Kingship and Remembrance in the Seventh Month

  • Rav Tamir Granot
 
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In memory of Batya Furst z"l
Niftera 28 Elul 5765. 
Dedicated by her family.
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Translated by David Strauss
 

I. The Seventh Month – The Month of Kingship

            The gemara Rosh Hashana (32a) cites the source for reciting the kingship blessing (Malkhiyot) on Rosh Hashana:
 
From where do we learn that we say kingship-verses? It has been taught: Rabbi [Yehuda Ha-Nasi] says: "I am the Lord your God… in the seventh month" (Vayikra 23:22-24) – this [juxtaposition] indicates kingship-verses.
 
R. Yose bar Yehuda said: There is no need [for such an interpretation]. For Scripture says: "And they [the trumpets] shall be to you for a memorial before your God" (Bamidbar 10:10). This makes superfluous [the succeeding words]: "I am the Lord your God." What then is the point of the words: "I am the Lord your God"? This creates a general pattern, such that in all places where we say remembrance-verses, that kingship-verses should accompany them.
 
            According to R. Yehuda Ha-Nasi, the kingship blessing's connection to Rosh Hashana is derived from the juxtaposition of the mitzvot of leket (gleanings), shikhecha (forgotten sheaves), and pe'ah (corner) to the command regarding Rosh Hashana (Vayikra 23:22-25):
 
And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corner of your field, neither shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor, and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.
 
And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest to you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. You shall do no manner of servile work; and you shall bring an offering made by fire to the Lord. 
 
            This derivation may be based on the difference between the concluding words of the first paragraph, "I am the Lord you God," which directly precede the command regarding Rosh Hashana, and the shorter and more common conclusion found in the Torah – "I am the Lord." It is possible that R. Yehuda Ha-Nasi learned from the emphasis on sovereignty and rule expressed through the addition of the words "your God" that the Torah wishes to emphasize the issue of kingship specifically on Rosh Hashana.
 
            However, beyond the linguistic emphasis, it should be noted that the mitzvot of pe'ah and leket, which immediately precede the section dealing with Rosh Hashana, are a clear expression of God's kingship on earth and His sovereignty over the entire world. Only the King of the universe can command the owner of a field to transfer part of his crop to the poor. The juxtaposition of these mitzvot to the command regarding Rosh Hashana teaches us about the special significance of the day as the day in which God reveals Himself as King of the universe.
 
            But why is it specifically Rosh Hashana that was fixed as the day that expresses God's kingship? Usually, a king's coronation takes place at the beginning of the year, not in the middle of the year. Why was the festival that celebrates God's kingship fixed specifically at the beginning of the seventh month?
 
            Owing to this difficulty, Chazal established that the seventh month in effect marks the beginning of the year, and that the beginning of the seventh month is Rosh Hashana, "New Year's Day." However, the Torah refers to the month of Tishrei as "the seventh month," and the holiday that is celebrated at the beginning of that month is not called "Rosh Hashana," but rather Yom Terua ("a day of blasting") or Zikhron Terua ("a memorial of blasting").
 
            It is possible, then, that the connection between the crowning of God as king and the seventh month is due not on the fact that this month is the beginning of the year, but precisely because it is the seventh month.
 
            We are familiar with three units of time in the Torah: day, month, and year. Each of these units expresses the completion of a natural cycle of time: one rotation of the earth around its axis, one revolution of the moon around the earth, and one revolution of the earth around the sun. In the case of days and years, after six natural units, we come to a seventh unit that is not naturally unique in any way, but has special sanctity – the seventh day is Shabbat, and the seventh year is the Sabbatical year. The content of these two instances of a seventh unit is also similar: resting from work, God's kingship, and being set free.[2]
 
            It seems that the cycle of months has the same structure. The year begins with the first month, the month of Nisan. But it is precisely the seventh month, the month of Tishrei, which is the most sanctified month, the month of God's kingship and revelation – similar to the seventh day and the seventh year.[3] As stated by the midrash, "all seventh units are cherished" (Vayikra Rabba 29:1). We therefore understand why the Torah chose to mark the day of God's coronation as king at the beginning of the seventh month – the sanctified month.

II. Where is the Kingship Blessing Recited?

            In the mishna in Rosh Hashana (32a), the Tanna’im disagree regarding how the kingship blessing is integrated into the Shemoneh Esrei prayer of Rosh Hashana:
 
The order of blessings [in the Musaf Amida is as follows]: [The prayer leader recites] the blessing of the patriarchs, that of mightiness, and that of the sanctification of [God's] name, and includes the kingship-verses with them, and does not blow the shofar. He then says the sanctification of the day and blows, the remembrance-verses and blows, and the shofar-verses and blows, and he then says the blessing of the Temple service and the one of thanksgiving and the blessing of the priests. This is the view of R. Yochanan ben Nuri.
R. Akiva said to him: If he does not blow the shofar for the kingship-verses, why should he say them?
Rather, [the rule is as follows]: He says the blessing of the patriarchs, and of the resurrection, and of the sanctification of [God]'s name, and says the kingship-verses along with the sanctification of the day and blows the shofar, then he says the remembrance-verses and blows, and the shofar-verses and blows. Then he says the Temple service blessing and the thanksgiving and the blessing of the priests.
 
