Rosh Hashanah: Being a partner in the kingship of God

The commandment to blow the shofar is linked in Jewish tradition to two concepts: It symbolizes the call to stand trial before God, as well as the coronation of God as king.

 Blowing the shofar symbolizes the call to stand trial before God, as well as God’s coronation (photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)
Blowing the shofar symbolizes the call to stand trial before God, as well as God’s coronation
(photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

Rosh Hashanah begins this Sunday evening and ends Tuesday evening. The New Year is a point in time marked in all cultures and all nations – each one marking the date when the year begins. The Jewish nation marks Rosh Hashanah on the Hebrew date of 1 Tishrei and on the following day, 2 Tishrei. The Bible does not use the name “Rosh Hashanah” for this holiday but refers to it as “Yom Teru’a,” loosely translated as the Day of Blasting (of the Shofar), to mark the unique commandment we fulfill on Rosh Hashanah – blowing the shofar

The commandment to blow the shofar is linked in Jewish tradition to two concepts: It symbolizes the call to stand trial before God, as well as the coronation of God as king. These two aspects are worthy of a closer look, especially to try to ascertain the connection between them. We, who are lucky to live in democracies, might find the concept of a monarchy to be foreign and strange. The concept of “coronation of God as king” seems ancient. 

Indeed, the Bible, the Jewish nation’s foundation, uses terms of its time to describe the relationship of God with the world, humanity and particularly with the Jewish nation. Jewish sages have always tried to translate biblical terms into ones relevant to the nation in each generation. We will try as well and ask: What is the significance to us of anointing God as king, and how does this description tie in to standing trial at the start of a new year? 

RABBI MOSHE SILVER blows a Yemenite shofar at the Jerusalem Promenade (credit: REZA GREEN)RABBI MOSHE SILVER blows a Yemenite shofar at the Jerusalem Promenade (credit: REZA GREEN)

What is the significance to us of anointing God as king?

In Rosh Hashanah prayers, we make the following request:

“And so, too, the righteous will see and be glad, the upright will exult, and the devout will be mirthful with glad song. Iniquity will close its mouth and all wickedness will evaporate like smoke when You will remove evil’s domination from the Earth. Then You, Hashem, will reign alone over all Your works, on Mount Zion, resting place of Your glory, and in Jerusalem, Your holy city...”

“And so, too, the righteous will see and be glad, the upright will exult, and the devout will be mirthful with glad song. Iniquity will close its mouth and all wickedness will evaporate like smoke when You will remove evil’s domination from the Earth. Then You, Hashem, will reign alone over all Your works, on Mount Zion, resting place of Your glory, and in Jerusalem, Your holy city...”

Rosh Hashanah prayer

This prayer describes God’s reign on Earth. If we simplify the words of the prayer, we see that we attribute good qualities to God’s kingship: justice, integrity, loving-kindness and the removal of iniquity, wickedness and evil. This is the main significance of God’s reign based on the words of this ancient prayer.

Is this a realistic aspiration? No. But it is a practical plan. When we recite these words and pray for God’s kingship, we express our readiness to be partners in expanding and deepening the existence of God’s values in the world. When we strive for the rule of justice, integrity and loving-kindness, we are actually proclaiming: Yes, we can! 

We are capable and want to operate that way and be guided by these principles. And, on the contrary, removing iniquity, wickedness and evil is not a dream. Every time we compromise, every proper act we do, every time we fight for justice, we are tipping the scales in favor of God’s kingship. It is in our hands, and our prayers on Rosh Hashanah express this wholeheartedly. 

Standing trial before God

Here we reach the second symbolism of shofar-blowing: standing trial before God. At the beginning of the year, we ask ourselves “Where are we headed? How do we want to live this coming year? Are we willing to join the side that believes in eternal, divine values or, God forbid, are we indifferent, preferring to be bystanders?” Indeed, on Rosh Hashanah, we stand trial and ask that the new year be good for us; that we merit a year of happiness, health and joy. This request is not separate from our desire to live in a world of values that believes in a redemption that will come by actualizing God’s kingship. We believe that happiness grows and flourishes when humanity leads itself toward the values of justice, integrity and loving-kindness while distancing itself from iniquity, wickedness and evil.

During those precious moments of shofar-blowing, we experience the quivering of holiness and transcendence. We are called upon to internalize this holiness and implement it during the new year by living a life that is more moral and more sacred; a life that is God-fearing through which we become partners in His kingship. 

May we all have a good and blessed year, a year of satisfaction, serenity and happiness, of doing deeds that are blessed and significant. ■

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and other holy sites.