Compendium of Rosh HaShana Articles
1. ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN “THE STAR”
What is the right way to deal with corruption and wrong-doing? How do we build a truly great country? The Hebrew Bible in the Book of Genesis has vital lessons for South Africa today. Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. Their immediate response was to try to hide from G-d, who calls out to Adam, “Where are you?”, meaning “What has happened to you…why have you sinned?” Adam’s response is to blame Eve. Eve blames the serpent. Both refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
Self-justification and avoiding responsibility for one’s actions is deeply engrained in human nature. The other classic example is what the Book of Genesis records : that when Cain killed Abel and was confronted by G-d, he answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But G-d responded “What have you done? The blood of your brother calls to me from the ground”. Cain tried to shirk responsibility for the consequence of his act of murder. Those who cannot accept responsibility for their own acts also cannot embrace care and responsibility for others. Cain’s philosophy of ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ is the philosophy of those who turn their back on responsibility, and it is a philosophy that undermines the foundations of human civilization.
We can learn from the mistakes of Adam and Eve, and that of Cain. It’s not that they sinned. “There is no righteous man on earth who only does good and never sins”, says the Hebrew Bible. It is rather that when they sinned they did not take responsibility for their actions. They did not confess before G-d, nor did they apologise, nor did they repent when confronted with their wrong-doing. This is the time of year to reflect on the values of accountability and responsibility. Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year which begins on Wednesday night 28 September, celebrates the anniversary of the creation of Adam & Eve, the first human beings. It was also the day that they sinned and were judged by G-d. Thus, Rosh HaShanah is also the time that G-d judges all people every year.
The Seforno, one the great Rabbinic commentators of the Middle Ages, contrasts Adam’s behaviour with that of King David, who when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet concerning a particular wrong-doing, responded unequivocally: “I have sinned to G-d”. This is the model for true responsibility and accountability. Rosh Hashanah is a time of judgement – but more importantly it is a time of repentance. Judaism teaches that repentance means that one must first acknowledge the sin, then truly regret having done it and then resolve in the future never to do it again. One must also verbally confess before G-d. This process takes honesty and courage.
King David set an example to all political leaders. When being confronted by mistakes and sins, the very first step is to humbly acknowledge and to confess, to accept full responsibility for one’s actions, and to accept the consequences that may flow from these. Responsibility means taking ownership of the consequences of one’s actions. Every action has consequences, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Responsibility is about acknowledging that these consequences are the results of our actions and that, in a sense, the consequences belong to us.
So many of our problems in South Africa today come from a lack of accepting responsibility for wrong-doings, a refusal to take ownership of the consequences of one’s actions. And it’s relevant not only to our politicians but to each every single one of us. We need to nurture a culture of accountability and responsibility. And that begins at home. Of course, we must demand and expect that any corruption committed by those holding public office be firmly dealt with. But we should require the same standards of ourselves in our private lives – in all areas from our business dealings to our family relationships.
We all need the moral clarity and courage to take responsibility for our mistakes and to apologise. It goes even further than an apology. The Talmud says that if you hurt someone’s feelings, you must actually ask them for forgiveness. At that point the responsibility shifts to the victim, who must find it within them to forgive and not to bear a grudge, which is prohibited by the Bible in the book of Leviticus. There is a beautiful Jewish custom at this time of year – from Rosh Hashanah until the Day of Atonement – of people asking one another for forgiveness for any wrongs which they may have been committed against each other throughout the year.
Simply to say ‘sorry’ is a necessary, but insufficient, condition to achieving full repentance. An apology and request for forgiveness must be accompanied by an attempt to rectify the harm caused. Taking ownership of the consequences of one’s actions means trying to reverse their harmful effects. For example, the Talmud says that if you damaged someone’s property you need to compensate them for the loss caused. The process of repentance is driven by the value of accountability, which is, in turn driven by the value of responsibility. Responsibility is the logical extension of freedom. G-d has granted each one of us the freedom to choose how we live our lives. Freedom of choice means that the decisions we make are ultimately our own, albeit the various pressures brought to bear upon us. Because we are free, we must accept responsibility for what we do. Freedom is one of the foundational values of the new South Africa and, therefore, so is responsibility. No human society can function without a deeply entrenched commitment to responsibility. All of the principles of accountability, transparency, and indeed human civilization itself, are held together by the binding force of responsibility.
2. ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE “JEWISH TRADITION”
Transparency and accountability are important Torah values. For each one of us on a personal level these values are the driving force of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, when we stand before G-d to give an account for our deeds over the last year and search for ways to improve and to repent. Everything we do is completely transparent before G-d, and one of the thirteen principles of faith is the accountability for our actions, whether good or bad, through Divinely ordained reward and punishment – although as the Gemora points out, this is usually dispensed in the world-to-come.
Accountability and transparency are also halachic imperatives for communal life. When the building of the Tabernacle was completed, Moshe gave a full account to the people, setting out how much gold, silver, copper and other materials were donated and exactly how much was used and for what purposes. From this precedent, a practical principle, codified in the Shulchan Aruch, emerges, and that is that any public initiative must give a full account to the donors as to how much money was collected and how the money was spent. This is to fulfil the requirement of not only doing the right thing but ensuring transparency of what has been done so that the public can see for themselves that everything done all conforms with Judaism’s highest standards of ethics.
In the spirit of this halachic imperative, every two years at the National Conference of the Union of Orthodox of Synagogues (UOS) the various divisions give a full report of their budget and activities. At the most recent UOS conference held in August 2011, a new committee was elected, reports were presented, and the documents concerned made available to all of the delegates. In order to further fulfil the Torah duties of accountability and transparency, extracts of the reports, submitted to the most recent conference held in August 2011, are published in this edition of “Jewish Tradition”. The full reports can be found on our websites (www.uos.co.za and www.ChiefRabbi.co.za).
As we approach the awesome days of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, let us embrace our responsibility to provide a transparent and accountable report to Hashem for all of our deeds and in the merit of our sincere repentance may Hashem bless our community abundantly with a good and a sweet year.
3. ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE “JEWISH REPORT”
“You are my witnesses, says Hashem” (Isaiah 43:12). We have a sacred duty to testify to certain basic important facts in order to ensure that there is goodness and justice in the world.
To understand what this duty means, it is helpful to refer to a very important mitzvah which instructs us to testify in a court case, irrespective of whether it involves monetary matters or is a criminal trial. A competent witness who knows information vital to the outcome of a matter is required as a mitzvah to come forward to testify. In the same way, every single Jew is obligated to testify to certain basic facts in the court of public opinion. We are all duty-bound to rise to the challenge with pride, confidence and strength to testify to the moral foundations of the world.
We fulfill this calling every Friday night as we gather around our Shabbat tables and recite the ancient words of the Kiddush prayer in which we declare that G-d created the world. Rosh HaShana, specifically, is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.
The basic truths that G-d created the world, that He took us out of Egypt, and that He gave us His Torah are the moral pillars of our world. These are the very pillars that guide us as a community, and as individuals, in our day-to-day lives as we confront the challenges of our times. When we affirm that G-d created the world we testify to the fact that the beauty and sheer engineering brilliance of the universe is His work. When we affirm that G-d took us out of Egypt we testify to the fact that He is interested in human affairs and that He guides history. When we affirm that G-d gave us His Torah we testify to the fact that He wants us to live in accordance with the moral and spiritual principles which He revealed to us. On Rosh HaShana we testify to the fact that we are accountable to G-d for all our actions – good and bad.
Just as importantly, we are called upon to hand these testimonies on to our children. We do all of this so that they, too, will become G-d’s witnesses and will in due course be able to testify to the world about the basic truths which form the moral foundation of the world. And one day, they will, please G-d, hand this testimony on to their children.
In modern times there are other matters of historical fact that we need to testify to. We need to bear witness to the enormous tragedy of the Holocaust and to refute anyone who denies the fact that it occurred or the scale of its devastation. More than ever before, we need to stand as brave witnesses to the fact that G-d gave us the Land of Israel, that He promised the Land to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that He gave it to our ancestors when Joshua entered it, and that through our Judaism we are connected, and have been connected to the Land of Israel for almost four thousand years. We need to stand up and courageously testify to certain basic facts and remind the world of the truth of the justice of the cause of the State of Israel.