According to all opinions, one must include the kingship blessing in one of the seven blessings comprising the Amida, and then add the remembrance and shofar blessings. According to all opinions, we blow the shofar after each of the middle blessings – the sanctification of the day, the remembrances blessing, and the shofar blessing. The Sages disagree only about the blessing in which the kingship-blessing is included: in the blessing of the sanctification of God's name, which opens with the words “Ata kadosh” ("You are holy"), in accordance with the opinion of R. Yochanan ben Nuri, or in the blessing of the sanctification of the day, which opens with the words “Ata bechartanu” ("You have chosen us," in accordance with the opinion of R. Akiva.
 
It stands to reason that the closing formula of the fourth blessing is also subject to a disagreement among the Tanna’im. According to R. Yochanan ben Nuri, the same closing formula should be used as is used on the other festivals: “Mekadesh Yisrael ve-Yom Ha-Zikaron,” "Who sanctifies Israel and the day of remembrance." In contrast, according to R. Akiva, one must also mention God's kingship in that closing formula the kingship, using the formula that we use today: “Melekh kol ha-aretz, Mekadesh Yisrael ve-Yom Ha-Zikaron,” "King over all the earth, He who sanctifies Israel and the day of remembrance."
 
The mishna records the objection raised by R. Akiva against the view of R. Yochanan ben Nuri: "If he does not blow the shofar for the kingship-verses, why should he say them?" From here it is evident that according to R. Akiva, there is no reason to recite the kingship-verses by themselves, without also blowing the shofar.

III. The View of R. Akiva: "And He Says the Kingship-Verses Along with the Sanctification of the Day."

The foundation of R. Akiva's position seems to be obvious. The kingship-verses are recited, like the remembrance-verses and the shofar-verses, in order to bestow meaning upon the shofar blasts that follow them. Therefore, one should include the kingship-blessing in the blessing adjacent to the first series of shofar blasts – the blessing of the sanctification of the day.
 
According to R. Akiva, it is evident that the first set of shofar blasts are kingship blasts, the role of which is to crown God as king over the entire world. It is true that, in contrast to mortal kings, God's kingship over the world does not begin with His coronation in the kingship-verses, as Scripture testifies: "Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages and Your dominion endures throughout all generations" (Tehillim 145:13). However, as the Rishonim and the Acharonim have already noted, "there is no king without a nation."[4] Even though God was king from time immemorial over His throne of glory and over His heavenly attendants, and even though the forces of nature were subject to His control, the kingship of the King, the king of kings, over the entire world can only find expression if there is someone who crowns Him as king.
 
The connection between the mitzva of blowing a shofar on Rosh Hashana and God's kingship over the world is not explicitly stated in the Torah. However, in many places in the Bible, the blowing of a shofar is used as a clear expression of crowning kings in general and crowing God as King over the world in particular. We find this in the story of Shelomo's coronation (I Melakhim 1:39) and in Sefer Tehillim (47:6): "God is gone up amidst shouting, the Lord amidst the sound of the shofar."
 
In fact, the connection between blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana and the crowning of God as king is closer than the general connection between blowing the shofar and crowning kings. Apart from the obligation to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana, there is a mitzva to blow the shofar during the Jubilee year (Vayikra 25:9-10):
 
Then shall you make proclamation with the blast of the shofar on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement shall you make proclamation with the shofar throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and you shall return every man unto his possession, and you shall return every man unto his family.
 
What is the meaning of blowing the shofar in the Jubilee year? The role of blowing the shofar may be minimal – to proclaim the beginning of the year. But R. Akiva apparently understood that the shofar blast is connected to the essence of the Jubilee year – to the value of freedom that expresses itself in the release of slaves and the return of land to the original owners.
 
The shofar blast is, as stated, a declaration of God's ascent to His throne. God's kingdom is eternal, but it is not evident at all times in equal measure. His kingship is more manifest on Shabbat than on weekdays, and His kingship is more visible in the Holy Land than in the lands of the other nations. The Jubilee year is a year in which God's kingship stands out and reveals itself in heightened strength, to the point that it impacts on the legal status of people and their property. The Torah emphasizes this when it explains the obligation to release slaves and return land to the original owners with the argument that the land belongs to God:
 
And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and settlers with Me. (Vayikra 25:23)
 
For unto Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Vayikra 25:55)
 
The fiftieth year is the year when God's kingship reveals itself with great force, to the point of nullifying temporary ownership of slaves and land. During this year, people and the land return to their initial state, to the original distribution that God Himself, the king of kings, had executed – each parcel of land to its original owner, and every person to himself and his family. The freedom from the control of other people that underlies the mitzva of the Jubilee year stems from God's rule in the world.
 
