The Themes of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot

  • Harav Yaakov Medan
Based on a sicha by Harav Yaakov Medan
Adapted by Guy Zviran
Translated by Meira Mintz
 
 
A. Malkhuyot
 
The Jewish holidays are essentially connected to historical events; Pesach, for example, recalls the exodus from Egypt, and Sukkot commemorates the journey of the Jewish People in the desert.[1] The Torah does not, however, explicitly connect Rosh Ha-shana with any historical episode. The simple reading of the text indicates that the sanctification of Rosh Ha-shana is intertwined with its position as the first day of the seventh month. The beginning of the seventh month is imbued with special holiness, similar to Shabbat (the seventh day) and shemitta (the seventh year).
 
According to the tradition that the world was created on Rosh Ha-shana, however, we can naturally connect the holiday with that historical event. The date of the creation of the world is subject to debate between two Tanna'im, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua (Rosh Ha-shana 10b). Rabbi Eliezer was of the opinion that the world was created in Tishrei, while Rabbi Yehoshua held that the creation took place in Nissan.[2] The consensus is to accept Rabbi Eliezer's opinion.[3] It is generally assumed that until the exodus, Tishrei was considered the first month; only at the time of the exodus did we begin to count from Nissan.
 
     It is interesting to note that the special prayer of Malkhuyot, in which we describe and accept God's kingship, is inserted specifically in the Rosh Ha-shana prayers. What is the connection between the creation of the world and God's kingship? The exodus from Egypt seems to be more intrinsically connected to God's rule over the world. In truth, we can look at the idea of God's kingship from different perspectives. In some aspects, the exodus represents God's malkhut,[4] while the creation represents it in others.
 
     It is difficult to discuss God's revelation in the world; our thoughts cannot grasp Him at all. The closest we can come to comprehending God is through studying the revelation of His will.[5] God reveals Himself in this world primarily through His will; this is referred to by the Kabbala as the concept of "keter elyon" – the highest crown.
 
     This conceptualization raises a provocative question. Whether one looks at the Creation from a theoretical or a realistic perspective, to what extent do events that take place in the world express the will of God? Is it possible that these events are results of other powers? It would seem to be impossible that anything could go against the will of God, but it nevertheless appears that the Creation does not express the will of God. This can be seen in two different aspects of the world – nature and man.
 
     God created man in His image and gave man the ability to choose what he wants to do. Man's will is constantly at work in the world. The world that the Torah and Prophets describe is one in which God's will is in the distant background, while humankind runs the world and is responsible for it – and man cannot flee from this responsibility.
 
     Often, in reaction to suffering, we witness a tendency to "blame God." It is important to consider, however, a difficult question – who really causes suffering, God or man himself? In general, we can say that anything that happens in the world is man's responsibility. God gave man power, and he also created the laws of nature.[6] If a person jumps from the fifteenth floor of a building and dies, God didn't kill him; the man, who chose to jump, died because of a law of nature, the law of gravity. The will of God is expressed here in combination with other factors that are difficult to connect directly to His will.
 
It is true that we believe in Divine foreknowledge of all events, and in that sense everything that happens in the world is a result of God's will.  We view God's knowledge, His predetermination, as a parallel line that almost never crosses that of free will, as described by the Rambam (Hilkhot Teshuva chapter 6). Yet prophecy commands us in almost all cases to look at the world from the perspective of man's free will and to accept complete responsibility for our actions.[7] In addition, the will of God is not readily apparent in the laws of nature, with which God does not interfere.
 
     There was only one moment in the history of the world that was truly an articulation of God's will alone – the Creation. There was no other power in existence, no world, no other will, no law. Thus, the question of why, for what reason, God created the world is heretical; there is no cause that precedes God. Only the question of why, for what purpose, He created the world is a valid one. When nothing else exists, there is only the will of God – keter elyon.  The Creation expresses God's kingship according to the most simple and basic meaning of malkhut – the ability to do one's will without any external influence or hindrance. 
 
There was only one moment in which God's will was completely revealed, and it is that moment in history that we commemorate on Rosh Ha-shana. What interests us, however, is not that one isolated moment of Creation; we are not simply noting a historical event. In the cyclical year, in which we relive events,[8] we have the opportunity to return to that moment and re-experience it, and to hope that the will of God will once again rule in the world.
 
