with Rav Avigdor Miller
Kingdom and Glory
Part I. Seeing His Kingdom
Foundation of The Day
When we come to study the great day of Rosh Hashanah, we take note of what is written in the sefer Yesod V’shoresh Ha’avodah: “Achai v’rayai,” he says, “My brothers, my friends; you know that in the tefillos of the Yamim Nora’im, the chief theme is kevod Shamayim.” וְתִמְלֹךְ אַתָּה הַשֵּׁם לְבַדֶּךָ עַל כָּל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ — “You, Hashem, should reign alone over all of Your works.”That’s the prayer of the day; the crux of the avodas hayom on Rosh Hashanah is proclaiming Hashem Melech — Hashem is the King.
Now, the truth is that the Torah doesn’t explain to us very much about this important day. All it says about Rosh Hashanah is: יוֹם תְּרוּעָה יִהְיֶה לָכֶם — It should be a day of teruah for you (Bamidbar 29:1). But what this teruah is all about we don’t really know — the Torah doesn’t tell us anything. However, even though it might not be so evident in the words of the Torah what the shofar is meant to teach us or even what Rosh Hashanah is about altogether, when you look in the seder hatefillah you see that Rosh Hashanah is all about malchiyos; everything revolves around Hashem’s kingship. There are other aspects too, but even the zichronos and shofros are connected to the first element, the element of Hashem Melech.
Hashem is King – that’s the foundation of the day; actually it seems to be all that we speak about. Whatever tefillos we say on Rosh Hashanah — and we say many — we’re always mentioning His malchus. And not only mentioning it – we’re begging for Him to reign over us: מְלוֹךְ עַל כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ בִּכְבוֹדֶּךָ — Hashem; Please reign over all the world in Your glory.
A Different Type of King
Now, to our ears such a request seems to be very superfluous. All day long we’re standing on our feet imploring, “Hashem should reign forever!” We’re falling on our faces and we’re begging Him, we’re entreating Him with tears, “Please, Hashem, reign over the world.”
Now, isn’t that silly? Hakodosh Boruch Hu, after all, is not like a melech basar v’dam! A human king is a ruler only if he has subjects. When one of the chief barons approaches a fellow baron in the name of all of the nobility and he bestows upon him a belt of royalty and a scepter and says, “We are your subjects! Rule over us!” so he becomes the king. He has subjects upon whom he can rule now, so he’s a king. And if he doesn’t have a group of people that say he’s the king, then he’s not a king. Could be he’ll imagine himself king, but actually he’s nothing.
But Hakodosh Boruch Hu is not that type of king. He needs our recognition like I need a hole in my shoe. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is not interested in the acclaim of humanity. As mentioned a number of times here, all of humanity to Hakodosh Boruch Hu is no more than all the bacteria in this rug right here. If all the millions of bacteria in this rug would all come together and applaud one of us sitting here, that man wouldn’t be affected at all. It wouldn’t mean a thing to him.
Understanding Our Prayer
And that’s about as much as Hashem needs the acclaim of humanity; He doesn’t need anyone to proclaim Him king because He’s essentially the Melech; He’s intrinsically King. That’s what Dovid Hamelech said: הַשֵּׁם מָלָךְ גֵּאוּת לָבֵשׁ – Hashem reigned, He is clothed in majesty. But it’s not the majesty that others put on him; לָבֵשׁ הַשֵּׁם עֹז — Hakodosh Boruch Hu is clothed with a strength, הִתְאַזָר, that He girded Himself (Tehillim 93:1). הִתְאַזָר is a reflexive verb. It means “He girded Himself.” Nobody put a crown on His head. Nobody gave Him a royal belt and made Him great. He doesn’t need anyone else to make Him King because He was always king; even before Creation. And He’ll always be king no matter what! הַשֵּׁם מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד – He’s the king forever, אָבְדוּ גּוֹיִם מֵאַרְצוֹ – and even if all the nations would disappear from His world, He’s still the King (Tehillim 10:16).
And so, it’s a big question: What’s this Rosh Hashanah business all about? We have to give Him a mi shebeirach that He should be a king forever?! Why are we asking Him to reign over the world?! Of course, we’re happy to say it. We’ll read the words from the machzor; why not – it doesn’t cost us any money. But just to say words and not understand them is a pity, a great pity. What are we doing on Rosh Hashanah all day long?
