Vetaheir Libeinu

We say in the Amidah for Shabbos and Yom Tov, “Vetaheir libeinu le’avekha be’emes”, usually translated simply as “And purify our hearts to serve You in truth.”"Vetaheir libeinu” provides an interesting contrast to “veyacheid levaveinu li’ahavah ulyir’ah es shemekha — and unify our hearts to love and be in awe of Your name”, said in the last berakhah before the morning recitation of Shema. Libeinu stands distinct from levaveinu, the same two-veis “levav” that we find in Shema, “And you shall love Hashem your G-d bekhol levavekha, with all your heart.” There, Chazal interpret the word as “beshnei yitzrekha — with both your inclinations”. In “veyacheid levaveinu” we speak of unifying the warring urges of a complex heart, which notably has one veis for each inclination, “levav”. Here we ask for surcease from that complexity, that Hashem render the single-veis “leiv” tahor, pure of other inclinations. (While many question the accuracy of “tahor” as being defined “pure”, “zahav tahor” does mean “pure gold”.)

“Le’avdiacha”. Rav SR Hirsch explains the root /ayin-beis-dalet/ as a more intensive form of /aleph-beis-dalet/, to be lost (just as an ayin is like an alef, but is supposed to be voiced). To lose one’s goals to another’s', working entirely for another person. Here we speak of taharah from inappropriate goals so that one can work entirely toward the aims Hashem spelled out for us.

I would think that a Ba’al Mussar would focus on “vetaheir libeinu”, while the Chassid would read them as secondary to the next — le’avdikha. True to the fork in the hashkafic road between Litta’s focus on sheleimus, wholeness and completion, and Chassidus’s focus on deveiqus, cleaving to G-d.

Bi’emes — in/through truth: At first I took this to be an adverb for le’avdekha. However, I want to draw attention back to the first thing I skipped in this quote, the opening letter, “vav — vetaheir”. It begins with a prefix meaning “and”. This makes our phrase part of a list, along with, “qadsheinu bemitzvosekha, vesein chelqeinu beSorasekha, sab’einu mituvekha, vesamcheinu biyshu’asekha”. In all of those cases, the noun at the end of the phrase is the means by which we ask for the thing described by the rest of the phrase; for example “Sanctify us through your mitzvos”. (The mem in “mituvekha” deserves comment. Another time.) So, here too, emes would be the means, not a modifier for le’vadekha.

Taking the phrase all together: We are asking for Hashem to give us emes, by which we will get the taharas haleiv necessary to answer only one calling — His.

Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry.

“Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres”

Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three pillars upon which the world stands, described by Shim’on haTzadiq (Avos 1:2).Torah is the study of Torah. It is the shaping of the mind and personality. In the ideal, the Torah one learned is inseparable from the rest of his thinking; so that even his choice of an end table for his living room is affected by his Torah self. The Alter of Slabodka once heard a student boast about having completed all of gemara. His retort, “It’s not how many times you go through sha”s, it’s how many times sha”s goes through you!” Tif’eres.

Avodah is service of G-d. It’s having a relationship with Him. Seeking His Will, and to express that Will in the world. The same biblical term for knowledge is used for marital intimacy. Da’as.

Gemillus Chasadim, supporting others through kindness and generosity, can not only be an activity. It must flow from empathy, from maternal-like care for another. Rachamim.

Shim’on haTzadiq is teaching us that the world stands on three things because all human activity centers around how he acts in three relationships: with G-d, with other people, and internally with himself. The Maharal (Derech haChaim ad loc) writes that this is in turn because man lives in three worlds: this one, in which he interacts with other people, the world of his mind, and heaven, which gives him a connection to G-d.

Therefore, the g-dly Tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.
After that he says “on avodah”…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him — by serving Him….
With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.
You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to Hashem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus
chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to Hashem, just that Hashem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

Rabban Gamliel requires we mention and explain three things in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder: Pesach, Matzah, uMaror.

Pesach is described as ” zevach pesach hu — it is a praise-offering of pesach.” There is no avodah clearer than that of the beis hamiqdash, and the pesach is in praise of our Creator, an expression of our awareness of His Grandeur. Da’as.

Rabban Gamliel says that matzah as something we eat because “lo hispiq betziqam — there wasn’t sufficient time for their dough to rise”. A lesson in zerizus: haste, alacrity and zeal. Matzah is also a lesson in anavah, modesty, not being “puffed up” like normal bread. It is “lecham oni — the bread of affliction”. And last, in its guide as “lechem oni, she’onim alav devarim harbei — ‘oni’ because we answer ‘onim’ over it many things”, it teaches us to find these ideals in learning Torah. The perfection of one’s internal self. Tif’eres.

