To grasp the essence of Rosh Hashanah and the Malchuyos (which mention pesukim during the tefillah that declare Hashem's kingship over the world, in accordance with the Gemora [Rosh Hashanah 34b]), we must remember that the Zohar (Ra'ya Mehemna, Pinchas 225a) teaches us that man's main goal in Olam Hazeh is to reach a clear recognition that "a person has nothing of his own."
When we study this deeper we will understand that the recognition of man's having no innate powers builds his spiritual foundation. It gradually transforms him into a servant of Hashem in the most elevated form possible.
The Zohar's message to us is that people have nothing they can call their own. They are alive only because the Creator is this very moment providing them with life and strength to serve Him. (It is superfluous to add that Hashem does not need our avodoh at all, since "If you are righteous, what do you give to Him?" [Iyov 35:7] and "If you have sinned, what are you doing against Him?" [Ibid., v. 6]. Hashem's only reason for creating the world was to benefit those people whom He had created, as Dovid Hamelech writes [Tehillim 89:3], "For I have said, The world is built by chesed," and the greatest chesed Hashem does is supplying people with the power to serve Him.)
When a person lives with this feeling, when it fills his whole substance, when he has no doubts about it, he will surely not sin. No person has yet been born so brazen who can reason, "Although at this moment the Creator is furnishing me with power to serve Him, I will take those same powers and use them for the opposite of serving Him." The root of sin is man's mistaken thinking of himself as possessing his own power. With these powers he thinks are his own, he can sin.
We now understand what the Vilna Gaon means in his Even Shleimoh when he writes that "the basis of all sins is middos." Furthermore, the root of all faulty middos (character traits) is pride. A haughty person assumes that the powers he receives as a present from the Creator, to serve Him with, are actually his own. It is inconceivable that a person who feels he "has nothing of his own" will sin, since such a feeling is the cornerstone of modesty that leads us to serve Hashem.
When a person believes he has nothing of his own, not only can he not sin, but even his mitzvos are done more completely. He lives with a marvelous awareness that the Creator continually thinks about him and looks at him, and that Hashem's lovingkindness allots him remarkable strength to fulfill mitzvos in a thorough fashion and with proper enthusiasm. Someone who lives with this feeling cannot have defective middos. Not only will he not become conceited, since such a feeling is a diametric contradiction to the feeling that "a person has nothing"; but indeed, other bad traits too, such as anger, the various types of lust, and the like, will be non- existent in him.
Tefillah builds man's main "avodoh of the heart" — the recognition that "a person has nothing of his own." To understand this better, let us examine the Shemoneh Esrei, the primary tefillah enacted by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah. The Shemoneh Esrei is divided into three basic parts: (1) The first three brochos show our acknowledgment of Hashem's greatness and that He sends both spiritual and material abundance into the world. (2) The middle brochos, in which we request our needs. (3) The last three brochos, in which we declare our thanks to the Creator for all His kindness to us.
In the first part of Shemoneh Esrei we strengthen our awareness that all of the world's abundance emanates only from the Creator of the world. We feel how powerless we are.
By requesting our needs from Hashem afterwards, we intensify this feeling of possessing no innate power. If a person imagines that all his possessions are his own, why should he ask the Creator for his needs? Unaffectedly requesting our needs promotes the recognition that a person possesses nothing and must ask Hashem for everything.
The third part of the tefillah is thanking Him. Each person declares "I deserve nothing from the Creator," and acknowledges that all we have received is only a chesed that comes free from Hashem. If a person presumes that he deserves something, he can, chas vesholom, use what he mistakenly thinks he deserves for the opposite of avodas Hashem. If, on the other hand, he lives with the heartfelt feelings that "he possesses nothing" and that "he deserves nothing," he will surely not sin and his mitzvos will be done thoroughly.
According to the above we are zocheh to understand that tefillah is not (as some people are accustomed to think) a means of getting our needs from Hashem. The essence of tefillah is perfecting man in his main avodoh of the heart — his "possessing nothing." The question is first, how does tefillah help us to receive our needs? Moreover, since its aim is not to benefit us by obtaining our needs, why does the wording of tefillah (such as "Endow us from You with wisdom, insight, and discernment," "Bring us back," "Behold our suffering," and "Heal us"), which was set forth by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, clearly allude to this purpose?
Although tefillah is not a direct device for acquiring our needs, through it a person does acquire them. Through tefillah a person grows in his avodas Hashem, and this growth impels him to use all he possesses for Hashem only. As a result there is no reason why the Creator will not fulfill his wants. Beforehand he was on a level where becoming wealthy would endanger his spirituality — "Lest I become sated and deny You" (Mishlei 30:9) — and the attribute of chesed dictated he should not receive such abundance. Now, after ascending in his spiritual level through tefillah, he will now use material affluence in the proper way, so there is no reason he should not receive this affluence. For example, for a person to be sick, Rachmono litzlan, is surely not Hashem's desire. Nonetheless, the attribute of chesed sometimes "forces" the Creator to make a person sick so that he will repent, or at least so that suffering will atone for his sins. This is the best chesed that it is possible to do for someone whose spiritual condition is defective, as is written, "Out of the mouth of the most High good and evil do not come. Why then does a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" (Eichah 3:38-39).