God's malkhut, His complete rule over the world, is connected to Rosh Ha-shana in other ways as well. The month of Tishrei marks the beginning of the economic year. In Tishrei we gather in the crops, begin to pray for rain, and plow in order to plant. We begin a new cycle. For the farmer, the significance of the first month is the demarcation of a new year. Who knows what the year will bring – rain, frost, heat?  A person's livelihood is determined from one Rosh Ha-shana to the next; in the agricultural world, this idea is obvious. But the situation in the agricultural realm expresses something much deeper – God determines our financial year.
 
The scientific world once thought that it could predict the weather precisely through mathematical analysis; it later became clear that that aspiration could never be fulfilled. How many attempts have been made to make economics and meteorology into sciences? In general, the Nobel Prize in economics is given to those who succeed in formulated laws of economics, those who would like economics to be a science just like the study of medicine. Throughout history, the attempt has been made, but these attempts were, and continue to be, unsuccessful to some degree. If someone were to truly discover the laws of economics, he could become extremely wealthy simply by selling stocks.  No one has been successful at predicting the world or even a national economy for an extended period.[9]
 
The blessing of Malkhuyot accepts as a given that everything that God gives us is really a gift from Him;[10] we do not deserve anything at all. Even the most basic elements of our lives – health, for instance – are not to be taken for granted. Everything we have is a result of God's kindness.
 
For the most part, on Rosh Ha-shana we do not ask for forgiveness, but rather accept upon ourselves the rule of God. The meaning of the blessing of Malkhuyot is that God makes decisions with completely free will. There are no laws of nature in these realms; there are no laws that predetermine terror, economy, or rain. Despite the power granted to man to choose and despite the laws of nature, God has the ability to determine what takes place in the world; God chooses, and everything happens as a result of His will. God's will to create the world from utter nothingness is revealed to us also in His will to give us livelihood from utter nothingness – everything happens because of the will of God and His kindness. One of the most basic traits that we cultivate in our worship of God is the trait of trust in Him - the true, internalized understanding that every successful endeavor in the world takes place because of God's will and His kindness. Rosh Ha-shana is thus designated for our imploring God that He continue to treat us with His kindness.[11]
 
Malkhuyot is also the blessing of sanctification of God (kedushat ha-shem) and sanctification of the day itself (kedushat ha-yom). What is the content of the blessing? One word that stands out in the blessing is the word "kol" – "all." "Place Your fear on all of Your creations," "Your dread on all the things You created," "the entire world [should be filled with] Your honor," "all those who inhabit Your world," "everything that possesses a soul," etc. All will know of God and all will subjugate themselves to Him. These are expressions of God's malkhut, His kingship, as God rules over all. Yet it is appropriate for a person to apply the words of "ten pachdekha" – "place Your fear" – first and foremost to himself. He should ask God to implant such awe in his own heart, and only then refer to the entire populace.[12]
 
What do we mean when we ask God to place His dread upon us? We could approach this from a very rationalistic, academic perspective. We are asking God to implant an "electrode" in our brains so that we will fear Him more, so that we will experience His kingship to a greater degree. From a more "prophetic" perspective, God does not cause us to fear Him and His great strength through internal electrodes, but rather by acting in the world in such a way that we will draw the conclusions on our own. He will color the external reality in such a way that we will be able to see for ourselves the importance of fearing Him.
 
The blessing of Malkhuyot also expresses our disappointment in the way the world is run, particularly in the people who run it. We implore God to enable us to see the world run better according to His will. Yet there is also a positive request for the revelation of God's will for its own sake, and not only because of the present situation in the world.
 
Another central point of Malkhuyot is the blowing of the shofar. The blowing of the shofar expresses kingship in the strongest manner; in addition to appearing in the context of the coronations of Shlomo, Yehu, and others, we most clearly see this connection at the giving of the Torah – "The sound of the shofar grew increasingly strong" (Shemot 19:19). From the simple reading of the text, we can see that Moshe said the Ten Commandments and God responded with the sound of the shofar. The nation heard the sound of the shofar – "Moshe spoke and God responded with the sound" (Shemot 19:19). The word "Anokhi" – "I am God" – may have come from the throat of Moshe, but the sound of the shofar expressed the essence of "Anokhi."
 
One final, important component of Malkhuyot is akeidat Yitzchak, the binding of Yitzchak. The main perspective on this event is from the vantage point of Avraham. The world has existed for so many years, and we still struggle to find an explanation for akeidat Yitzchak! What happened there? What is the meaning of this command to slaughter Yitzchak? It is impossible to understand what happened there logically. The story of the akeida is one that seems to lack logic, justice, and morality.
 