Goodness and GloryGlory
And so, we’ll explain this by means of an important principle. We say in our tefillah (Yotzer – Shachris) טוֹב יָצַר כָּבוֹד לִשְׁמוֹ – the Good One created all this glory for His name. Hashem is called the Good One, and it says here that He created all of this glory for His name. All of the kindliness and wisdom we see in this world, the Good One created in order to glorify Himself.
The question is, if He created everything for the glory of His name, how is that a sign that He’s the good one? If a person does something good not for the sake of being recognized but just for somebody else’s benefit, that’s when you can say he’s a good one. But if he performs deeds of kindliness and his motive is only to be recognized you wouldn’t call him “The Good One.”
And yet, that’s what it says there: טוֹב יָצַר, the Good One — that’s Hashem — created everything, כָּבוֹד לִשְׁמוֹ, for the purpose of bringing glory to His name. It’s a contradiction. If He did this because He is good, if He made this universe because He is kind and benevolent, then He didn’t do it to glorify His name.
The Greatest Accomplishment
The answer is that there is no paradox; both principles are true. And that’s because the greatest good that can be bestowed on anybody, the greatest benevolence that can be bestowed on any man, is if you make him aware of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The greatest achievement you could make in this world is to recognize that Hashem is the King – that He is everything to us!
And so we read the possuk like this: Because He’s the Tov, therefore, yatzar. Because He’s good and He wants to bestow good, that’s why He created us – in order that we should have the opportunity to achieve the perfection of kavod shemo, of recognizing Him as king. That’s our success in this world! The greatest accomplishment we could possibly achieve is making Hashem reign over us; it means understanding, recognizing, feeling, knowing implicitly that Hashem Melech, that Hashem reigns over the world. That’s the greatest perfection of man in this world! The more you are aware, the more you feel that you’re standing in the presence of the King, the more perfection you have acquired. There’s nothing higher in life. רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה יִרְאַת הַשֵּׁם — The greatest and the highest of wisdom is for a man to feel the presence of Hashem.
That’s why He made you and that’s why He made the world. And that’s why the Good One is bestowing good things upon us all the time. It’s the reason you ate breakfast today and it’s the reason why you’ll eat supper too – so that you should become more aware of Hashem Melech. That’s why you have eyes and feet and a liver. That’s why it rains and that’s why there’s a sun in the sky. Everything is being given to us so that we should have more opportunities to recognize the King who’s giving it to us. He is bestowing millions of benefits on mankind; all kinds of good things we’re enjoying and all of them have one common purpose — כָּבוֹד לִשְׁמוֹ, to bring us to recognize the Creator.
We must get that into our heads. The fundamental purpose of all the things in the world is to demonstrate that Somebody made them. That’s the foundation for understanding all of reality. Whatever you see in this world has the purpose of making you aware of the Creator. All day long, wherever you turn, whatever you see, it should be reminding you that Hashem Melech – that He’s the One who made that.
The World is a Distraction
Only that it’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s difficult sometimes to recognize Hashem in this world because there are so many things that distract us. “גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם — Hashem put the love of the world into men’s hearts, מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִמְצָא הָאָדָם אֶת הַמַּעֲשֶׂה — so that people shouldn’t discover the work of creation, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים מֵרֹאשׁ וְעַד סוֹף — that He made from beginning to end (Koheles 3:11). It’s all His, but it takes effort to see Him.
Hashem didn’t want us to see that He’s everything in this world. That would be too easy; it wouldn’t be a test for us and life wouldn’t be worth living. And so He puts into this world bicycles for children. He puts automobiles for grownups. He puts in good times and good food. He puts marriage and children and money. All the things, some of them mitzvos, some not — whatever it is, people are busy all the time. Parnassah, ambition, making a living, entertainment, this and that, streets and cities and newspapers and neighbors and bungalows. Everything in the world is working hard so that people should get their minds off Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
Now, I’ll explain that a little more, a little more deeply. You remember when Hashem created the world, He said, “Yehi ohr — Let there be light.” And there was light. “וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר — And there was night and day.”The earth turned toward the light and away from the light, and that’s how there was day and night. Now, where did that light come from? Did it come from the sun? No; there was no sun yet on the first day. So where did it come from? It had to be coming from somewhere if the earth’s revolution was causing day and night. So what was the source of this light?
And the answer is that it came mei’ayin, it came from nothing. It came from Hashem, yesh mei’ayin. Light is energy, you know. It came from Hashem’s energy. Aleph-lamed, Eil, means energy. Hashem said, “Let light start pouring out to this world,” and light poured forth. It was light streaming forth from a certain point but without a source because there was no sun yet! It was light emanating from nowhere.
Now, had we been around at that time, we would have been impressed by that great lesson. Where does light come from? Light comes from Hashem! If we could have been there at that time before the sun existed, we would have become aware of Hashem like nobody’s business. “Look! The light comes directly from Hashem. There’s nothing else except Hashem. He’s the power of the world. Aleph-lamed, He is the Eil. He is the source of all energy.” That would have been a tremendous achievement of awareness that Hashem Melech; that would have been a Rosh Hashanah to remember!
The Darkness of the Sun
But what happened? Three days later, Hashem created the sun and brought darkness to the world. Now, the sun seems to us a great gift because it illuminates the world. Every day the sun pours forth millions of tons of horsepower of energy in the form of light onto this earth — that’s what keeps the world functioning. We can only see because of the sun; we only eat because of the sun. We live only because of the sun.
But the truth is that the sun darkens the world. The sun constantly conceals the truth because now you look at the sun and you think the sun is the one that gives us the light. And that’s the great deception, the great sheker, of the sun. Because really the sun has no light. It’s only Hakodosh Boruch Hu using the sun as a lantern. It’s still His energy, only that now, instead of seeing energy coming from space without any cause except Hashem Himself, we’re deceived into thinking it comes from the sun.
And what happens as a result? As a result, millions of people worshipped the sun instead of worshipping Hashem. And even we, l’havdil, don’t worship the sun, but when we see the sun, we think it’s the sun that produces the light. We know that the sun has thermonuclear processes. It’s like an atom bomb exploding constantly, a hydrogen bomb exploding over and over again producing energy that comes down here in the form of light energy. We know all about it!
Oh no! We think we know, but it’s all a deception. It’s only an excuse not to see the truth. The real truth was before the sun. The real truth is that everything is only Hashem and everything else is concealing Him.
Revealing the Secret
And therefore, it’s so important to be able to see through the world and not be deceived by it. יוֹשֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן – the Most High One dwells in secret. Hashem is operating in secret; everything seems to be working on its own. אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים לַעֲשׂוֹת, Hashem created things that they should continue to work on their own. That’s how it’s made to appear to us. The sun comes up, goes down, comes up again. The rain cycle — the water evaporates from the ocean, the winds blow the clouds over land, it rains, the water runs back into the oceans, and the cycle starts again. It’s la’asos —the world runs on its own!
Oh no! Nothing doing! It’s only a dream. It’s imagination. Hashem is doing everything! Hashem Melech! Don’t think Hashem stopped being involved; that He gave it over to nature and retired from business. He’s there all the time! Only that instead of seeing Him openly, you’re being deceived by what looks like nature.
And our job is to open up our eyes. The malachim — their eyes are open right now and they say מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ — The world is filled with His glory, because they see right now the truth. But we don’t; we’re deceived by nature, and therefore we say, וְיִמָּלֵא כְבוֹדוֹ אֶת כֹּל הָאָרֶץ, the time should come when His glory will fill the world, and then everybody will see that Hashem is the One Who fills the world. We’re always striving to become more and more aware that there’s nothing else. אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּוֹ – There’s nothing but Hashem. Hashem Melech, and nothing else is anything.
Part II. Accepting His Kingdom
Recognizing The Kingdom
And now we come back to Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the opportunity to renew in our minds this important principle. Because every time you say, “Hashem Melech” on Rosh Hashanah, you’re not merely repeating a pizmon from the machzor – you’re declaring the yesod hayesodos!
Every “Hashem Melech” is a new opportunity to implant in your mind the conviction that Hakodosh Boruch Hu — Hashem, Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay —is the Wisdom of the world, He is the Kindliness of the world, and בִּדְבַר הַשֵּׁם שָׁמַיִם נַעֲשׂוּ the entire world is nothing but the word that came out of His mouth. Actually, there is no world – the world is nothing but the dvar Hashem. And on Rosh Hashanah all we speak about is this most important fact in the world, the yesod hayesodos, that Hashem is the King and that there is no other force, no other power beside Him.
And so, when we say וְתִמְלֹךְ אַתָּה — And You should reign, we’re not encouraging Hashem to be king; we’re encouraging ourselves to recognize that He’s king! We’re asking that Hashem should reign in the minds of men; in our minds. We pray that we should recognize that there is one Designer for the universe, and that He has one design that stretches from the beginning of creation to the end of history. That’s called malchus. That’s a Melech! Everything is done with a plan; it’s altz g’cheshbont. It’s all arranged with a perfect seder — and everything was made for this purpose, that Mankind should arrive at the understanding that Hashem is in charge.
Charity Begins at Home
And so when we stand in shul tomorrow and we say וְתִמְלֹךְ אַתָּה הַשֵּׁם לְבַדֶּךָ עַל כָּל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ — Hashem, You should reign alone on all of Your creations, realize that you yourself are the creation you’re talking about. What we’re actually saying is that we are most in need of this supplication. We’re davening for ourselves – we’re asking Hashem to give us success in understanding that Hashem Melech. We’re not concerned about the Hottentots in the jungle that they should see that Hashem is king. If you’ll stand on your feet all day on Rosh Hashanah saying וְתִמְלֹךְ … עַל כָּל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, and you’re thinking “Oh, Hashem! You should rule over everyone! Show Yourself and rule over the Hottentots and the Mexicans and the Scandinavians; all the goyim should recognize you” – if you’re thinking that, you have it all wrong. No, that’s not what Rosh Hashanah is about. Rosh Hashanah is all about you – it’s about you recognizing that Hashem is the King in your life.
Now, of course we wouldn’t begrudge the goyim if they also said Hashem Melech. We’d be happy if the Mohammedans and the Notzrim and the savages in the interior jungles of Central America would also be mamlich Hashem Elokei Yisroel. And one day they will, no question about it. But that’s not our business right now – you have to be worried most about the interior of yourself. What about you?! Charity begins at home. The most important question is: Is He in charge of you? That’s your biggest concern, yourself. You have to know that Hashem is King. That’s the first and most important step of living successfully.
Yom Kippur Should Have Been First
And now we can understand the answer to a big question that has bothered many people. Why is it that Yom Kippur comes after Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah is the Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgement. It’s a great sakanah, Rosh Hashanah. It’s a time when Hakodosh Boruch Hu inscribes us l’chayim or some other option. Many people are nichtav v’nechtam on Rosh Hashanah – their fate is sealed on this day. But we’re not ready to be judged yet! It’s very frightening because we are going to be judged according to what we are, and we didn’t do enough teshuvah yet. If on Rosh Hashanah, the chovah side, the side of accusation is heavier chas v’shalom, then you won’t get a second chance.
So wouldn’t it be worthwhile if instead of talking about Hashem Melech all day on Rosh Hashanah, we would spend the whole day saying, “Forgive us for this sin, and for that sin, and for this sin.” At least you might get one sin off the scale! And as the side of chovos becomes lighter, the side of zechuyos becomes greater. So why don’t we spend time on Rosh Hashanah saying עַל חֵטְא שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ? That seems to us the more sensible approach. In a time of danger, you have to throw overboard all the ballasts so the ship shouldn’t sink. We have to throw overboard whatever sins we can and save ourselves. You could save your life on Rosh Hashanah by means of saying al cheit! So how can we “waste” time on Rosh Hashanah talking about malchus Hashem, saying “Hashem Melech, Hashem Melech” all day long, when we’re in the greatest danger?
Maybe we should have Yom Kippur before Rosh Hashanah. We would say viduy and do teshuvah all day long, and have the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and then, when Rosh Hashanah finally comes, we’re already cleansed of all our sins and we can get busy proclaiming Hashem Melech. That’s how it should be — Yom Kippur should come before Rosh Hashanah! But no, we postpone teshuva until later, until after Yom Hadin, and instead of doing teshuva and saying עַל חֵטְא all day long, we’re busy saying וְתִמְלֹךְ אַתָּה הַשֵּׁם לְבַדֶּךָ – we’re praying that You, Hashem, become our King. It’s a big kasha.