Chazal draw an explicit analogy between the shofar blast on Rosh Hashana and the blast during the Jubilee year: "That all the blasts of the seventh month shall be like one another" (Rosh Hashana 33b). R. Akiva learns the meaning of the shofar blast on Rosh Hashana from the meaning of the shofar blast during the Jubilee year, and he concludes that "a day of blasting" is a day of coronation, a day on which we crown God as our King. Therefore, it is only natural that in his view, the kingship-blessing must be recited together with the blessing of the sanctification of the day, the blessing that reflects in the truest and most accurate way the essence and the sanctity of the day.

IV. The View of R. Yochanan Ben Nuri: "And He Includes the Kingship-Verses With Them and Does Not Blow the Shofar."

As stated in the mishna, R. Yochanan ben Nuri does not accept the idea of the rule of God as the central idea of Rosh Hashana, and he therefore does not join the kingship-blessing to the blessing of the sanctification of the day and to shofar blowing. What, then, is the meaning of the kingship-blessing according to R. Yochanan ben Nuri, and what is the connection between it and the blessing of the sanctity of God?
 
The blessing of the sanctity of God's name, the third blessing of the Amida prayer, is one of the blessings of praise – blessings that are intended to praise God and prepare the groundwork for turning to God with requests in the Amida prayer's middle blessings. The third blessing deals primarily with God's sanctity, "You are holy and Your name is holy," but in the continuation this is joined by God's kingship and greatness: "For You are a great and holy king." The connection between holiness and kingship is mentioned also in the Kedusha formula, which in the prayer leader's repetition precedes the blessing of the sanctity of God. The Kedusha opens with the sanctification of God ("Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts") and closes with His coronation ("God will rule as king forever"); on Shabbat and Yom Tov we add additional elements of kingship ("They will give You a crown"). In the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we also mention God's kingship in the closing formula of the third blessing: "the holy king." In other words, kingship joins with sanctity and appears together with it in the third blessing of the Amida prayer. Joining the kingship-verses to the blessing of the sanctity of God does not create a hybrid blessing, but rather strengthens and broadens the content that is found in this blessing in any case, giving the blessing additional potency during the High Holidays.
 
V. Crowning a King vs. Mentioning His Kingship
 
It is possible that this Tannaitic dispute is based on two different aspects of God's kingship and two different understandings of our crowning God as king of the world on Rosh Hashana.
 
In the opinion of R. Yochanan ben Nuri, God is the master of the world, who has governed the entire universe from time immemorial. God has no need to be crowned as king; man cannot add anything to the kingdom of the king of kings. Crowning God as king on Rosh Hashana thus means passively describing His kingship and relating the praises of His rule. Therefore, the kingship-blessing, according to R. Yochanan ben Nuri, fits in with the first three blessings of the Amida prayer – the blessings of praise, in which we praise God and glorify Him for what exists, and do not ask anything of Him or try to change anything in the world. The kingship-blessing is recited without shofar blowing, as the shofar blast (in this context) is a clear expression of crowning a king, and we cannot crown God as king or renew His kingship in any way; that is not our role.
 
The blowing of the shofar, in the opinion of R. Yochanan ben Nuri, was not intended to symbolize crowning, as in the case of the shofar blowing in the Jubilee year, but rather was intended to bring our remembrance before God. In this way, the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana serves a purpose similar to that of the blowing of the trumpets before setting out on a journey, going out to war, or to mark the special days. About this the Torah states: "And you shall be remembered before the Lord your God… and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God" (Bamidbar 10:9-10).
 
The essence of Rosh Hashana, according to R. Yochanan ben Nuri, is remembrance. Therefore, following the gratitude and praise for God's kingship in the blessing of God's sanctity, we set out to mention the covenant between God and ourselves. Rosh Hashana is "a day of remembrance," and two of the middle blessings conclude with the idea of remembrance: the fourth blessing, the blessing of the sanctification of the day, concludes with the words, "Who sanctifies Israel and the day of remembrance"; and the fifth blessing, the remembrance blessing, concludes with the words, "Who remembers the covenant."[5] The sixth blessing of the Rosh Hashana Amida prayer, the shofar blessing, completes this process, as it turns to God with a request for salvation and mercy through the shofar, as the verse in the Torah section dealing with the trumpets states: "And you shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies" (Bamidbar 10:9). The shofar, then, is primarily an instrument of prayer intended for remembrance, and the blast of the shofar is a voice of prayer.[6]
 
As stated earlier, R. Akiva disagrees with R. Yochanan ben Nuri, and maintains that on Rosh Hashana we actually crown God as king. It is not enough to describe God's kingship as outside observers. Rather, we must crown God as King by way of blowing the shofar. "There is no king without a nation," and the Master of the Universe, even though He is always the King in potential, is not the King in practice if we do not accept Him as such. The prophet Zekharya prophesies that in the future, "God will be King over all of the earth" (Zekharya 14:9), but now God is not "King over all of the earth."
 