In my view, it is a mistake to see morality as independent from God, as if it pre-existed. Morality is determined by God's traits, which stem from His will. We should not confuse what came first; God's will is completely free, and from it stem His traits, and these lead to the concept of morality.
 
The second time that God's will was completely revealed in all its power after the creation of the world was at akeidat Yitzchak; Avraham accepted God's will and did not ask any questions. If there were ever a person who accepted the kingship of God unilaterally, that person was Avraham. He asked no questions about a command to perform an act that went against reasonable norms. If there were ever a time that a man completely acknowledged God's malkhut, that event was akeidat Yitzchak.
 
B. Zikhronot
 
What is meaning of the blessing of Zikhronot? It seems that the heart is more invested in this blessing of mussaf than in any other blessing; it is also the longest one. The day is, after all, referred to as Yom Ha-zikaron. We praise God for the fact that He "remembers," but what can this mean in the context of God?
 
Memory in Tanakh is judgment, and the blessing of remembrance is the blessing of judgment.[13] In this blessing, we approach Rosh Ha-shana as the day that begins the yearly Divine Providence. We are gathering in the crops and beginning again, and we discuss God's knowledge and judgment of all of man's deeds – "the books of life and the books of death are open before Him."
 
God has no need to open up any books; He remembers, He knows. The "book" represents the inquiry into each person's actions, which determine the Divine Providence he will receive in the coming year. God establishes allotments for the new year – allotments for life, peace, health, and food.
 
From one standpoint, the blessing of Zikhronot is actually the complete opposite of the blessing of Malkhuyot. "Then those who fear God will speak to one another, and God will listen and hear. And He will write a book of remembrance before Him for those who fear God and revere His name" (Malakhi 3:16). God comes down from the judge's bench, man ascends to be judged, and God becomes the audience, looking and listening. "[On Rosh Ha-shana,] it is said about the nations [what will happen to them]…," "[On Rosh Ha-shana] the creations are accounted for…" The word "kol" – "all" – is missing here. Man stands alone and is investigated on his own, without anyone else, like the "benei maron," the sheep passing under the shepherd's staff. It is impossible to hide behind the community as a whole.
 
We can connect this to the creation of the world. Rosh Ha-shana is the day of the creation of man, since according to tradition the world was created on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. Every year, God asks Himself, as it were, if He made the right decision in creating man. Man must justify his existence in front of God. This is the blessing of Zikhronot.
 
From another perspective, the blessing of Zikhronot is a direct continuation of the blessing of Malkhuyot. There is an objective problem in the judgment of God, a problem that Iyov articulates in his argument with Bildad. Bildad says to Iyov: "Would God corrupt judgment and would the Almighty corrupt justice?" (Iyov 8:3). Iyov responds very sharply:
 
I feel all my sorrows – I know that You will not acquit me. I will be found guilty, so why should I weary myself for nothing? Though I would wash myself in melted snow and I would cleanse my hands with soap, You would immerse me in the pit; my very clothes would loathe me. For You are not mortal as I am, whom I could answer so that we could go together for judgment. There is no arbiter between us who might impose his authority on us both. (Iyov 9:28-33)
 
Iyov explains why he will never be exonerated in judgment. His point is interesting and, apparently, correct. God has accusations against Iyov, and He thus acts as a prosecutor against him. But at the same time, God is also a witness and judge! Is this justice?
 
If one wants to understand Iyov's persona, we can compare him to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz; wealthy, from a good family, close to the government, he suddenly finds himself in great suffering. The same question arises. Rabbi Amnon rises from his bed and in the kedusha of musaf he speaks exactly like Iyov: "In truth, You are judge and prosecutor, discerner and witness."
 
In the norms of human society, it is completely clear that the witness is a witness, the judge is a judge, and the defendant is the defendant. There is only one type of justice that is similar to the type Iyov describes – military law. The justice system of the army is not based on any societal norms, and it therefore includes a right that does not exist in judgment of civilians. In a civilian court, the first question that the judge must ask the defendant is if he is ready to sit before that particular judge; the defendant may choose another judge. Military law is built on a hierarchal system. To be a soldier is to be a slave; the soldier gives his body and soul to his military service. In the army, the master judges his servants; the master is the prosecutor, the witness, and the judge.
 
Two people noted the problem with God's justice, Iyov and Rabbi Amnon. There is only one difference between them. When asked, "Are you prepared to be judged before Me?" - Iyov answers negatively, while Rabbi Amnon accepts.
 