The Highest Form of Teshuva
And the answer is that of course you have to do teshuva on Rosh Hashanah! But what’s the first thing we have to rectify? What’s the greatest teshuvah we could do? Saying “Hashem Melech!” Proclaiming Hashem as King is the biggest teshuvah you can do! We can’t waste time saying עַל חֵטְא שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ on Rosh Hashanah; we can’t be busy enumerating this cheit and that cheit, because there’s one very big cheit we have to take care of first!There’s one overall failure of Mankind that must be rectified on Rosh Hashanah before anything else and that’s the failure to recognize that Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed. This little cheit or that little cheit you’ll worry about that later. There’ll be time for that during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva and Yom Kippur. All of our chata’im are minor things. They’re all toldos; they’re all results of that one big cheit. And today, on the first day of the year, we’re dealing with the big cheit, the one that causes all others, and that’s forgetting about Hakodosh Boruch Hu, forgetting that He’s the King.
That’s a very important piece of advice you’re hearing now. Saying Hashem Melech is the most important form of teshuva, and that’s what Hakodosh Boruch Hu will consider most when He thinks about our fate for the year to come. The more a person gets into his blood the spirit of הַשֵּׁם יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד, the more he deserves to live. And so, all day long we stand on our feet and shout הַשֵּׁם מֶלֶךְ הַשֵּׁם מָלָךְ הַשֵּׁם יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. He’ll forever be the King in our minds — no matter how many things are in the world that try to make us forget about Him. That’s the secret of saving your life on Rosh Hashanah because now you understand what life is for! The secret of another year of life is to get “Hashem Melech” into your blood.
Awareness for All Year
Now, isn’t it a pity that a lot of people come on Rosh Hashanah to shul and never once think of this principle that Rosh Hashanah represents. A thousand other things they’ll think about, but not the ikar. And it’s so very essential that we do think about it because a person’s judgment on Rosh Hashanah depends on his realization of this principle. That’s the biggest teshuvah; to internalize that there’s nothing else in the world. That’s what has to get into our heads — that there is nothing intrinsic in our lives other than Hashem. It’s all a deception. Money, cars, houses – even children – everything in this world is a deception. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the only entity that exists in the world, and therefore on this day we get busy reminding ourselves, we get busy engraving into our minds that He is everything — Hashem Melech!
Rosh Hashanah comes to recharge our batteries and to give us the Awareness that we need for all year long. And that’s why we should labor all day long thinking about Hakodosh Boruch Hu as the Melech Ha’olam. So as you stand in shul on Rosh Hashanah and the chazan is singing tra-la-la, you can think – you can sing along too, but you should think, “Tra-la-la, Hashem Melech! Tra-la-la, we’re singing to announce the reign of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Today is the day I’m committing myself to a year of reminding myself as much as I possibly can that Hashem is my King!”
The Ancient Commitment
And that was the commitment that the Am Yisroel made to Hakodosh Boruch Hu at the Yam Suf. If you go back to the beginning of our history you’ll remember that when the Am Yisroel stood at the Yam Suf they made a great declaration. They said a number of things there, but we’re going to listen to the last thing they said. You know, when you write a shtar, a legal document, so you have to be chozer b’shitah achronah – you have to repeat the contents of the document on the last line. You sum everything up at the end – like they say in America, “What’s the bottom line?” The bottom line; that’s what matters. And what’s the bottom line, l’havdil, of the shiras hayam? The last thing they said was הַשֵּׁם יִמְלֹךְ לְעֹלָם וָעֶד — Hashem will reign supreme forever and ever.
It was a shevuah they were taking: “We’re proclaiming now that Hashem is our King forever.” Not a king in the sense of a mashal, some vague idea; a word in the siddur that means almost nothing at all. “He’s actually our King,” they said, “and from now on we take orders only from Him.” That was the promise they made at the Yam Suf: “We are going to announce always that Hashem Melech, and we’re going to live our lives according to those two words.” And our job in this world is to continue that commitment that our fathers and mothers made at the Yam Suf; to proclaim Hashem as King over ourselves all the days of our lives.