Last, we each maror because “vayimararu es chayeihem — they embittered their lives”. Maror is sharing the pain of another. Rachamim.

And so, Rabban Gamliel is not only requiring that we relate the mitzvos of the evening to the telling of the story of the exodus, but he is making that retelling an all-encompassing experience. The exodus gave us a mission to support the world on all three pillars, torah, avodah and gemillus chassadim.

Coronating G-d, part II — Pragmatics

I was recently discussing the ideas in my essay “Coronating G-d“. In it I utilized the Vilna Gaon’s distinction between a melekh (king) and a mosheil. A melekh rules with the support of his people, a mosheil rules by strength. I suggested that the reason why accepting Hashem as Melekh is such a central part of Rosh haShanah is that a Melekh has more room for mercy. By accepting Him as king ourselves, we enter the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah without the need for Hashem to impose His Will despite us.The person I was talking to asked what should have been an obvious question. “Okay, so how do we go about doing that?” And I surprised myself by realizing I didn’t know. How can I have ever said Shema, a tefillah described as qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim (accepting the yoke of [the One in] heaven), and not know what it is I’m supposed to be doing?

So, I put some thought to the subject.

Looking at Shema, we start by joining the community of Jewish (Shema Yisrael), and then proclaiming that despite our disparate perceptions of Him, Hashem is one and unique. This is an awareness of G-d’s uniqueness and power. True of a melekh or a mosheil, although here we’re actively acknowledging it. We accept the fact of Hashem’s rule.

And then, before the list of pragmatic mitzvos for keeping this message an active part of our day, we are told to “Love Hashem with all your heart (kol levavekha), all your soul, and all your resources.” Willingly bowing to that rule. This is the step of which we’re speaking, the shift from realizing Hashem is Mosheil to accepting Him as our Melekh.

Chazal comment (and quoted by Rashi) perhaps on the word “kol”, perhaps on the use of the two-veis word for heart “levavekha” rather than “libekha”, that this is with both of our inclinations — our good inclination and our evil one.

… veyishtachavu lefanekha kol haberu’im,
veyei’asu kulam agudah achas la’asos Retzonekh beleivav shaleim,
kemo sheyadanu, H’ E-lokeinu, shehashalton/shehashilton lefanekha…

… and all those who were created will bow before you, and they will all be made into a single union to do Your Will with a whole heart. For as we know, Hashem our G-d, that the rule/scepter is before You…

- Amidah for Yamim Nora’im

Bowing before Hashem because we acknowledge His rule is obvious. However, note again that this global union of worship is “with the whole heart”, a two-veis heart. Both inclinations. This to is because we know that He rules. But how does that cause us to engage our baser inclinations?

On Shabbos we say, “Yismekhu beMalkhusekha shomerei Shabbos veqor’ei oneg… — They shall rejoice in Your Kingship, those who keep Shabbos and call it pleasure..” It’s not enough to keep Shabbos. To be happily a subject of Hashem as King, we must find it an oneg, a pleasure.

It would seem that qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim involves accepting the idea that following His plan is what is best for you life. Not just fulfilling the mitzvos, but seeking to do so beleivav shaleim and with qeri’as oneg.

How does one do it? I must start with the first mitzvah that I don’t do and think I can. And with the first mitzvah I do begrudgingly and search the sources and the experiences it brings me to find its beauty. Then the second…

That is working toward the day when our teshuvah is rewarded, and “vehayah Hashem leMelekh al kol ha’aretz — Hashem will be Melekh over the whole world.” Bimheirah beyameinu, amein!

Anu ma’amirekha ve’Atah ma’amireinu

Anu ma’amirekha ve’Atah ma’amireinu. Artscroll renders this line from the machzor as referring to we as Hashem’s designated, and Him as our designator.I would like to suggest a different translation. The mishnah says that Hashem created the world with “eser ma’maros — ten utterances”. Ma’amar means utterances, and in particular, Chazal associate it with the ten statements through which Hashem created the world. Existence is words. The Ba’al Shem Tov stresses that the idea is speech, not writing. Texts are written, and then continue to exist afterward. Spoken words exist as long as they are being spoken. For light to exist now, it means that Hashem is still saying the words “yehi or” even today. The words themselves are the phenomenon we call light.