This is justice that is based on kingship. In the blessing of Zikhronot, we do not ask God for anything, nor do we beg forgiveness. We accept His justice as a result of accepting His kingship.[14]
 
Let us return to the sound of the shofar at the giving of the Torah. The only words that were heard directly from the mouth of God, through the medium of the shofar, begin with "anokhi" and end with another "anokhi:" "For I am the Lord your God, a jealous God, Who visits the sins of the fathers on their children on the third and fourth generations" (Shemot 20:5). The basis of judgment is built on "anokhi," on the blowing of the shofar.  This is the shofar of Zikhronot.
 
What is the meaning of the shofar of Zikhronot? In Hilkhot Teshuva (3:4), the Rambam writes:
 
Although the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana is a[n unexplained] command of the Torah, there is a deeper meaning to it; that is, "Wake up, sleepers, from your sleep, and slumberers from your slumber, and review your actions and return in repentance."
 
Where does the Rambam get this idea from? It seems that this concept is rooted in two sources. First, the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana is not appropriate for a coronation or sanctification ceremony. Such ceremonies would take place with the sound of teki'a, whereas on Rosh Ha-shana we emit the teru'a sound.[15] The sound of the teru'a is familiar to us from the teru'ot sounds during war: "When you go to war in your land … you should blow [teru'a sounds] on the horns and you will be remembered before the Lord your God" (Bamidbar 10:9).
 
The teru'a sound expresses crying and brokenness, not happiness. This idea is made explicit in Yechezkel 33:
 
And the word of God came to me, saying: Son of man, speak to the people of your nation and say to them, "When I bring the sword upon a land, the people of the land take one man from among them and set him as a sentinel for themselves. If, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, he blows the shofar and warns the people and a listener hears the sound of the shofar but does not take heed and the sword comes and takes him, his blood will be upon his head. He heard the sound of the shofar but did not take heed, so his blood will be upon him. Had he taken heed, he would have saved his soul. But if the sentinel saw the sword coming and he did not blow the shofar and the people were not warned, and a sword came and took a soul from among them – he was taken for his own iniquity, but I will seek his blood from the sentinel's hand."
 
Let us return to akeidat Yitzchak and look at it from a different perspective. We are aware of the concept that Avraham expresses the trait of chesed, kindness, while Yitzchak expresses the trait of din, justice. It is possible to understand the connection between Avraham and the trait of chesed; he does kind deeds, welcome guests, etc. But what is the meaning of Yitzchak's association with the trait of justice? Does Yitzchak judge others?
 
When we identify a person with the trait of justice, we mean that he exemplifies the acceptance of justice. Yitzchak prepares Esav for years in order to give him the blessing; in the end, Yitzchak reveals that he blessed the wrong person and he reacts: "Yitzchak trembled a great trembling and he said, Who is it? … he will also be blessed" (Bereishit 27:33). This is the judgment of God, and Yitzchak accepts it upon himself. Yitzchak never heard God’s command at the time of the akeida; he had to put forth his neck only because Avraham raised the knife. Yitzchak knows subconsciously that everything is happening because that is was God wants. Yitzchak accepts the judgment upon himself.
 
On Yom Kippur, we ask for mercy; on Rosh Ha-shana, there are few requests – instead, there is acceptance of God’s judgment, clear understanding that God is the judge, and that He is a just judge. It is not easy today to internalize this. Man must stand before God and accept His judgment.
 
C. Shofarot
 
The shofar appears to be a medium for the recitation of the special blessings of musaf rather than an end unto itself. "God says: On Rosh Ha-shana, recite before me Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot … And with what? With the shofar" (Rosh Ha-shana 16a). What is the content of the blessing of Shofarot?
 
The thrust of the blessing is obvious from a cursory reading of the blessing, which deals with two topics: the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai and the future redemption. The verses cited from the Torah discuss the giving of the Torah, while the verses quoted from the books of Prophets discuss the future redemption.
 
What do these two themes have in common? We can suggest that the blessing of shofarot deals with a factor that we have not yet discussed. We have already discussed God (Malkhuyot) and man (Zikhronot); the blessing of Shofarot discusses the relationship between God and the nation of Israel. This relationship is epitomized by two points in history: the giving of the Torah and the future redemption.
 
It seems here that the meaning of the shofar is first and foremost representative of the constant "conversation" between God and Am Yisrael. It is what actually unites the nation. The shofar is the articulation of our voice, our words, our ability, our will, and our desire to hear God's voice. We do not want a revelation through His actions but rather from His direct speech. The shofar is how we communicate with God; He speaks to us with the teki'a, we respond with the shevarim-teru'a, and He once again responds with a teki'a. Our ability to converse with God is expressed by the shofar.
 