A New Way of Life
Not only on Rosh Hashanah. Even on a regular Wednesday afternoon you should remind yourself about the commitment you made on Rosh Hashanah: “Oh yes, I remember that day in the shul. The chazan was singing tra-la-la, and I was telling myself that Hashem is the King.” So you’re walking in the street on Kings Highway and the sun is shining and you remind yourself, “There’s no sun! It’s all Hashem Melech doing everything.” And when you pass by the fruit stand, again, “There’s no fruit in that fruit bin – it’s the dvar Hashem!” You can shout it too: “Hashem Melech!” Wait till the train comes by and there’s such a loud noise from the train and the cars and the trucks, no one will hear you. Shout “Hashem Melech!”
And when you come into the house and you want to drink a glass of water, same thing: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם. Every time you say a bracha you mention that – Melech ha’olam; He’s the King of the World. כָּל בְּרָכָה שֶׁאֵין בָּהּ מַלְכוּת אֵינָהּ בְּרָכָה — “Any bracha you say without mentioning the kingship of Hashem is not a bracha” (Brachos 12a). It’s not something added in derech agav, just something poetic we say — like other nations have kings, so we’ll also say we have a king. No, this king is the real thing. All the other ones are the wrong address. Hashem Melech! Hashem is my King! That’s what you have to be getting into your head all the time. Whatever you do, wherever you are, you’re always saying Melech Ha’olam. We’re always putting that idea into our thoughts: “He’s my King.” That’s the life of a Jew – it’s a life of proclaiming that Hashem is our King.
That’s our success in this world — achieving awareness of Hashem as the Melech, the only One with true power, wisdom, and kindliness. And if we would come into this world just to understand that theme, if we’d just get into our thick heads that Hashem is the King — omnipotent, wise, and kindly — then we’ve lived successfully. And then, when our time is up, we would go to eternal happiness as a result of having achieved the purpose of our existence.
Part III. Declaring His Kingdom
Understanding the Shofar
And now we can come back to Yom Teruah; to understanding what the shofar of Rosh Hashana is all about. Everyone knows that when we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, it’s saying עוּרוּ יְשֵׁנִים, Wake up, you sleepers. That’s what the Rambam writes: עוּרוּ יְשֵׁנִים מִשְּׁנַתְכֶם וְּנִרְדָּמִין הָקִיצוּ מִתַּרְדְּמַתְכֶם – You people who are fast asleep, awaken from your slumber!
Wake up for what? Now, we could say, “Wake up and remember this aveirah,” or “Wake up and do teshuva for that aveirah” — we could have said that. But we’re learning now that fundamentally what the shofar is saying is, “Wake up and think about Hashem Melech.” Wake up and think about what we’re speaking about here tonight.
Now, I know the mefarshim say many kavanos for tekiyas shofar, and in the machzor I’m sure you’ll find a number of explanations for why we blow shofar, but it’s actually our old friend Bilaam who came and explained the possuk of יוֹם תְּרוּעָה יִהְיֶה לָכֶם — It should be a day of blowing for you.
The Royal Trumpet
When Bilaam spoke b’nevuah about the Am Yisroel, he said: וּתְרוּעַת מֶלֶךְ בּוֹ — And a shouting for the king is among them” (Bamidbar 23:21). What is our teruah? It’s a teruas melech, a shouting for our king.
That’s why we blow the shofar. That was the practice in the olden days — when a king began his reign, it was announced by the blowing of trumpets. And on Rosh Hashanah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu is announced as the Melech. עָלָה אֱלֹקִים בִּתְרוּעָה — Hashem ascends by means of the sound of the trumpet (Tehillim 47:6). Of course, we already explained that He doesn’t need our coronation to ascend the throne. We won’t make Him any more of a melech no matter how much we blow. It’s silly; a little man on this earth takes a ram, saws off its horn, stands up in shul, and gives a blow, tooo-tooo-tooo, and Hashem becomes elevated thereby?! The Creator of the universe who created billions of star worlds in which this earth is a speck of dust, and because one human being or a thousand or even a million human beings blow on the shofar, so He becomes exalted now from tooo-tooo-tooo? Of course not.
