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The Most Sublime Prayer

by Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter


Library » Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » Essays | Subscribe | What is RSS?


The Haftorah of the second day of Rosh Hashanah focuses on Hannah, a childless woman. Through her holiday prayers in the Sanctuary at Shiloh, she was blessed to bear the Prophet Shmuel (Samuel). Eli, the high priest, watched Hannah's fervent prayer. He believed she was intoxicated, not from alcohol, but from spiritual energy. Since it was Eli's duty to help Jews maintain proper spiritual intentions, he asked her, "How long will be your drunkenness?" Hannah answered, "I am pouring out my soul before G-d,"--I am not drunk. I am connecting my soul to G-d through my prayer.

This Haftorah is read on Rosh Hashanah because it is on this day that Hannah's prayers were answered. In fact, it is her type of prayer that G-d desires. Let's examine the prayer of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. We place our requests before G-d. We pray for our spiritual well being, asking for help in our observance of the commandments, and we pray for our physical needs, for the well being of our children, our health, and our livelihood.

Yet Rosh Hashanah is also the day we acknowledge and crown G-d as King over every aspect of our lives. How does one crown a king and accept his kingship? By humbling oneself before the king, nullifying oneself until becoming unconcerned with personal needs. The Lubavitcher  Rebbe asks, if this is the case, why do we spend so much time on Rosh Hashanah praying for our own necessities?

A Jewish person's prayer for physical well-being is not for the sake of leading a self-serving life of luxury
A Jewish person's prayer for physical well-being is not for the sake of leading a self-serving life of luxury. A Jew prays to G-d to grant his or her physical needs as an integral part of establishing G-d as our Lord. Material blessings are given in order to serve G-d in the best way. Making G-d our King means not limiting His dominion to the synagogue or to the time while we are doing a Mitzvah. We need to make G-d King in every aspect of our lives and every place in the world. This is the reason we ask G-d for our physical needs: everything, even the most mundane physicality, should be a dwelling place for G-d. On Rosh Hashanah, we ask for G-d's help to fully serve Him.

Hannah exemplified this intent in her prayer. She vowed that if G-d would give her a son, she would dedicate his life to Divine service. Hannah was not asking for a child just to fulfill her maternal needs, but rather to show her commitment to G-d's kingship. This is the model for our holiday prayers. We ask for our physical needs, and even if we are primarily concerned with them for selfish reasons, the essence of our prayer is an outpouring of the soul, longing to connect to and serve G-d. Just as Hannah was answered on Rosh Hashanah, so should G-d fulfill all of our requests for a good and sweet year.

In my recent travels abroad, I met a young man named Richard who told me that a simple analogy was enough to help him put aside all of his worldly concerns, and wholly dedicate himself to Judaism. He said, 'What is the difference between belief and faith?' Remember that man who used to jump over 20 parked cars with his motorcycle? Belief is believing he will do it. Faith is getting on the motorcycle behind him. Before the High Holidays, each Jew person is being asked to have faith in  Torah. This year, do not be an observer. Get on the bike!

May every Jew be written and signed for a good and sweet new year!

Reprinted with permission from


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(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
Section from the prophetic writings that is read at the conclusion of the Torah reading on the Sabbath, Jewish holidays and fast days. The Haftorah contains a message similar to the weekly reading, or speaks of the current holiday.
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.