The blowing of the shofar at Mt. Sinai that we recall is representative of the covenant that was made there between God and Am Yisrael. The shofar is an expression of that brit, that covenant. On Rosh Ha-shana, we ask that God will utilize His trait of mercy and not that of judgment. Recalling the brit may convince God to move from the throne of judgment to that of mercy. It is the brit that changes din, judgment, into rachamim, mercy, not our good deeds. The blessing of Malkhuyot discusses the revelation of God's true will, and the two great revelations of God's will are through din and rachamim.
 
We have spoken about akeidat Yitzchak from the perspective of Avraham and that of Yitzchak, but it is possible to see it also from the viewpoint of Yaakov. There is a clear contradiction between "Your offspring will come from Yitzchak" (Bereishit 21:12) and "Take your son…" [in the context of the akeida] (Bereishit 19:2). Yitzchak is really a dead man; he came down from Mt. Moriah slaughtered. In a sense, the akeida really happened – Yitzchak was killed. After the akeida, the persona of Yitzchak was that of a dead person. He came down only from the mountain for one purpose alone – to give birth to Yaakov. Yaakov is the continuation, not Yitzchak.
 
We also recall on Rosh Ha-shana the angel’s outcry, "Do not send your hand against the boy" (Bereishit 22:12); God moved Himself from the throne of judgment to the throne of mercy at the critical moment in order that Yaakov would be born. There is a reference to Yaakov's name in the story of the akeida: "Because [eikev] you [Avraham] listened to me" (Bereishit 22:18). Similarly, when Avraham saw Mt. Moriah, the place of the akeida, the verse tells us: "He saw the place" (Bereishit 22:4). When Yaakov approached the same location, the verse says: "He reached the place" (Bereishit 28:11).  Thus, the blessing of Shofarot completes the theme of musaf, and asks God to recall His eternal covenant with the children of Yaakov, who are bnei Yisrael.
 
 

[1] However, the connection to the date of the holiday is less clear.
[2] It is interesting to note that the mishna in the beginning of masekhet Rosh Ha-shana that lists the four "New Years" does not mention that Rosh Ha-shana marks the creation of the world. This is not difficult to explain, given that the mishna is discussing practical implications of the four new years and not historical events that they are connected to.
[3] This is clearly seen in our prayers on Rosh Ha-shana: "Today is the birthday of the world;" "This is the day of the beginning of Your works, a remembrance of the first day."
[4] For instance, the years of the reigns of the kings of the nations are counted from Tishrei, while the reigns of Jewish kings begin in Nissan. We might add that the kingship of God is also counted from Nissan.
[5] This is similar to the attempt to understand another person. The closest we can come to understanding one’s personality, one’s essence, is understanding his will – its power and direction.
[6] The verses make this clear even in the beginning of the creation story: "According to its species" (Bereishit 1:11), "And they were for signs, and for holidays, and for days, and for years" (Bereishit 1:14), etc.
[7] There are certainly stories in Tanakh and Chazal in which the laws of nature are broken. In general, however, man is subject to the laws of nature, and if he tries to go against them, he will be hurt.
[8] It is not coincidental that the holidays are referred to as chagim; a chag also means a "circle." The Jewish year is cyclic in nature.
[9] Economists failed to predict the fall of high-tech stocks, for example, as well as their resurgence.
[10] In this context, we will not discuss the concepts of the "books of judgment," God's "scale," and "weighing merits and demerits," etc.
[11] See the Chazon Ish's work, "Emuna U-vitachon."
[12] We should stress that there is a danger in the concept of "kol," in the idea of being part of a larger group. Man may concern himself with repairing the entire world and will not work on repairing himself.
[13] For example, Yosef's request from the chief butler, "And recall me before Pharaoh" (Bereishit 40:14), is really a request to be brought for judgment before Pharaoh. In Achashverosh's "Book of Remembrance," it was written that Bigtan and Teresh were hung and that Mordekhai did not receive his just reward. Obviously, this was a book of judgment.
[14] This explains why God's kingship is also stressed in the blessing of mishpat, judgment, in the amida during the Ten Days of Repentance. The difference between "ha-Kel," the usual wording, and "ha-Melekh" is more clear in the original formulation of the blessing: "the God who loves righteousness and justice," as opposed to “the just King.”
[15] Although we also blow teki'ot on Rosh Ha-shana, they serve only to introduce and end the teru'ot.