So what is meant when we say עָלָה אֱלֹקִים בִּתְרוּעָה? The answer is that Hashem becomes exalted in our minds by means of our announcing His kingship. He is elevated in the minds of Mankind when they announce His sovereignty by blowing the shofar. That’s the purpose of the shofar — to remind ourselves that Hashem is the King. And so the shofar comes along on Rosh Hashanah and blows: Toooo-toooo-toooooo! Wake up, you sleepers. Wake up, it’s Rosh Hashanah.
So as you stand in shul on Rosh Hashanah and the ba’al tokei’a is blowing, you’re waking yourself up; you’re thinking: “The most important thing right now is Hashem Melech. We’re announcing the reign of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.” That’s what has to get into our heads — that there is nothing intrinsic in our lives other than Hashem.
The Shofar – Through Thick and Thin
And that’s what the shofar is always telling us. It says in the Torah (Bamidbar 10:9): וְכִי תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם — When there comes a war in your land, and you have to fight against the invaders, וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת וֲנִזְכַּרְתֶּם לִפְנֵי הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, so you should blow shofar and Hashem will hear. Then it says right after that possuk, (ibid. 10:10), וּבְיוֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶם וּבְמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם — On the days when you come together to rejoice, וּתְקַעְתֶּם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת, you’ll also blow shofar. What is this shofar that it has two different purposes, one for crying out for help and one for rejoicing?
The answer is what we’ve been speaking about all along. We’re saying two things here but both are one. The shofar that you use in a time of tzarah, chalilah, to cry out for help, that shofar means we don’t go to anyone else for help. Even though we have an army, even though we have weapons, it’s nothing. It’s only You, Hashem — You are the One Who leads us into battle. When we cry out with a shofar against our enemies, we are declaring that we have no outlook for any kind of help except from You alone: אֵין לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ אֶלָּא אָתָּה – “We have only one hope and that’s You, Hashem.” And that’s because we know that it’s all You anyhow. There’s no enemy and there’s no enemy battle plans – it’s all You. That’s the shofar of ki savo’u milchama b’artzichem.
Hashem Melech In The Camps
And that’s why when the Jews were in the concentration camps, when some were going to their deaths, the good ones didn’t forget. The ones who forgot that Hashem is Melech, the ones who were not frum before or who were not frum enough — they saw Nazis and crematorium; they saw concentration camps and whips and tortures, but they didn’t see Hashem. But the frummeh, the good ones always said, “Hashem Melech.” “All this is bluff,” they said. “It doesn’t cause us for a moment to forget the truth.” And the truth is that Hashem is in control of everything. And when even in the midst of all this darkness we recognize the truth of Hashem — that’s where we achieve our greatest success.
Not only in the concentration camps. We call out to Hakodosh Boruch Hu for help all day long; we say Refa’einu, Hashem — Please, Hashem, heal us from our illnesses. Barech aleinu —Send us parnassah so we should have something to eat. We’re crying out to Hashem all day long because that’s how we declare Him our Melech. “Whatever we need, only You can make it happen.”
Hashem Melech In The Fields
Now, that’s only one side. But suppose you’re successful in your life. You brought in your crops. You harvested your field. You have wine. You have oil. You have plenty of grain. You’re happy. So now you come together on yom tov to celebrate: Chag Ha’asif, Chag Habikkurim, youhave to blow the shofar. בְיוֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶם וּבְמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם — On the yamim tovim, we blow the shofar. Why blow then? Same thing. To show that it comes from Hashem. It comes from You, Hashem! We blow the shofar to say, “You’re the King!”
Here you have a farmer who worked all summer. He plowed his field. He planted. He harvested. He threshed the grain. He winnowed it. He ground it. It’s hard work being a farmer. And now, after it’s all over, he has in front of him a piece of bread on the table. What does he say? He says בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵנּוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ. You’re the One who did it. I didn’t do anything. All of my labor is nothing; it’s all you. So בְיוֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶם, when you blow shofar and say, “Hashem Melech,” you’re announcing that all of your happiness, all of your success comes only from Hashem. All that is included in teruas melech, announcing Hashem as King.