I therefore believe the relationship described is “We are your statement, and You are the One Who speaks us.”

This Year in Jerusalem

The first Satmerer Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, writes the following thought in Vayo’el Moshe.

When Yaakov first meets Rachel, he is at a well with some shepherds, waiting for enough to come by to move the stone that protects the well. As she approaches, he asks the shepherds if all is well with his cousin Lavan, and they answer, “All peaceful, vehinei Racheil bito ba’ah im hatzon — and here is Racheil his daughter, coming with the flock.” (Bereishis 29:6)

A few lines later, “When he is still speaking to them, veRacheil ba’ah im hatzon — and Racheil came with the flock that belongs to her father.” (Ibid v 9)

Notice that one time “ba’ah” is used to mean that Racheil was on her way, the other that she had arrived already. Rashi clarifies with a grammatical point; it makes a difference which syllable gets the trop mark and stress. The first usage was “ba’AH“, with the stress (tipechah) on the second syllable, meaning “she is coming”. The second, “BA’ah” (revi’i on the beis)– “she came”.

Everyone assumes that the line said at the end of Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder is “Leshanah haba’AH biYrushalayim — The coming year in Jerusalem”. But the Satmar Rav said this is a mistake.

We voice this desire at the close of Yom Kippur, shortly after the year began on Rosh haShanah, and on Pesach, shortly after the beginning of the year of months, the beginning of Nissan. We say it when a year just arrived. The line should not be said with the stress as “ha’AH” but rather say “BA’ah” — We are speaking of the year that just came!

Leshanah haBA’ah biYrushalayim habenuyah!
May the year that just began be spent in a rebuilt Jerusalem!

Simchah and Oneg

Simchah is related to wanting and having, because Ben Zoma defines the wealthy person as “sameiach bechelqo — happy with his lot”.

The Tanya speaks about how each aspect of the soul lives in tension between “ratzon - desire/will” and ta’anug. Thus we see that “oneg” too is related to wanting and having.

However, the mitzvah on Yom Tov is deemed simchas Yom Tov, whereas for Shabbos we speak of oneg Shabbos.
Simchah has codified requirements: for men, meat (some rishonim say that deOraisa it’s only the meat of the shelamim sacrice, but all agree that including derabbanan, it also calls for meat in general) and wine, for women, new clothing and jewelry, for children, sweets. The two differ.

Perhaps we can explain this in light of my previous entry which suggested that

… I think ben Zoma’s notion of my lot in life is the path Hashem placed before me to travel. Not where I stand now physically, socially, psychologically or spiritually. Not even where G-d is leading me. My lot is the trip along the way. The whole roller coaster ride, the peaks and the dips. … The job for which G-d created me as I am, when I live and where I live, with the people I know, the responsibilities I face, and the challenges He throws at me, solely because this is something His great plan required that required his having a Micha Berger to do it.

But in light of an Avodah discussion, I noticed that my notion also implies a possible distinction between simchah and oneg. The Tanya defines oneg as the satisfaction of a desire, the achievement of something one willed to accomplish. If simchah is satisfaction with one’s general life as a process, oneg is enjoyment of where I stand at the current point.

Rabbi Nachman Cohen, my principal as a Junior in High School, once defined Shabbos for us as “Shabbos is the island in time which is the eternal present.” Taking a break in the process to assess where one is going. Thus the greater cessation from melakhah, creative activities on Shabbos than on Yom Tov. (And even greater on Yom Kippur, where stopping to assess is even more critical.) It makes no sense to hurry up the ladder to get to the top of the wall only to afterwards realize the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall! Someone who looks back on their life with regret that they traded their role as parent to be a “success” at their career simply never kept Shabbos. And they never found oneg. Enjoyment of the accomplishments of the moment. Pausing.

All of this would imply that simchah requires more indoctrination than oneg. It is easier to take joy in what’s before you than in the more abstract concept of the path your life takes — including both triumphs and challenges. This would justify why halakhah defines exercises with which to express / internalize simchas Yom Tov in a way that it does not for Shabbos.

Perhaps this too can be explained in light of a point R’ JB Soloveitchik draws from Qabbalah. In Qabbalah there are two concepts: is’arusa delesata — the awakening [of holiness] from below, and is’arusa dele’eilah — the awakening from above. Shabbos happens every 7th day, G-d set it in motion, He is reaching down to us. It is is’arusa del’eila. Yamim Tovim depend on beis din setting the months. Thus, they are is’arusa delesata, from us up to Hashem. This is why the berakhah in the Amidah for Yom Tov is meqadeish Yisrael vehazmanim – who Sanctifies Israel and the [special] times”. The times’ holiness comes from Israel’s. For Shabbos, we simply say “meqadeish haShabbos“, no dependency on Israel.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this idea using the metaphor of visiting. On Shabbos, we come to visit the A-lmighty. Is’arusa dele’eila — He invites us. On Yom Tov, we invite Hashem to join us. Shabbos involves oneg because when you’re the guest, the Host provides things as per your desires. When you are the host, things are patterned around the Guest’s instructions — the more structured simchah.

I think this ties in. On Shabbos, Hashem invites us to take time to be “in the moment” to check the ladder rather than climb it. Thus, the mitzvah is oneg, happiness with the moment, and the more tangible kind of enjoyment. We are His guests, enjoying what He provides us. Thus, “sheishes yamim ta’avod — strive for six days”, and then take the time for oneg — to acknowledge what needs were satisfied. On Yom Tov, the focus is on His “happiness” (so to speak), and thus is about our role in His greater plan. It’s simchah.

Sweet Charoses

(Version II of an earlier thought.)

Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is a mitzvah from the Sofrim, as a commemoration of the mortar that they worked in in Egypt.” (Laws of Chaomeitz and Matzah 7:11). Charoses represents mortar, slavery.

On the other hand, contemporary recipes for charoses are to make it sweet. Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Yemenite recipes have few ingredients in common, yet they all use a sweet mixture (see also Pesachim 115b, which warns against losing the bitterness of the maror under the sweetness of the charoses).

So which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of the sweetness of freedom?

Thinking about it, though, matzah presents a similar ambiguity. We open Magid by describing matzah as “the bread of suffering which we ate in Egypt”. Yet, later on, when we repeat Rabban Gamliel’s three things that must be said to fulfill the obligation of the seder, we say we eat matzah “because there was not enough [time] for our ancestors dough to rise”.

Again, which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of a hasty redemption?

What is interesting is that we see the same duality in the very concept of mitzvah. On the one hand, the root of the word is \צוה\, to command. This is the idea we convey before taking out the Torah, in “Berikh Shemei” (from the Zohar). “I am a servant of the Holy One, blessed be He”. We keep mitzvos for a simple reason. G-d told us to.

However, the word for “commandment” is “tzivui“. Mitzvah is built from the passive form, a less probable conjugation, “that which was commanded”. The late Lubavitcher Rebbezt”l opined that this is an allusion to a second root, \מצצ\ or \מצו\, to connect for nourishment or aim. Mitzvah can be read as the feminization of this root. Which gives us a second definition of “mitzvah” — not only are they “what G-d commanded” but also they provide a focus to our lives, a way to connect to Him. And so the selfsame Zohar we cited in the previous paragraph occasionally refers to the mitzvos as the “Taryag itin — the 613 eitzos, ideas / pieces of advice”.

In a shi’ur on the berakhah before netilas Yadayim, I suggested that this is the reason for the phrasing of berakhos on mitzvos, “asher qidishanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu — Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us…” Mitzvos are to be viewed both as an opportunity to draw qedushah and as a straightforward act of submitting to His command.

“‘The tablets were engraved (charus) by G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d.’ (Shemos 32) Don’t read ‘charus‘, but ‘cheirus‘ (freedom). For no one is more free than one is busy with Torah study.”
— Pirkei Avos 6:2

Mitzvah operates on two levels. Servitude, simple obedience to G-d. Freedom, doing what is in our best interest. And here is where the two ideas we’ve been looking at converge.

“You will guard the matzos” that they shall not come to leaven…. R. Avohu says, “It should not be read ‘matzos‘ but rather ‘mitzvos‘. Just as we don’t let matzos leaven, we similarly don’t let mitzvos ‘leaven’. Rather, if one comes to your hands, do it immediately.”
— Rashi, Sh’mos 12:17

Matzos, in the guise of “there was not enough time”, teaches us about the proper way to do mitzvos. They parallel because they both share the same dual nature. On the first level, one would assume they are unpleasant, something one would want to avoid. But by the time we’ve explored the subject, toward the end of “Magid“, you can feel how they represent the path to freedom.

The mitzvah is a yoke we accept upon ourselves because we know that Hashem commanded (\צוה\) it to nourish us (\מצצ\). On the surface layer, it is “the bread of affliction” but we eat it by choice, because we trust the G-d gave them to us to help us.

