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At One with the King

by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger


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


Head and Beginning

There is nothing arbitrary about a name given in the Holy Tongue: the very letters that constitute such a name disclose the intrinsic nature of the entity named.1 The name of the New Year festival, "Rosh Hashanah," literally means not "beginning of the year," but "head of the year." I.e., the relationship of Rosh HaShanah to the other days of the year2 parallels the relationship of the head to the other organs of the body.

There are three dimensions to the relationship between the head and the body. First, the brain controls the functioning of the body as a whole, as well as that of its individual organs. Second, the life-energy of all the organs is centered in the brain, each of whose components is connected to one of the organs. Finally, the brain is the seat of the power of thought, the highest of human faculties.

Our divine service on Rosh HaShanah is characterized by spiritual parallels to each of these three physical functions.

First, on Rosh HaShanah we resolve to advance in all aspects of our Torah observance, and the resolutions undertaken at this time influence the quality of our divine service throughout the coming year.

Like a father who loves his children regardless of their conduct, G-d maintains a bond with us which continues even when our conduct appears to draw us away from Him
Second, with Rosh HaShanah we begin the Ten Days of Teshuvah (usually translated "repentance"; better: "return"). Since teshuvah comprises all the other mitzvahs, it can atone for deficiencies in the observance of any of the mitzvahs.

Finally, the divine service of Rosh HaShanah involves a level of absolute connection between man and G-d. Our Sages3 teach that on Rosh HaShanah G-d asks man to "accept Me as King over you," and in fact the recognition of G-d's sovereignty is a major theme of the Rosh HaShanah service.4 This act of recognition establishes a bond between the essence of man and the essence of G-d.

Three Levels of Connection.

These three elements of Rosh HaShanah are related to three levels of connection with G-d.

a. The first bond is established through Torah observance. Because G-d's will is manifest in the Torah and its mitzvahs, by observing them we connect our thoughts, words and actions with Him.5

b. There is, however, a second and deeper bond with G-d. For while it is true that observance of mitzvahs establishes a connection with G-d, the conditions of this relationship presuppose that the individual is a separate entity who desires to connect to G-d through this observance. teshuvah, by contrast, involves a bond which relates man to G-d directly, without the medium of mitzvahs.

Each of us shares a bond with G-d that is not at all dependent on our deeds. For this reason, even a person who has failed to establish a connection with G-d through mitzvahs or who has obstructed that connection by his conduct, is still capable of feeling a desire to return to Him.6

A person's desire to return to G-d evokes a response from Him. Like a father who loves his children regardless of their conduct, G-d maintains a bond with us which continues even when our conduct appears to draw us away from Him. And when a person turns to G-d in teshuvah, this bond surfaces and makes its presence felt.


  • 1. See Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1, and the sources given there. See also Shaar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 23.
  • 2. See Likkutei Torah, Parshas Ki Savo, p. 41c; Ateres Rosh, the beginning of Shaar Rosh HaShanah.
  • 3. Rosh HaShanah 16a, 34b.
  • 4. The first reason given by Rav Saadiah Gaon for the Sounding of the Shofar is that it echoes the sounding of trumpets at the coronation of a king (cf. Avudraham).
  • 5. See Tanya, ch. 4.
  • 6. See Likkutei Torah, Parshas Acharei, p. 26c.


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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.
Repentance. Or, more literally, "return" to G-d. Teshuvah involves regretting the past and making a firm resolution not to repeat the offense.
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 seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
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.