Therefore, according to R. Akiva, the kingship blessing must be included in the middle blessings of the Amida prayer – the blessings that deal with prayer and changing reality. It must also be accompanied by shofar blowing, which symbolizes the crowing of God as king of the world.
 
VI. The Halakhic Ruling
 
            The halakha has been established in accordance with the view of R. Akiva, as it is our practice to include the kingship blessing in the blessing of the sanctity of the day and to blow the shofar after the completion of the blessing (Rambam, Hilkhot Tefilla 2:7; Hilkhot Shofar 3:10).
 
            However, further examination reveals that the halakha gives room to the principles that underlie the position of R. Yochanan ben Nuri, integrating aspects of kingship even in the blessing of the sanctity of God. As stated above, on the High Holidays it is customary to conclude the blessing with the words, "the holy king." Furthermore, the piyyutim that are recited together with the third blessing mention God's kingship many times. The Ashkenazi rite, for example, includes the piyyutimMelekh Elyon” and “Hashem Melekh, Hashem Malakh, Hashem Yimlokh Le-Olam Va-Ed.” Afterwards, as an introduction to the Kedusha, we declare: "Now let our kedusha ascend to You, our God, who is king," and we recite the piyyut, “U-Netaneh Tokef,” the main focuses of which are the kingship of God and the judgment that is carried out on Rosh Hashana. In conclusion we declare, "But You are the king, the everlasting God." Even in the text of the third blessing itself, God's kingship is mentioned many times. For example: "You shall reign over all whom You have made, You alone, O Lord."
 
            It would appear that the halakhic decision regarding the disagreement between R. Akiva and R. Yochanan ben Nuri, as it is reflected in the wording of the prayer, fulfills the rule that "both this and that are the words of the living God." The kingship-verses are recited in the blessing of the sanctity of the day close to the shofar blasts, in accordance with the view of R. Akiva, reflecting the obligation to actually crown God as King over the whole world. Alongside this, elements of kingship are added also to the blessing of the sanctity of God's name, in accordance with the view of R. Yochanan ben Nuri, and in this way we praise the fixed and eternal kingship of God – that which the angels glorify and praise, and that to which we have nothing to add.
 
 
 

[1] This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in Be-Chag Ha-Sukkot (Alon Shevut: Tvunot, 2011).
[2] These ideas find greater expression in the Jubilee year – the seventh of the Sabbatical years.
[3] It seems that there is an important difference between the cycle of months and the cycles of days and years. The cycle of days and the cycle of years are comprised of only seven units. The seventh unit, which is holy, is the last in the cycle, and with the completion of the cycle a new cycle of seven units begins (the Jubilee year is the 50th year, and not the 49th). In contrast, the full cycle of months is comprised of 12 units, and the seventh unit, which is holy, is found in the middle.
It is possible, however, that on a deeper level, the cycle of months is no different than the other cycles of time. It is possible that the seventh month is in fact the last month of the year, and it therefore includes the last important festival day of the year (Shemini Atzeret). After the seventh month, the year falls into a deep winter sleep, waking up again on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, with the beginning of the new year. According to what we have suggested, the lunar calendar is comprised of seven months; it is artificially lengthened in order to liken it to the extent possible to the solar year. Like the cycles of days and years, in the cycle of months, the seventh month – the holy month – is the last month in the cycle.
[4]  See, for example, Rabbeinu Bachaye, Bereishit 38:30; Sefer Ha-Tanya, Sha'ar Ha-Yichud Ve-HaEmuna 7.
[5] The gemara (Rosh Hashana 32a) cites the view of R. Shimon ben Gamliel that the remembrance-blessing should be included in the blessing of the sanctification of the day. It is possible that this view is also based on the idea of R. Yochanan be Nuri, who sees remembrance as the essence of Rosh Hashana.
[6] The shofar blast as an expression of prayer appears in the book of Iyov (33:26). Chazal allude to this in their discussion of the laws of shofar. For example, regarding the determination that the shevarim blast and the teru'a blast of "sighing" and "weeping" (Rosh Hashana 33b), the Rambam expands this meaning of shofar blowing into a general command to cry out to God and pray to Him and ask for mercy during any time of trouble (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, positive commandment 59; Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 1:1-4).