This is a major theme in the Exodus story in general. As we say in Sh’ma “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt to be for you a G-d/Legislator.”

We also have a key to understanding the apparently oxymoronic symbolism of charoses. It doesn’t represent the bitter servitude of Par’oh, but the sweet, voluntary yoke of heaven. We eat is with maror, which does represent the bitter slavery, and give it the appearance of that servitude to bring to mind the contrast.

Charoses, like being a “servant of the Holy One” has a surface layer, an appearance of the mortar of slavery. But experientially, it’s very different. Or, as King David wrote, “טַֽעֲמ֣וּ וּ֭רְאוּ כִּי־ט֣וֹב יְהוָ֑ה, אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הַ֝גֶּ֗בֶר יֶֽחֱסֶה־בּֽוֹ׃ — Taste and see that the Hashem is good; happy is the man who takes refuge in Him. ” (Tehillim 35:9, said in Shabbos and holiday Shacharis)

(It is interesting to note that due to the inclusion of the next 2 verses in bentching (“Yir’u es Hashem qedoshav…“)and R’ Yisrael Meir haKohen Kagan’s choice of title to his seifer “Chafeitz Chaim”, added to the efforts of a number of 20th century songwriters, many people are aware of the mussar content of this chapter of Tehillim. However, this preceding verse doesn’t get the same attention.

Na’aseh viNishmah — we will do, and we will hear.” Doing come first because only through the first-hand experience can we hear the beauty, the depth, of the Torah.


A couple of years ago I collected some of my own thoughts and others from around the web into a commentary on the Haggadah shel Pesach. I took special care to give the seider a definite structure, as in this blog entry, in accordance with the meaning of the word seider, order.

Blogged Divrei Torah about Pesach are all available by  visiting this category.

Earlier divrei Torah for Pesach:

Toras Aish 5762 Lekhem Oni and Packing Peanuts

Aspaqlaria 5764 Who Knows Four?

Coronating G-d

(Significantly enlarged from the 2005 version. -micha)


Melukhah (kingship) is a major theme, if not the major theme of Rosh haShanah. Aside from the ubiquity of the word in our liturgy for Rosh haShanah and the Ten Days of Teshuvah, we find another indication in the Amidah for Rosh haShanah‘s Mussaf. Three blessings are inserted to the middle of that AmidahMalkhios (statements about G‑d being King), Zikhronos (about His acting on His “Memory”) and Shoferos (about shofar, about the glory and noise of divine intervention). Like every holiday and Shabbos, though, there also has to be a Birkhas haYom, a blessing about the day. For Rosh haShanah Mussaf, Malkhios is fused with the Birkhas haYom, because kingship is the message of the day.

When Yoseif tells his brothers his dreams, they ask, “מָלֹ֤ךְ תִּמְלֹךְ֙ עָלֵ֔ינוּ אִם־מָשׁ֥וֹל תִּמְשֹׁ֖ל בָּ֑נוּ?” (Bereishis 37:8), which the JPS translation renders “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” Usually this is taken to be a repeated question, the two halves meaning roughly the same thing.

The Ibn Ezra suggests otherwise. When commanding us to appoint a king, the phrase is “שׂ֣וֹם תָּשִׂ֤ים עָלֶ֨יךָ֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ – appoint for yourselves a king” (Vevarim 17:15). A melekh (king) is appointed by the masses, he rules by the acclimation of the people. This stands in contrast to the mosheil (ruler) who, however well intended, has to rule by imposing his (or His) will on them.

The brothers are saying that they weren’t ready to place Yoseif as a king over themselves. “You think you would be melekh, an accepted king over us? No, you would only stand as mosheil, in opposition to our will.”

The Vilna Gaon takes this idea and applies it to several verses we know from the siddur.

” כִּ֣י לַה’ הַמְּלוּכָ֑ה וּ֝מֹשֵׁ֗ל בַּגּוֹיִֽם׃ – For G‑d’s is the Kingship, and He rules over nations…” (Tehillim 22:29) Hashem has the Melukhah, in potential He is King. However, as the nations do not yet accept Him willingly as their King, Hashem serves for them as their mosheil.

” מַֽלְכוּתְךָ֗ מַלְכ֥וּת כָּל־עֹֽלָמִ֑ים וּ֝מֶֽמְשַׁלְתְּךָ֗ בְּכָל־דּ֥וֹר וָדֹֽר׃- Your kingship is a kingship for all eternity; and/but your rule is in every generation and generation.” (Tehillim 145:13, said in “Ashrei“) Malkhus is truly eternal. Memshalah will only last from generation to generation, through the course of history.