To be G-d’s witnesses is not only about what we say, but also about what we do. The most eloquent and powerful testimony we can deliver lies in the way we lead our lives based on our Jewish values. We need to be model human beings in all areas of life. At the most basic level, we have to be model citizens who abide by the laws of the country, pay taxes diligently, vote in elections, as is the moral duty of every citizen, and seek to reach out to the underprivileged within our society to improve their lives. We need to be exemplars of interpersonal relationships of goodness, kindness and giving of charity, all in accordance with the mitzvot of the Torah. We also need to live lives of connectedness to G-d through His mitzvot, such as prayer, Torah learning, Shabbat, and many others, that bind us to Him, and uplift our lives.
To be a witness for G-d requires bravery, confidence, clarity and a sense of mission. Let us do so this year as a community whilst we prepare to celebrate Rosh HaShana. Let us take the inspiration of this festival and stand proud to face the world and ourselves, and declare the basic truths that underpin all of human civilisation – truths without which the world could not exist, truths that give energy and sustenance to the entire enterprise of human civilisation.
Gina and I would like to take this opportunity of wishing the entire community a good Yom Tov, and G-d’s richest blessings for a good and sweet New Year.
4. ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE “CAPE JEWISH CHRONICLE”
“It is not good for man to be alone” (Bereishit 2:18). From the beginning of creation G-d declares that He created us to live as social beings, interacting with one another, building communities. The most basic community is the very first one formed in history, that of the marriage between Adam and Eve.
A vital dimension of preparing for a good new year is to rededicate ourselves to nurturing and strengthening all of our communities : our marriages and families, our shuls and schools, as well as the wider South African Jewish community.
One of the outstanding features of the South African Jewish community is the fact that we belong to shuls in much higher proportions than any other similar Jewish community around the world. The first shuls were set up in South Africa as soon as Jews began to arrive. Cape Town’s first shul was established in Gardens in 1863, and Johannesburg’s in President Street in 1887. We, the descendants of the brave pioneers who started our first congregations, have inherited their passion for shuls.
A shul creates a community of the individuals who make up its membership. Individuals in their personal capacity join together to form a community or, in Hebrew, a kehillah. A new entity is formed. A shul is much more than the sum of its parts. It becomes a kehillah that brings people together around the eternal Divine values of our ancient faith.
The secret of success in creating and sustaining all of these different types of communities, whether families or shuls or anything else, is the same, and it is contained in the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (4:14): “Rabbi Yochanan HaSandler says: Any community dedicated to heaven will endure forever”.
What is ‘a community dedicated to Heaven’? The Tosfot Yom Tov, a classic commentary on the Mishna, says that ‘dedicated to heaven’ means putting aside personal interest. This means that a successful community is only built if people are able to rise above ego, arrogance, pride, jealousy and all other forms of selfishness and general lowliness of human character. When people are in it for themselves instead of for the sake of the cause, instead of for the sake of Hashem and the fruition of His values in the world, then communities tear themselves apart. If everyone is in it for themselves and their interests are competing, then those tensions tend to place enormous strain on a society and on a community, preventing it from achieving success.
A marriage is successful when both husband and wife are dedicated to heaven, and dedicated to doing the right thing and caring for one another, and are not in the marriage merely for what they can take for themselves. When husband and wife compete with each other for the fulfillment of their personal self interest, their marriage will have difficulty enduring. The same applies to a family, which is a slightly bigger community than the couple, and includes their children. It too cannot endure if its members each go their own selfish way; but when they are unified in being dedicated to heaven, then you have a family that can hold together all of the individuals who are part of it. So too, a shul community can only be successful if there is a willingness to work for the sake of the cause, putting aside petty selfish interests and aspiring to be truly ‘dedicated to Heaven’.
May Hashem inscribe and seal us all for a year of life and blessing. Gina and I would like to take this opportunity of wishing the entire community a good Yom Tov, and G-d’s richest blessings for a good and sweet New Year.
