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How the Rosh Hashana Tefillah Can Transform Your Rosh Hashana Experience

holidays video Sep 17, 2020
 

 

As we enter Rosh Hashana, let us delve deeper into this powerful and transformative day. Last week, we began to discuss the three stages of teshuva:

The first is individual teshuva, where we return to our higher selves, our true selves.

The second stage of teshuva goes beyond the limited self, turning the focus from individual to community.

The third stage of teshuva is returning to our absolute root and source, to the Source of all sources, to Hashem Himself.

Fascinatingly, the three themes of the Rosh Hashana tefillah reflect these stages.

The three themes of the Rosh Hashana davening are Shofros, Zichronos, and Malchuyos. Shofros relates to the blowing of the shofar, zichronos relates to remembering seminal events from Jewish history and Hashem’s covenant with the Jewish People, and Malchuyos is the process by which we crown Hashem King. Judaism is a holistic religion, in which everything is interconnected, expressing an underlying oneness. How, then, do these three themes connect under a larger unifying theme? 

Shofros


The shofar represents one's individual spiritual yearning. It is a haunting, wordless cry that returns us to our higher self, our true self.

The bracha we recite on the shofar refers to the "kol shofar", the voice of the shofar. This is because blowing the shofar is meant to draw our attention to the unique depth of the shofar’s role in our tefilah. We blow the shofar as a part of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, but it is unique amongst the tefilos. While all the other prayers utilize words, the shofar is a wordless cry. What is the meaning behind this?

Speech is always a limited expression of one's inner thoughts. Formulating ideas and feelings into words requires taking that which is abstract, beyond finite form, and giving it concrete form and expression. By doing so, one limits that infinite potential into just the words that are spoken. This is why words often fail to describe and convey that which is most important. Words are a limited form of expression, one that does not loyally convey the full force of "self" contained within it. Kol, however, is the root form of verbal expression, a speech that has not yet been formed into words. The wordless cry of the voice is not limited to specific words - it is beyond words, beyond finite expression.

On Rosh Hashanah, we cry out with the resounding kol of the shofar, expressing our deep yearning to return to our root selves, a yearning that cannot be expressed in words alone. As the blast of the shofar jars us from our stupor, we join in its cry, as our souls beg to return to their root.

This is also why the concept of kol is always connected to crying. When does one cry? When the clear path ahead loses its clarity and expression. When one hears the doctor's report and finds out that instead of fifty years, one has only weeks left to live, they cry. Or, when one thinks they only have days left in this world, and they receive the news that they have been cured of their illness, they cry. When the clear and expressed path breaks down, we cry. This is because the spiritual concept of crying is the breakdown in expression. This is why the Hebrew word for tears, “dim'a”, is also the Hebrew word for "mixture", something that is unclear and confusing. This is also why the Hebrew word for crying, “bocheh”, also means "confusion".

On Rosh Hashana, we cry out with a resounding kol, expressing how deeply we yearn to return to our source, to Hashem. The concepts of kol and crying reflect the concept of focusing on the root and source without focusing on the expression. On Rosh Hashana, we take a step back from the expressed physical world and return back to our transcendent source.

 

Zichronos

 

Zichronos refers to the concept of memory, building upon this same theme. Memory represents tracing something from the present back into the past. It is an exercise in sourcing something back to its root. On Rosh Hashana, as we discuss the Akeidah and other seminal moments in Jewish history, we connect back to our collective self, the root soul of all of Klal Yisrael.

The Akeidah holds infinite layers of depth and meaning, and has striking implications for us as we trace ourselves back to our collective self. At the Akeidah, Yitzchak was willing to give up his life. The very willingness to give up one's life for Hashem reflects the belief that one is not merely a physical being, but a spiritual consciousness that transcends one’s body. This is why Chazal note that the letters of Yitzchak's name spells “keitz chai”- he who lives (chai) while paradoxically also existing beyond life (keitz). At the Akeidah, Yitzchak rooted himself beyond space and time, while still living within it. On Rosh Hashana, we remember this, and tap into our unique nature as Klal Yisrael, a nation that transcends this world while paradoxically living fully within it. The root of our ability to do so stems from Yitzchak and the Akeidah.

 

Malchuyos

 

On Rosh Hashana, we crown Hashem as our Melech, our King. We declare Hashem to be the source of everything, our ultimate root. This is our mission in this world, to become a walking kiddush Hashem- fully connecting ourselves back to Hashem, our Creator. It is for this reason that we don’t mention viduy or any of our sins on Rosh Hashana. Our singular goal on this day is to source ourselves back to Hashem, crown Him as our King, and root ourselves within reality, connected to Hashem.

 

Our Three-Stage Ascension

 

While all three of these themes are connected to all three forms of teshuva, shofros most deeply reflects our individual teshuva, zichronos most deeply reflects our collective teshuva back to our collective self, and malchuyos most deeply reflects our ultimate teshuva, sourcing ourselves back to Hashem Himself. May we be inspired to fully actualize all three forms of teshuva this Rosh Hashana and seal ourselves in the book of life, the book of true existence.

 

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