At the culmination of history, ” וְהָיָ֧ה ה’ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִֽהְיֶ֧ה ה’ אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃ – Hashem will be King over the entire world, on that day Hashem will be One, and His reputation will be One.” (Zechariah 14:9, Aleinu) In the messianic age, after the “generations”, Hashem will be Melekh over the other nations as well. At that time, “veyei’asu kulam agudah achas la’asos ritzonicha… – and they will all make a single union to do Your will” (High Holiday Amidah) as willing subjects of the King.


In Pachad Yitzchaq for Rosh haShanah (ma’amar 11), Rav Hutner notes a curious question in the gemara. (I discussed this earlier, in the class I gave on VeHayah im Shamo’ah, you can listen to it here.)

The first paragraph of Shema is said as a daily acceptance of G-d as King. Qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim – accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of [the One in] heaven. However, nowhere in the paragraph does the word “Melekh” actually appear! In what sense is Shema accepting Hashem’s Kingship?

The gemara in Rosh haShanah describes the structure of the Mussaf Amidah for the day, and tells us that each of the three additional berakhos should be buttressed with 10 verses from Tanakh: three from the Torah, three from Kesuvim, three from Navi, and a final verse from the Torah. In practice, this last verse is the opening verse of Shema. But the gemara, while our norm was still developing, asks whether that verse, “Shema Yisrael…” may be used as one of the verses for Malkhios. (Rosh haShanah 32b)

Rav Hutner asks: What’s the question? If we say this very verse every day for the sole purpose of accepting Hashem as King, how could it not be viable for the very same declaration on Rosh haShanah?

More so, the gemara’s source-text on the previous page (32a) for saying Malkhios altogether is from the end of Shema, “ani Hashem E‑lokeichem – I am Hashem your G‑d.” How can this be the entire basis of the obligation, and yet the words “Hashem E‑lokeinu Hashem Echad” are not only non-ideal, but the gemara can ask whether they are even sufficient to fulfill it?

Third, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of qabbalas ol Malkhus Shamayim that is part of Shema, one must also say the words “Hashem Echad“. So then why is the source for Malkhios given as “ani Hashem E-lokeichem“, a formulation that doesn’t declare Hashem as One? Why wasn’t the first verse of Shema cited?

It would seem that the manner in which this daily acceptance of ol malkhus Shamayim without actually calling Him “Melekh” is fundamentally different in kind than what we are trying to accomplish on Rosh haShanah.

Rashi explains Shema as saying, “Listen and accept Israel, Hashem, Who is our G-d now, in this world, will be, in the World to Come, One G-d [accepted by all].” In what way is G‑d’s presence in this world not unified? We do not perceive Him as One. As we learn in Pesachim (50a), it is because we do not perceive Hashem as one that we have two distinct blessings. When something good happens, we say “haTov vehaMeitiv – the Good and the Bestower of good”, but when something bad happens we say a berakhah that calls Him “Dayan haEmes – the Judge of truth”.

(As we saw in another essay, the Ketzos haChoshen understands this berakhah as accepting G‑d’s judgment as to when to hide truth, and when to allow it to be visible. The process of revealing the truth, of letting “the truth spring forth from the ground” is what we call ge’ulah. And so, this judgment of the truth only occurs before the final redemption.)

In the redeemed world, we will be able to see the good in everything, and thus Hashem’s Oneness. As we quoted from Zechariah, ” וְהָיָ֧ה ה’ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִֽהְיֶ֧ה ה’ אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃ – Hashem will be King over the entire world, on that day Hashem will be One, and His reputation will be One.”

In the first verse of Shema, we are speaking of this future time, when Hashem will be King over everything. For this idea, speaking of the latent “Hashem Echad” which we know is there, but can’t be perceived, is a critical component of the obligation. The gemara’s conclusion, that the verse may be used for Malkhios after all (which we do, as the last, 10th verse) is based on the clarification given in the rest of the paragraph, “Ve’ahavta — And you shall love Hashem your G-d and serve Him…” that the intent is also making that Platonic Kingship manifest in this world. Even though this is not explicit in the verse itself.

We also touched on this kind of Kingship along the way in our previous discussion. On the verse “כִּ֣י לַה’ הַמְּלוּכָ֑ה וּ֝מֹשֵׁ֗ל בַּגּוֹיִֽם׃ – For G‑d’s is the Kingship, and He rules over nations…” my explanation took it for granted that when speaking of malkhus as Hashem’s possession, we were referring to Kingship in potential.

Similarly, we say in Adon Olam,

אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא

לְעֵת נַעֲשָׂה בְחֶפְצוֹ כֹּל  אֲזַי מֶלֶךְ שְׁמוֹ נִקְרָא

Eternal Master Who was King before all things were created

Once He, with His Will, made all, then his name was called “King”.

Hashem is unchanging, He was King in some ideal sense even without creation. But to be a king, “ein melekh belo am – there is no king without a nation” declaring Him their King.

In Shema, we are referring to “asher Malakh”. On Rosh haShanah the goal is to make that manifest in this world – “azai Melekh shemo niqra“. Not the theory of Kingship, but actually declaring Him as King. “Hashem E-lokeikhem” even before we reach the point of “Hashem Echad“.

This is why the gemara can be unsure if Shema can be used for the obligation of Rosh haShanah. It describes the ideal of Kingship but lacks an outright statement of calling Him “Melekh“.


Why is it so essentially part of Rosh haShanah to declare our active acceptance of Hashem as King?

As we saw from Adon Olam, this is one of the reasons for which man was created. The shift from Asher Malakh before we existed to “Melekh” shemo niqra. We therefore declare His Kingship on the anniversary of the creation of Man, Rosh haShanah.

It’s interesting to note that the man-Melekh relationship is a sub-theme in Purim as well. There is no over mention of G‑d in the book of Esther. However, the Talmud tells us that each occurrence of the word “melekh” that appears in that book (without naming the king) can be understood midrashically as a reference to G‑d. When Esther approaches the king, which is apparently Achashveirosh but has some parallel in her approaching the King as well, she opens her request with the word “Uvchein” (“therefore” or “with this”). Similarly as do a number of requests in the blessing of the day for the High Holidays (and therefore the Rosh haShanah Mussaf berakhah about Divine Kingship).

When Moses asked “הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃ – Please show me Your Glory” (Shemos 33:18), Hashem’s answer was to give to him the 13 terms describing the aspects of Divine Mercy. Hashem’s Glory is his Mercy. And so, on Rosh haShanah we ask, “Meloch al kol ha’olam kulo bichvodecha -  be King over all the entire world in Your Glory” (Siddur). Thus, his “throne” is Mercy, as we say in Selichos “Keil Melekh yosheiv al kisei rachamim – G‑d, King, “sitting” on the throne of Mercy.

A Melekh need not impose His will in the same way that a Mosheil does. A Melekh, therefore, has the opportunity to act with kindness and mercy at times when a Mosheil could not. We therefore introduce High Holidays, the days of judgment, by declaring G‑d’s melukhah. By voluntarily accepting Him as king we obviate the need for G‑d to direct us on the right path through trials and tribulations. The point of Rosh haShanah is accepting Hashem as our Melekh not just in theory, but declaring our acceptance of His Reign, thereby changing His relationship to us from one of Mosheil to that of Melekh.

We, on the anniversary of Hashem creating His subjects, declare Him as King, and thereby enthrone Him as a Merciful one.

And with what? With a Shofar

אמר רבי יהודה משום רבי עקיבא … אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: … ואמרו לפני בראש השנה מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות. מלכיות: כדי שתמליכוני עליכם. זכרונות: כדי שיעלה זכרוניכם לפני לטובה. ובמה? בשופר.

Rabbi Yehudah said an idea from Rabbi Aqiva …: The Holy One, blessed be He said, “… say before Me on Rosh haShanah, Malkhios, Zikhoronos and Shoferos.
Malkhios: so that you shall make Me King over you;
Zikhoronos: so that your memories shall come before Me;
“And with what? With a shofar.”

- Rosh haShanah 16a

(Sidenote: There is a dispute as to what this implies as to the nature of the obligation. Rashi holds that these berakhos are mandatory from the Torah, if said with / as part of shofar blowing. He says that Malkhios is the essence of the day, as we see in practice we combine it with the usual holiday blessing for the day. And the words “yom zikhron teru’ah — a day of memory of horn-blasts” obligates us in Zikhronos and Shoferos. The Ritva in general holds that asmachtos, usually translated as mnemonic devices, are actually hints from G-d that an idea is a good one, but not mandatory. Thus a law from an asmachta is one that was suggested by G-d but made obligatory by the Chakhamim. Here, the Ritva says it’s an asmachta — G-d said “say before me”, but it wasn’t made mandatory until the Chakhamim codified it.)

מתנ’: כל השופרות כשרים חוץ משל פרה מפני שהוא קרן אמר רבי יוסי והלא כל השופרות נקראו קרן שנאמר (יהושוע ו) במשוך בקרן היובל:

גמ’: … עולא אמר היינו טעמא דרבנן כדרב חסדא דאמר רב חסדא מפני מה אין כהן גדול נכנס בבגדי זהב לפני ולפנים לעבוד עבודה לפי שאין קטיגור נעשה סניגור

Mishnah: Every shofar is kosher except for that of a cow, because it’s called “qeren“. Rabbi Yosi said: but isn’t every shofar called “qeren“,  as it says “In the middle of the qeren of the yoveil” (Yehoshua 6)?

Gemara: Ula said: What is the reason for the Rabbanan [the unnamed first opinion in the mishnah]? [Because they rule] like Rav Chisda. For Rav Chisda said: Why doesn’t the kohein gadol wear the bigei zahav — [his full uniform, including] the golden clothes when lifnai velifnim — before Me and within [the Holy of Holies]? Because a prosecutor can not be turned into the defense attourney.

- Rosh haShanah 26a

Rav Dovid Lifshitz addressed these gemaras in his pre-Rosh haShanah shiur of 1989. (See here for an entry that opens with another thought from that talk.)

Notice that the kohein gadol did wear the full bigdei zahav the rest of Yom Kippur, including when doing the other parts of the service of the very same qorban! The notion that ein qeteigor naaseh saneigor, that the prosecution can’t become the defense, is not a law in atonement, it’s a law in lifnai velifnim.

What then does it mean when this rule applies to shofar? Rashi points out that the gemara is assuming a comparison — listening to the shofar is tantamount to entering the Holy of Holies, only performed by the kohein gadol on Yom Kippur!

To add something of my own to this thought, in the Sifra’s version of the thought Rabbi Yehudah repeated from R’ Aqiva, it concludes, “ובמה? בשופר של חרות — And with what? with a shofar of freedom.”  As Yeshaiah writes (27:12) “יג וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִתָּקַע֮ בְּשׁוֹפָ֣ר גָּדוֹל֒ וּבָ֗אוּ הָאֹֽבְדִים֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ אַשּׁ֔וּר וְהַנִּדָּחִ֖ים בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם וְהִשְׁתַּֽחֲו֧וּ לַֽה’ בְּהַ֥ר הַקֹּ֖דֶשׁ בִּירֽוּשָׁלִָֽם׃ — And it will be on that day, he will blow a great shofar, and those lost in Ashur and those taken captive in Egypt will come and they will bow to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”

Similarly, the shofar‘s blow at the shemittah year declared the freedom of slaves. A slave who refuses his freedom, preferring to live under his master’s patronage, has his ear pierced.  The ear that heard “ki avadai heim — for they are My servants” (Vayiqra 25:42) should know “My servants — and not servants to my servants” (Bava Metzi’ah 10a).

Cheirus appears associated with the tablets, which rested in the ark in the center of the Holy of Holies.”חָר֖וּת עַל־הַלֻּחֹֽת׃’ “אל תקרי חָרוּת אלא חֵרוּת — ‘engraved (charus) on the tablets’ (Shemos 32:16) — don’t read ‘charus‘ (engraved), rather ‘cheirus (freedom).” Note also how Yeshaiah associates the shofar’s call with coming to the Temple Mount. The shofar‘s call to freedom would seem to be an echo of the freedom engraved on the luchos.

Back to rebbe’s shiur…

Remember the feeling when you first came to the Kotel. The wall which Hashem promised us would stand until the end of time, whose persistence is testimony to our relationship with Him. And you reach the stones, the wall around the Temple Mount, and the feeling is overwhelming. Picture the emotions one would have being able to actually enter the courtyard. To be a kohein entering the Temple itself. To be the kohein gadol, after a week of preparation, now on the holiest day of the year busy with the holiest of service, to enter lifnai velifnim.

That’s Shofar.

How does one accept Hashem as Melekh, and remember our faults so that He remembers our potential? At that moment — “with the shofar.”

(Rebbe actually presented this thought before giving a source. After the students were entranced with the rebbe’s great chiddush, his passionate novellum, he asked one of them to read the Rashi and Tosafos. Had they known it was “just a Rashi”, they wouldn’t have listened the same.)