Hashem Melech At The Chasuna
And even when a man goes to his wedding — Ah! It’s a sasson v’simchah, he’s drunk with happiness. Everybody’s dancing and singing. The orchestra is playing. But it’s all nothing. While he’s standing under the chuppah there are so many distractions: “Is my tie straight?” “Is the ring still in my pocket?” “Is Uncle Max getting a kibud?” But instead, he’s thinking only one thing: “Hashem Melech!” Don’t forget Hashem for one moment. He is right there next to you, between you and the kallah. He’s there! Don’t forget about Him. The kallah too shouldn’t forget! Nothing in the world should make you forget Hashem.
That’s the lesson the Torah wants us to learn: When the enemies come into your land, what’s the first response? Blow the shofar and remind yourself that Hashem Melech! And when the days of happiness come, the yom simchaschem, what’s your response? Same thing! Blow the shofar and declare, “Hashem Melech!”
Don’t Get Lost In The Details
That’s what Bilaam meant when he said, וּתְרוּעַת מֶלֶךְ בּוֹ – it’s a nation that is always talking about their King. They’re always shouting for Him! Frum Jews live by the Shulchan Aruch but you have to know that the higher Shulchan Aruch is written in the Chumash; the Shulchan Aruch is only a peirush on the Chumash. So the first of all of our obligations is to think about what it says in the Chumash. That’s number one.That’s the first Shulchan Aruch of all and in the Chumash it says that this is the power of the Am Yisroel. הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקָיו עִמּוֹ — Hashem their G-d is with them. Do you know why? וּתְרוּעַת מֶלֶךְ בּוֹ — because they are always proclaiming Him King.
Now, that’s so important that it cannot be overemphasized. People fall into the habit of forgetting the yesodos. They’re thinking about this halachah, that sugya. They’re thinking only about the details, and after a while they forget that Hashem Melech. Of course, it’s good to be frum; it’s excellent. Wear your tzitzis out. Beautiful! Wear black hats. Excellent! Wear peyos. Be mekayeim mitzvos. Very good, very good! But you have to know that the number one requirement of a Jew is to think about Hashem.
The First New Year’s Resolution
And so, when people look forward to the ensuing year and are thinking, “What program, what resolution, should I adopt that would cause me to find favor in the eyes of Hashem and make me deserving of another chance?” this is what they should think about first: “I’m going to make Hashem my king.”
You should try it once in a while. Once in a while, make some time to think about Hashem. Get in the habit of keeping your mind as much as possible on Hashem – you can start with just a minute or two. You have to exercise your thinking muscles by focusing for one minute or two minutes. It’s not easy but that’s the most important endeavor that we are expected to achieve in this life. Once you get the knack of it, you’ll keep adding. And if you grab onto it and don’t let go, you can look forward to great things. You’ll be from the exceptional ones who think about Hashem all their lives — during the day in the streets, when you’re at work, in the yeshiva where you’re learning, at home with the children. You’ll get up with Hashem Melech and you’ll go to sleep with Hashem Melech. Ah! Now that’s a life worth living.
Living For The King
Every year we ask for another chance, and now we understand that if we look forward to a career of deveikus, of thinking about Hashem, of keeping Hashem in our minds as much as possible, then we have a certain bargaining card with Hashem. We could tell Him, “Please, Hakodosh Boruch Hu, we are going to be avadim who recognize Your malchus. We’re going to declare Hashem Melech throughout the year — not merely by saying the words, but by living in consonance with the principle that Hashem is everything. And then we’ll be living for a purpose.”
So Rosh Hashanah is not only for the coming year. Many times Rosh Hashanah is a day that has ramifications for one’s whole life. That’s how it is for a person who makes use of Rosh Hashanah. And not only in this life — the Next World, too. When you blow shofar and you thinking וּתְרוּעַת מֶלֶךְ בּוֹ, it’s a proclamation that Hashem is our Melech. All our hopes are on Him; all our loyalty is to Him. And if you say that, if you put that truth into your head, then Hashem says, “If so, then you’re going to be with Me forever and ever. אֲנִי הַשֵּׁם לֹא שָׁנִיתִי — I, Hashem, never changed, וְאַתֶּם בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב לֹא כְלִיתֶם — and you, too, will never come to an end. (Malachi 3:6) You make Me your King in this world and I will be with you forever, in this world and in the World to Come.”
לְשָׁנָה טוֹבָה תִּכָּתֵבוּ וְתֵחָתֵמּוּ