5. “JEWISH LIFE” Q&A – September 2011 – Why do we spend so much time in shul?
Chief, I think what many people are secretly wondering about Rosh Hashanah is – why so much time in Shul praying?
We need to get out of the rut of our day to day lives and find the space to rethink the direction that we are headed.
Why not just go for a quite weekend away?
We not talking about general contemplation here. We are looking to see where we are holding in terms of our mitzvas. Every Shabbos forces us to step outside our daily routine and reconnect with the most basic values of Hashem and His Torah, our families and communities. And Yom Tov does the same thing. Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsh says that the Hebrew word ‘moed’, ‘festival’, comes from the root of the word ‘meeting’. Because the festivals are a time when we step out of our lives to meet with G-d. He explains that the Mishkan, the Temple, was called the ‘ohel moed’- the tent of meeting. That is like a meeting with G-d in space, and the festivals are a meeting with G-d in time.
But why praying – why not praising, or meditating?
People often have a simplistic understanding of prayer. They think that prayer is to ask for something, which comes from the English root from the Greek word to ask. But in Hebrew, the word for prayer is also ‘avodah’ – which means service. It is the only mitzvah, the Maharal points out, which is simply called service. It demonstrates in the most powerful way that we are servants of Hashem, completely dependant on Him. There is a Mishna in Pirkei Avot, which says the world stands on three things- Torah, avodah, the service in the Temple but also prayer, and gemillus chassadim, kindness. It is one of the primary aspects of our relationship and interaction with Hashem.
Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch says is that the root of the word ‘tefilla’ is the reflexive verb to judge oneself. We stand in the presence of G-d, we think about our lives, we look at ourselves, with all of our shortcomings and our good, and we focus on the one resounding theme of Rosh Hashanah – that G-d is King. And then we start to think of all this in terms of repentance.
How do prayer and repentance relate?
To be in the presence of G-d and to be fully cognisant of that and to feel and experience it from an intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and even physical point of view is what the experience of prayer is all about. And so Rosh Hashana is about repentance but it is also about prayer, because repentance is about change. It is about the upliftment of a person, and to pray properly to G-d can be a very powerful catalyst to becoming a much greater person.
Does anyone actually get all of this from davening though?
Davening is a very multi-faceted experience, because it is made up of many parts. The physical –we mouth the words. The spiritual – we connect with G-d. The emotional – ranging from joy and gratitude, desperation and shame. The intellectual – we think about many issues while we pray. And a big part of Rosh Hashanah is spent not praying, but in the service of prayer –what real davening is.
What IS real davening?
The halacha says that you need to pray in such a way that your lips and mouth articulate the words of the prayers in such a way that the words are only audible to you and to nobody else. We learn this way of praying from one of the great women of Jewish history – Chana, who went to the Temple to pray for a child after many years of being unable to have children. We in fact read about Chana on the Haftorah for Rosh HaShana and she is described as praying with her lips but not being audible to an outside observer. So too do we pray in a whisper.
Why do you pray in a whisper – one would think to shout it from the rooftops?
It is about the sheer intimacy of the experience of davening – how prayers are phrased in the second person – “you”. We speak to G-d by addressing Him as “you”. Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe …” It is direct. We talk directly to G-d, no intermediaries. We do not need to go through anybody to speak to G-d. We do not need to go through the rabbi or the chazan or the choir or anybody. It is one-to-one communication. A whisper is about intimacy. You whisper and talk to someone quietly when it is just a one-on-one conversation. And so too when we pray we are standing before G-d – it is one-on-one between us and the King of all kings, Hashem Himself. A prayer is a privileged opportunity and it has the power to be a transformational experience.
But what is standing in our way…
We need to re-orientate our thinking. To pray is not a burden – it is a privilege. In my position, one of the issues I have to deal with is how to achieve access to important politicians and government leaders – how do you get through the gatekeepers, make an appointment, get to the top? And Hashem is the King of all Kings, eternal and all-knowing, infinitely more powerful than any mortal who is here today and gone tomorrow, and yet you do not even need to make an appointment! You just need to talk to Him and He is waiting to listen to you and that is an awesome privilege.
