In my search for the soul of Zion, I gained a deeper understanding of how the sacred festivals of the Torah are connected to our raison d’etre in Zion. In this letter, I will share with you some insights I gained regarding a connection between Rosh Hashana and our raison d’etre in Zion.
Rosh Hashana, the New Year, is the beginning of a ten-day period of teshuvah – spiritual return – which concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We seek to return to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, through rededicating ourselves to the compassionate and life-giving purpose of our creation. In this way, we are also returning to our true selves – the Divine image that is within each of us.
The first two days of this ten-day period are Rosh Hashana. After Rosh Hashana and until Yom Kippur, we acknowledge and confess the sins that we have committed; moreover, we accept upon ourselves the responsibility to correct our ways so that all our words and deeds are in harmony with the Divine purpose. On Rosh Hashana, however, there is no confession of sins! The purpose of Rosh Hashana is not to focus on our sins, but to bring us to a new spiritual awareness which can eliminate the root cause of our sins.
The message of Rosh Hashana which brings us to that awareness is a revolutionary message, as it calls on us to replace the present secular world order with the original spiritual world order. The present world order is based on the belief that the human being is the sovereign of the entire earth and all its inhabitants. On Rosh Hashana, however, we proclaim that Hashem is the Sovereign of the entire earth and all its inhabitants. In this way, we seek to return to the original world order which existed at the dawn of human history, when Hashem placed the human being in the Garden of Eden. At this initial stage, the human being recognized that Hashem, and not the human being, is the Sovereign.
What then, is the purpose of the human being? The beginning of the answer is found in the following verse which reveals that the human being is to serve as the caretaker of the Garden:
“And Hashem God took the human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15).
According to our tradition, this original Divine mandate is a prototype of all the mitzvos of the Torah. The mandate to “serve” the Garden is a prototype of the mitzvos which call upon us to engage in actions which nurture and elevate the world, including ourselves. The mandate to “guard” the Garden is a prototype of the mitzvos which prohibit actions which damage and degrade the world, including ourselves. (Tikunei Zohar 55)
On Rosh Hashana, we are to return to the original world order and rededicate ourselves to fulfilling the compassionate and life-giving Divine purpose. In this spirit, a highlight of the Rosh Hashana service is when we proclaim that the Compassionate and Life-Giving One is Ha-Melech – the Sovereign. In many congregations, the Cantor – the one leading the congregation in prayer – begins to softly chant an awesome traditional melody which introduces the word, Ha-Melech. Gradually, he increases his volume, and he chants the word, Ha-Melech, in a loud voice. In addition, he stresses this word whenever it appears in the prayers.
On Rosh Hashana, we also pray for the universal recognition of the Divine sovereignty, so that all life will serve the Divine purpose. For example, we pray:
“Let all works revere You and all creatures bow before You. Let them all become a single society to do Your will wholeheartedly.” (Amidah)
Why does the above prayer use the term, “creatures”? According to the Iyun Tefilah commentary, we are praying for the unifying spiritual consciousness of the messianic age which will affect “all” creatures, as it is written:
“The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp, and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze, and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper’s hole, and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder’s lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
We also find within our Rosh Hashana prayers the following description of this new age:
“And so too, the righteous will see and rejoice, the upright will exult, and those who serve with loving devotion will be mirthful with glad song. Iniquity will close its mouth and all wickedness will evaporate like smoke, when You will remove evil’s dominion from the earth.” (Amidah)
We then add:
“And You, Hashem, will reign alone over all Your works, on Mount Zion, resting place of Your glory; and in Jerusalem, Your holy city.”
These words remind us that the center of the new revolutionary consciousness will be in Zion. One of the many sources for this idea is found in the following prophecy which concludes with a verse that is often cited in the Rosh Hashana prayers:
“It will be a unique day, known to Hashem, neither day nor night, but it will happen towards evening that there will be light. And on that day, living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, one half towards the eastern sea and one half towards the western sea; in summer and in winter will it last. And Hashem will be the Sovereign over all the earth; on that day, Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.” (Zechariah 14:7-9).
“And on that day, living waters will flow out of Jerusalem” – The commentator, Malbim, explains that in addition to the literal meaning, these words are a poetic allusion to the spiritual waters – the new spiritual consciousness – which will flow out of Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
Within our Sacred Scriptures, the prophets occasionally use the term “waters” to refer to the Divine wisdom of Torah, and the following prophecy which we cited above can serve as an example:
“They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
The Prophet Isaiah also proclaimed: “Ho, everyone who is thirsty, go to the water” (Isaiah 55:1). The commentator, Ibn Ezra, writes:
“These are the words of Hashem to the nations of the world in those days to whoever will want to study Torah.”
A similar explanation is given by another commentator, Radak, who explains that this call is related to the following prophecy:
“Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths,’ for from Zion will go forth Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
The prophecy, “living waters will flow out of Jerusalem,” therefore alludes to the prophecy, “from Zion will go forth Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.”
May the New Year inspire us to rededicate ourselves to the Rosh Hashana revolution when Torah will go forth from Zion. Through this revolution, all peoples will acknowledge the Divine sovereignty and thereby dedicate themselves to serving the compassionate and life-giving Divine purpose. May “all” our activities in Zion lead to this spiritual goal – for our sake and for the sake of the world.
May Hashem bless us with the shalom of Shabbos.
May Hashem bless us with a good year – a year of life, sustenance, and spiritual growth.
And may we soon experience the complete and final redemption of Israel and the world.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen