prayers there are subtle changes when Shabbat and Yom Tov coincide. In the Shemoneh Esrai of Rosh Hashanah, we find the paragraph, “Vatiten lanu…/And You Hashem our God, has given us with love this Day of Remembrance, a day of sounding the shofar, mikra kodesh/a holy convocation, a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt.” When Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hashanah, we add, “…A day of zichron/recalling the sound… a memorial to the Exodus…”

Rosh Hashana commemorates the creation of man, while the Exodus occurred several thousand years later. How are these two connected? How does mikra kodesh/a holy convocation refer to both Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, and indeed to all the Festivals? How do they all connect to the Exodus?

While the three Foot Festivals can easily be connected to the Exodus, how do Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shabbat connect? Here Rabbi Druck points out that these days were not given to us as a result of our salvation from Egypt, but that because of our exodus, we are called upon to sanctify God’s name at all times, and the festivals are indeed the most auspicious times to do so.

However, Rabbi Druck cites Rabbi Nebenzahl in reminding us of two events that occurred on Rosh Hashanah that do have a direct relationship to the Exodus. First, that Yosef Hatzadik was freed from prison on Rosh Hashanah. Then, the more direct connection, although the Exodus took place in Nissan, the actual enslavement ended earlier, on Rosh Hashanah. As we recall these earlier kindnesses, we ask Hashem now for similar kindnesses.

 During this season, as we focus on teshuvah, Rabbi Sosefsky teaches that there are two paths to teshuvah. One path is individual while the other path is universal. On Yom Kippur we are concerned with the individual, with repairing our personal sins, and in man’s search within himself, he discovers God as well. In contrast, on Rosh Hashanah, we focus on God, on coronating Him, and in that process of accepting His Sovereignty, we discover ourselves as well.

The major motif on Rosh Hashanah, repeated constantly throughout the prayers, is coronating Hashem as King over all the world, over all of creation, over all mankind. On every Rosh Hashanah, writes the Sifsei Chaim citing the Ramchal, Hashem recreates the world anew. The world was created not just 5,784 years ago, but is being constantly recreated, every year on Rosh Hashanah. This does not necessarily mean that all the earth and all the creatures are being formed anew. Rather it is that the world is being restructured and redesigned so that it better reflects the original purpose of the world, so that we again remember that the world was created with chesed, loving kindness. How have we fulfilled our mission in the past year? Using that measure, Hashem recalculates what strengths, talents, means we need to fulfill the new mission He has assigned to us. Hashem means for us to use all He gives us for His glory. The sound of the shofar is meant to arouse us, to ask the same question Hashem asked Adam on that first day of creation, “Ayekah/Where are you,” not what physical space you occupy, but what space does your mind and your heart occupy? Where do you see yourself?

The Shvilei Pinchas goes on to explain how the shofar blasts echo that original conversation. That first pure tekiyah represents that pure state in which we were created. But we sinned and were broken, the sound of shevarim. Nevertheless, through our sincere sobs of teshuvah, we can regain that pure state, again have a final tekiyah, we can still regain that purity of purpose.

In this vein, a person should never make excuses, “If I only had…, I could serve You better.”We must have faith that Hashem has given us exactly what we need. Rabbi Brazile hears in that original question a message. Not איכה /where are you, but איה כ(ף) /where is your hand. Look at what you do have, what your hand holds, not at what you lack. This was the serpent’s argument, “You could have so much more; you could be god.”

 In the introductory paragraph to the Zichronot/Remembrance portion of Mussaf, we reference past (All mysteries are known before Your eyes), present, (There is nothing hidden from Your eyes), and future (All is revealed and known before You).The Sifsei Chaim, again citing the Ramchal, explains that Hashem observes all eternity. Each of us is one stone in the structure of the world. How solid are we? Are we properly building up the foundation of past generations? Are we a solid base so future generations will not topple? Every one of our actions is being remembered for its effect on all of eternity.

In our observance of Pesach, our faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu is intellectual. We understand that Hashem judged each person, even each Egyptian, individually. That belief is internalized and actualized on Rosh Hashanah when we appear before God trembling in the awareness that Hashem sees all, understands our innermost thoughts, and judges each of us accordingly, individually, writes the Matnat Chaim.  Therefore, remembering exodus from Egypt, is recalling the messages we learned from Hashem’s intimate involvement in our lives, which is the basis of the ‘zichronot’ of Rosh Hashana.  We have the opportunity, and the obligation, to edit and re-edit the book of our lives, adds Rebbetzin Smiles, until it comes up to proper standards.

As long as we are correcting and editing, we should aspire to perfection, not to mediocrity, we should aspire to be the head. For if we aspire merely for mediocrity, we are headed for the tail, downhill, writes Rabbi Druck in explaining the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashanah. Our aspiration is an expression of faith that Hashem will help us increase our merits.

The Gemorrah mentions only five instances that Hashem “remembered” on Rosh Hashanah. These were Sarah, Rachel, and Chanah, who were each remembered to conceive on Rosh Hashanah, followed by Yosef, who was freed from the prison on Rosh Hashanah, and Bnei Yisroel whose actual enslavement (although not salvation and redemption) ended on Rosh Hashanah. What do these five have in common? Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter explains that in each of these, all natural hope was shattered. Neither man nor politics could change the situation. At that point, each turned exclusively to Hashem, in full, humble acceptance that no other power could help them. When we reach that level of faith, Hashem effects the necessary change.  Underscoring this message we gained in our Egypt experience is the necessary focus in our Rosh Hashana tefillot.  We do what we can, writes Rabbi Druck, but Hashem determines what the result will be, often completely beyond our intent. A dropped coin may roll uselessly into the sewer, or may be picked up by a pauper who uses it to buy food.

There is an idea that on Rosh Hashanah we should be focusing on asking for help in building ourselves up spiritually, and not asking Hashem for material things. But that thinking presents a trap that would have us thinking that we, and not Hashem, controls the physical and material aspects of our lives, writes Rabbi Biederman. That is heresy. It is permissible to ask Hashem for help on Rosh Hashanah in both the material and physical aspects of our lives, and this includes when Shabbat and Rosh Hashana coincide, like this year.   One should couch these requests not as selfish, personal requests, but as including oneself for community health and prosperity, writes Rabbi Hofstedter, and hope that through receiving these physical gifts, one builds a closer relationship with Hashem and achieves a spiritual elevation.  All requests can be made before the phrase ‘yehu l’ratzon’ right before we take three steps back at the end of Shomne Esrai.  Likewise, when the Aron is opened to take out the Torah, it is an auspicious time to daven.   As we say in the Shemonei Esrai, “קדשנו במצותיך… שבענו מטובך/Sanctify us with Your commandments… satisfy us from Your goodness.” As Matnas Chaim points out, “sanctification…” is our spiritual request, while “satisfaction…” is a physical request. Hashem is the only One Who can answer me in both these requests, and Rosh Hashanah sets the stage for the rest of the year. In fact, adds R. Biderman all the “Horachamon/The compassionate One…” sentences toward the end of the Grace After Meals are requests for the entire year. One can in fact, and should, daven the entire day not just in shul, as this day sets the pace for the entire year.

In Avinu Malkeinu, we ask Hashem to inscribe us in the Book of Merits. Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon explains that we are not asking to be given unearned merits; rather we are asking Hashem to provide us with opportunities to earn merits. We stand humbly, like beggars, for the ability, the means and the opportunities to earn these merits. Recognize the power of our prayers, for Hashem listens closely to them.

Hashem remembered Sara Imenu on Rosh Hashanah. The Seforno gives a unique interpretation to Sarah’s laughter when she overheard the angel prophesying that she would give birth to a son. The Seforno explains that she thought it was only a promise from a navi, and that could not facilitate a state of resurrection which would be needed in this case.  Seforno explains that only a direct promise from Hashem, and heartfelt tefillot could brin

How would we line up to get a blessing from an “angel”? [How many people line up to wait for a brachah from a tzadik who comes to visit our town? CKS] How much more so should we “line up” to ask for Hashem’s blessing; an angel’s blessing may or may not be fulfilled, but Hashem’s blessing will always be fulfilled, and when we have the opportunity to pray for that blessing, we must take it.

What is the power of prayer? Rabbi Biederman points out that Hashem’s prophecy to Avraham Avinu was that the term of our suffering in Egypt would be 400 years. That was an Official Decree! Yet, Hashem listened to our cries and our deep prayer, and shortened the term of our suffering.  Built into every decree is the ability to change that decree with the power of our tefillot.  On Rosh Hashanah, we recall the lesson of the Exodus, the power of our tefillot, and try and tap into that strength in our own lives.

The Be’er Hachaim offers one more lesson. Just as we get kosher, sweet honey from a non kosher bee, so do ask Hashem to transform any impending bitterness to sweetness. Let us eat our challah dipped in honey this Rosh Hashanah with the prayer and the faith that the coming year be a good and sweet year.


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