The musaf prayer on Rosh Hashanah contains three special sections, each of which focuses on a different theme. Malkhuyot deals with God’s Kingship, and cites a series of Biblical verses that make reference to God’s status as King over the world. In zikhronot, we speak of how God keeps a precise accounting of all actions of all people, for which we are all judged. In the final section, shofarot, we recall the event of Matan Torah, the Revelation at Sinai, when the shofar was sounded, and we pray for the time of the future redemption, which will be heralded by the shofar sound.
The Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (16a) famously explains the significance of these three blessings: “Recite before Me malkhuyot…in order for you to crown Me as King over you; zikhronot – so that your remembrance shall come before Me favorably; and with what – a shofar.” From this passage it appears that the purpose of reciting zikhronot, reflecting upon the fact that God remembers, and holds us accountable for, all our deeds, is so that He will remember us favorably on this day of judgment.
The question arises as to why this recitation should have such an effect. In zikhronot, we contemplate the reality of “remembrance” – that all our actions are remembered and we will be judged accordingly. This reality, of course, is true regardless of whether and how much we think about and discuss it. Why would the recitation of zikhronot make us worthier of a favorable judgment? If we are being judged on Rosh Hashanah for our actions during the previous year, why would the outcome be affected by our dwelling on this fact? (This question was posed already by the Sefat Emet.)
The answer might emerge from the famous comments of Rav Yosef Albo, in his Sefer Ha-ikarim (1:4), where he discusses his classification of the basic tenets of Jewish faith. Whereas the Rambam listed thirteen articles of faith, Rav Yosef Albo argued that the articles of faith could be reduced to three core beliefs: the existence of a Creator, accountability (reward and punishment), and Revelation (Matan Torah). These three articles of faith, Rav Albo explains, are embodied in the three special sections of the Rosh Hashanah musaf prayer service. Malkhuyot speaks of God as King by virtue of His having created and exerting complete control over the earth; zikhronot speaks of our accountability for our conduct; and shofarot speaks of God’s revelation to Benei Yisrael at Sinai. Accordingly, Rosh Hashanah is the time for contemplating the basic tenets of faith. As we celebrate the anniversary of the world’s creation, we remind ourselves that God created us to serve Him, and will reward us for our obedience and punish us for our disobedience. We thus recite the sections of the musaf prayer, proclaiming that God is Creator and King, who has given us laws and who rewards and punishes in accordance with our compliance with, or violation of, those laws.
Once we view malkhuyot, zikhronot and shofarot as declarations of the basic tenets of faith, we can perhaps understand the Gemara’s comment. God judges us mercifully if we celebrate His Kingship by sincerely reaffirming our loyalty to Him, if we spend our time on Rosh Hashanah, the day when His Kingship is renewed, contemplating His status as King and our status as His loyal subjects. As we begin the new year with this focus, reminding ourselves that we are here to faithfully serve our King, we earn His forgiveness and a favorable judgment, and will, hopefully, be given yet another year in which to continue striving and working to serve Him to the best of our capability.