How can we use this to our advantage?
All the time in shul that you spend over this Yom Tov – use it well. Understand what you are praying. Go through the words beforehand and, most importantly of all, every moment that you are standing in prayer, especially during the Amidah, stand as if you are standing before G-d Himself because you are.We all are, and that is the unique opportunity and privilege that is given to all of us.
6. MESSAGE PUBLISHED IN SHUL MAGAZINES
Life is our most precious gift from G-d. At this time of year as we pray to G-d to be given another year of life, to be written into the “Book of Life”, we need to appreciate the value of every moment that G-d has given us to live on this earth.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, was one of the greatest Torah scholars and leaders of the Jewish world until his passing in 1933. In those early years of the twentieth century, many Jews were leaving Europe to live in the United States of America. The story is told that the Chofetz Chaim asked someone who had just returned from a visit to tell him something about America. The man answered that in America, they say, “Time is Money”, the Chofetz Chaim’s rejoinder was that “Time is Life”. Every second and minute that passes does so forever and can never be retrieved, and is part of the limited gift of life that G-d has given us. Judaism teaches us to appreciate every precious moment of life by, for example, saying blessings of thanks and gratitude to G-d for simple pleasures, such as eating a fruit or wearing special new clothes. The Talmud says that we must gives thanks to G-d for every breath of air we take.
But Judaism teaches that life is not only about living in this world. G-d has placed within us an immortal soul that lives on in the world-to-come. Pirkei Avot (6:7) says, “Great is Torah for it gives life to those who do it, both in This World and the World to Come.” The Torah shows us the path of life. It is called “a tree of life for those who grasp it” and shows us how to live and be truly alive in this world and the next.
It also shows us how to ensure the vitality and endurance of the Jewish People. You often hear debates about how to ensure Jewish continuity. History has proven that only when Jews are connected to Torah is there a sustainable Jewish future. The Talmud (Avodah Zara 3b) says that the Jew without Torah is a fish out of water and cannot survive. Rav Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch, explains the analogy: a fish on dry land flips and flops so vigorously that an ignorant observer may think that it is alive rather than in its death throes. So too people often are mistaken when they think that there is a Jewish future without Torah. The fish out of water analogy was used by the great sage of Talmud, Rabbi Akiva during the Roman oppression when it was forbidden to study or teach Torah. He defied the decree, putting his life at risk, and was advised not to do so – advice which he rejected comparing it to a fox warning a fish of fishermen’s nets downstream, and advising them to avoid being captured by leaving the water. Rabbi Akiva was arguing that we are the fish and the Torah is our water and that without it there would be no Jewish People.
As we the South African Jewish community prepare for the new year, let us do so acutely aware that the sure path to a vibrant and eternal future, as individuals and as a community, lies in our loyalty to Torah. As we say in the evening prayers: “For it [the Torah] is our life and the length of our days”.
My wife, Gina and I wish you G-d’s blessing for a good and sweet year, and may we all together be inscribed in the Book of Life.
7. TRANSCRIPT OF CHAI FM BROADCAST
Rosh HaShana is almost upon us, and so this week instead of looking at the parsha, I would like to reflect on Rosh HaShana. Our Sages teach us that before every festival we need to prepare and get into the right frame of mind. We cannot just walk into shul on Rosh HaShana night and expect to be inspired. We need to prepare in advance, to think about what we are meant to be doing on Rosh HaShana; to go through the Machzor and review the prayers to get the maximum meaning and power from the day and from our time in shul.
G-d’s kingship and judgment
What is Rosh HaShana really about? On the one hand it is a Day of Judgment. On the other, there is a major theme which begins with Rosh HaShana and runs through Yom Kippur: the kingship of Hashem. If you look through the prayers of the Machzor, the translations and the commentaries thereon, you will see that the kingship of Hashem takes centre stage. What does it mean that G-d is King, and why is Rosh HaShana, the Day of Judgment, designated as the day for proclaiming G-d’s kingship?
Rosh HaShana actually commemorates and celebrates a certain day in history. It is, as we say in our prayers, hayom harat olam, “the day the world was created.” But our Sages explain more specifically that it is the anniversary of the creation of human beings. Rosh HaShana is celebrated every year on the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, on the sixth day of creation. When we say “today the world was created” we are referring to the world of human beings; each person is an entire world – as the Mishnah says, to destroy one life is to destroy a whole world, and to save one life is to save a whole world. What does Rosh HaShana being the anniversary of the creation of the first human beings have to do with the kingship of G-d?
There is no king without a nation
The Maharal of Prague explains that G-d only became King on the day that Adam and Eve were created. Hashem has many attributes; He is the Creator, all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal. All of G-d’s attributes – which, of course, are beyond our comprehension – are not dependent on us. But there is one dimension of Hashem which is dependent on us and that is His kingship; as the Talmudic Sages put it, ain melech belo am, “there is no King without a nation.” A king cannot be king unless there are people who recognise him as king. Thus G-d was the Creator, the all-powerful and all-knowing – he was all of these things before Adam and Eve were created, but He was not King. Only when Adam and Eve were created, as human beings with free will to choose to accept Hashem as their King, did G-d become King.
Rosh HaShana is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve but it is also the anniversary of when G-d became King. This is why, says the Maharal, it is a Day of Judgment. Obviously, being the day of creation of human beings, it is a good time to reflect on humanity and an appropriate time for judgment. But justice and judgment are part of the manifestation of G-d’s kingship; they are part of a king’s tasks, the judiciary branch of the government.
Furthermore, says the Maharal, to forgive and to pardon is also part of G-d’s kingship because only the king can grant a royal pardon. This is what Yom Kippur is about, when we ask G-d for forgiveness. Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are about judgment and forgiveness but the uniting theme of these ten days is the kingship of Hashem, when we crown him as King of the world.
G-d’s authority is a prerequisite to keeping the commandments
Rosh HaShana is the day we coronate Hashem. What does it mean to crown G-d as King?
The Shema which we say twice every day has two main parts, the opening verse Shema Yisrael “Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One” and the first paragraph, and then we have the second paragraph Vehaya im shamoa, “Behold if you will listen to My commandments,” which sets out the principles of reward and punishment. The Mishnah in Berachot, page 13a, says that these two paragraphs represent two concepts and the one must come before the other. In the first paragraph we accept Malchut Shamayim, the kingship of heaven, upon us. In the second paragraph we accept responsibility to keep His commandments. The Mishnah says this is why the first paragraph comes before the second; before we can talk about His commandments, we have to accept the authority of the One Who commands. Keeping Torah means not only keeping the 613 commandments, but more than that, it is about acknowledging that Hashem is King and that He has authority over our lives. There is a relationship we have with G-d that is outside of the commandments. The commandments are obviously very important—in fact, on Rosh HaShana we’re judged on whether we have been observing them. But equally important is the acceptance of the authority of Hashem and the fact that He is King. This concept stands independently, not just as the logical prerequisite to keeping the commandments. On the very first Commandment Anochi Hashem Elokecha, “I am the Lord your G-d,” Maimonides comments that it is a commandment to believe in Hashem. There is a famous debate between him and Nachmanides, who says it is actually not a commandment but a statement of fact; if you believe in Hashem, you don’t need to be commanded and if you don’t believe in Him, how can you be commanded to? Either way we interpret this verse, it is establishing a concept which goes beyond the level of commandment, even according to Maimonides. The fact that Hashem is King is the foundation upon which the Torah stands.
Acknowledging Hashem as King is the foundation of everything
The longest Amidah we have is the Mussaf of Rosh HaShana, which has three components, one of which is Malchiyot, kingship, referring to the kingship of Hashem. In the Malchiyot section there are ten verses about the kingship of Hashem quoted from different books in the Bible. The Gemara in Tractate Rosh HaShana, page 32a, asks why specifically ten verses are quoted. Three answers are given and from these answers we can better understand what Hashem’s kingship is.
