Unveiling the unsung: Rosh Hashanah's hidden harmonies

Discovering the profound meaning behind the silence of Rosh Hashanah prayers and the concealed spiritual harmonies within.

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week - Unveiling the Unsung: Rosh Hashanah's Hidden Harmonies

Rosh Hashanah prayer differs from other holiday prayers in several significant ways. One notable distinction is the omission of the Hallel prayer, which is recited during most other Jewish holidays. This unique aspect of Rosh Hashanah prayer is rooted in a profound reason.

According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 32,2), the heavenly angels, the "Malachei Hasharet," approached Hashem with a question during Rosh Hashanah: "Why is it that the people of Israel are not singing songs of praise like they do on other holidays?" In response, Hashem conveyed a deeply significant message: "How can they sing songs of joy when the Books of Life and Death are open before Me, and I am in the process of inscribing the fate of each person?"

We are familiar with the concept that the main task of the malachim is to sing daily to Hashem. If one pays close attention to the question posed by the malachim, they will notice that the angels didn't inquire about why songs, which would include them as well, are not being said. Instead, they specifically asked why the nation is not singing. This implies that the angels are indeed still singing to Hashem.

This observation of the angels' participation in song is illuminated by the Tosafot (Erchin 10,2), who further support the idea that the angels join in harmony with what we recite during the Rosh Hashanah prayer: והחיות ישוררו, וכרובים יפארו, In English: "And the angles will sing, and the cherubim will glorify." 

The insight above raises a compelling question. The Gemara states that for the angels to sing, they must wait for the nation of Israel to sing first. Without the people of Israel singing first, the angels cannot commence their song. This seems to present an apparent contradiction to an earlier point made by Tosafot, which stated that while the Jewish nation does not recite Hallel on Rosh Hashanah, the malachim do.

The resolution to this apparent contradiction lies in understanding the context and purpose behind these statements. 

First, let's clarify the purpose of singing to Hashem. While it is indeed a means of praising Hashem, these songs achieve much more. Rav Chaim Volozhin explains that these songs serve to elevate the spiritual realms, and through this elevation, we in the physical world receive the necessary blessings for our livelihood. 

Regarding the angels, Rav Chaim Volozhin says that the reason they don't sing independently is because they lack the capacity to elevate and establish connections within the spiritual realms. It is solely the Jewish people who possess this unique ability, and it is only after we initiate our songs that the angels gain the capability to achieve their purpose through their own melodies.

Now, we can comprehend the question raised earlier. The angels do indeed sing on Rosh Hashanah, as Tosafot explained, but their songs, while being a part of the celestial chorus, are considered ineffective as they don't have any impact or influence on the spiritual realms. This is precisely why the angels inquire of Hashem about these songs because the absence of Israel's singing directly affects the efficacy of their own songs.

Yet, it prompts us to explore why the angels would engage in singing on Rosh Hashanah at all if their songs are deemed as having no practical effect. 

Additionally, why is it specifically the "Malachei Hasharet" who inquire about this matter and not other angels who also participate in the singing? The answer lies in the role of these angels, as the "Malachei Hasharet" are the angels whose role is to assist and support the people of Israel. They sing during Rosh Hashanah to convey a crucial message while Hashem judges the world. Their message while singing is to demonstrate how their songs lack meaning and purpose without the presence of the nation of Israel. Furthermore, it underscores the notion that the entire world lacks its true purpose and fulfillment without the presence and vitality of the people of Israel. Therefore, they continually beseech Hashem to grant Israel life and continuity, as it is through Israel that the world receives the divine abundance it needs to thrive and be inspired. This recurring inquiry serves as a powerful annual reminder of this profound truth.

We can also elucidate why the people of Israel refrain from singing. It's not solely driven by fear; instead, Hashem desires them to deliberately refrain from singing. This abstention is intended to convey to Hashem that in their absence, no one else could effectively fulfill their role of elevating the spiritual realms through song.

This understanding provides insight into Hashem's response: The nation refrains from singing because the Books of Life and Death are open, and their intention is to emphasize this point. By doing so, they hope to be inscribed in the Book of Life and ensure their continued existence and ability to fulfill their sacred mission.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel