(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 Amidah – Malkhios (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.