The first answer is from Rav Levi, who says that the ten verses referring to the kingship of Hashem correspond to the ten praises that King David said in the well-known chapter in Psalms, haleluhu b’teka shofar, which contains ten praises of Hashem. Rav Yosef says the ten verses correspond to the Ten Commandments whereas Rabbi Yochanan says that the ten verses correspond to the ten statements with which the world was created. In these three opinions lies the answer to the question of what Hashem’s kingship means.
The corresponding to the Ten Commandments represents that we have to keep His commandments because He is the King and He has given us commandments to fulfil. The other aspect of Hashem being King goes beyond just the commandments and that is the fact that as King He governs this world and is intimately involved with this world and how we lead our lives, what is called hashgacha pratit which means personal supervision. G-d is interested in what happens to every one of us, every single day; he guides events even down to the smallest detail. Hashgacha pratit is beyond our comprehension; Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan once gave the following analogy by way of explanation: it is like a grand master playing chess, for example in chess exhibition matches where he can be playing 50 people or a hundred people at once and is moving from board to board, moving all the chess pieces. So too G-d, so to speak, is playing billions of chess games all the time and all over the world (obviously we are only using human analogies to get some sort of comprehension, though it is something beyond our human understanding) so even though we have free choice, like in chess you have free choice, nevertheless Hashem is watching every board every piece and every move. This idea is reflected in Rav Levi’s opinion that the ten verses correspond to the ten praises that King David sang to Hashem. King David had a hard life and had many trials and tribulations. He had to run away from King Saul, he lost a child, and he had another child who staged a rebellion against him; he had to fight many battles for the Jewish People. He had a very difficult life and yet he was so bonded to Hashem that he sang praises to him – in fact, King David wrote the Book of Psalms, where he pours out his heart to Hashem with complete faith and belief in Him. King David always maintained an emotional and spiritual connection to Hashem, no matter what was going on in his life. The ten verses of kingship corresponding to the ten verses of praise in that chapter of Psalms represents that G-d being King means not just that we fulfil His commandments, but that He is involved in our lives and that He watches everything that happens. We praise Him for the good and for the bad, for the sweet and the bitter, because we know that ultimately everything is for the good and He is governing this world with justice and goodness.
Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion is that the ten verses referring to G-d’s kingship correspond to the ten statements with which He created the world. If you look in the beginning of Genesis, you will see many statements with which Hashem created the world – “and G-d said, ‘let there be light,’’’ etc. These ten statements are actually part of the blueprint of creation. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot in the beginning of Chapter Five says that He created the world with ten statements to reward the righteous who sustain it and to punish the wicked who destroy it. What does this mean?
Torah is a unifying force
The Maharal explains that the number ten represents two concepts: unity and disparity. Number ten is not a new number, but a number that brings together the other nine. There are only nine unique numbers; eleven is just ten plus one. Ten represents and the unity that G-d brings to a world of disparity. G-d’s Torah – the blueprint – is what unifies the world. When we look at the world, it seems to have so many disparate, separate elements; it is often fragmented. But there is one unifying force in the world and that is Hashem and His Torah which is the blueprint. His kingship means that every aspect of creation fits into His blueprint. The Torah is not religion that is divorced from our every-day lives, that only occupies a certain part of our world. It contains everything. To acknowledge that G-d is King of the world does not mean simply to acknowledge that we must keep His commandments or that we see His hand in our daily lives. It means that His will and His thoughts expressed in His Torah actually have relevance and application to every aspect of creation. This is what it means to be a King. Sovereignty is not divisible; a sovereign government means they are sovereign over every aspect of what takes place in the country. Hashem has sovereignty over every aspect of what takes place in the world and His Torah is the blueprint which holds it all together.
The kingship of Hashem is a broad and fundamental concept upon which Judaism is premised. On Rosh HaShana we stand before Hashem in judgment. From Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur we are introspecting, trying to look at what we have done wrong and how we can do right, how we can fix our sins – both sins between us and our fellow human beings and sins between us and Hashem. We look for ways of fixing and improving but the whole time the overarching theme is that we do so under the kingship of Hashem. Rosh HaShana is about crowning G-d as King over every aspect of life.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a ketiva vachatima tova, may we be written and sealed for a shana tova umetuka, for a good and sweet year filled with Hashem’s abundant blessings.