When through tefillah a person rises in ruchniyus he no more needs suffering from diseases to prompt him do teshuvoh or act as a kaporoh for his sins. This person has already repented and atoned for his sins through his rising spiritually by his tefillah. In Shemoneh Esrei we ask Hashem for our many needs since we have obligated ourselves not to use the wisdom, good health, etc., that we will attain from Hashem for other matters except for doing his avodoh, such as studying Torah and doing mitzvos.
Cheit is an intensive attack on our Creator, Who gives us life and special powers for the distinct aim of using these powers solely for His avodoh. We instead rebel against Him and use those same powers for the opposite of His avodoh, doing just the contrary of His will and the aim for which we received these powers from Him (see Tomer Devorah, the discussion of the attribute of erech apayim).
We can now understand, with Hashem's help, what is "Hashem's malchus" and why Hashem's malchus is the Creation's main objective. The clear recognition of "Hashem's malchus" involves our recognizing that we "possess nothing of our own." This feeling obliges us to employ all the powers we have only for Hashem. We must reach an unequivocal decision that it is totally impossible for us to use the powers we receive from Hashem in order to do His avodoh, for purposes the opposite of His will. Someone who reaches such a decision is a "servant of Hashem." For this reason the "eulogy" for Moshe Rabbenu, the transmitter of the Torah, was "Moshe the servant of Hashem died there" (Devorim 34:5). If we were to eulogize Moshe we would probably have written that the "transmitter of the Torah" or the "most prominent novi" had died. From the way the Torah itself eulogizes Moshe we learn that being a "servant of Hashem" is the summit of greatness a mortal can attain.
What is "rectifying the world with the malchus of Hashem"? The purpose of the Creation is that all those created will recognize Hashem's malchus and become servants of Hashem. The goal of am Yisroel throughout history is inspiring the Creation to reach such a recognition. Though our accepting Hashem's malchus we can influence the whole Creation to recognize His kingship over the world.
The spiritual essence of Rosh Hashanah and its din is for man to examine to what degree he has accepted upon himself the "malchus of Hashem," his degree of preparation to use the powers he receives only for Hashem. The attribute of chesed — "the world is built by chesed" (Tehillim 89:3) — obligates providing powers to someone who will use them for the exact objective they were given for. This is the greatest chesed that can be. Likewise, that same attribute of lovingkindness obliges not delegating powers to someone who will use them for the opposite of the purpose for which they were given. Providing such powers for such a person only creates an obstacle for him to overcome, the opposite of the attribute of chesed.
The din on Rosh Hashanah and the day's essence are apparently not connected at all to the past — how much a person has sinned in the past. They are dependent on what he will do in the future with the powers he will later receive. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 29:10) writes: "Concerning all the korbonos of Musaf it is written `You shall sacrifice,' but [on Rosh Hashanah] is written `You shall make an isheh.' HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to Yisroel, `I consider you as if I created you today, as if I have created you anew.'" The entire essence of din on Rosh Hashanah is our being "created anew." The din for a person is according to what degree the "newly created creature" accepts upon himself malchus Hashem. Even if a person has sinned much during the last year, Rachmono litzlan, since he has resolved that next year he will use all his newly-gained powers only for Hashem, the past is no reason to prevent him from receiving new powers.
In our tefillos on Rosh Hashanah we beseech Hashem for a good din because "this day is the beginning of Your deeds, a remembrance of the first day" (see also Rosh Hashanah 27a). Just as on the first day of man's creation he was not judged for what he had done in the past — since there was no past — but rather for the future, today too the essence of Rosh Hashanah and din is about the future. "A remembrance of the first day" recalls that the day of man's first creation was established as the annual renewal of the world and the day for making man a "newly created creature." This element has remained forever in Creation. Just as on Yom Kippur HaKodosh Boruch Hu said, "I have forgiven as you have spoken," and it was established as a day of forgiveness for klal Yisroel throughout history, and Pesach became eternally the "time of our freedom," and Shavuos the time of "the giving of our Torah" for the present too, all events that have taken place in Creation, including the din and annual renewal of the world on Rosh Hashanah, remain timeless. The Ran (on the Rif, Rosh Hashanah 3a) cites a Pesikta to the effect that Odom HaRishon's victorious emergence on Rosh Hashanah shows that his sons too will come out victorious on this day.
"Today the world was created" (said in our tefillos of Rosh Hashanah) does not mean that this day is a mere memory of the world's creation. It is an actual re-creation of the world at the present moment. HaRav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto teaches (in his Derech Hashem 8:4) that "on this day HaKodosh Boruch Hu judges the whole world and renews all of existence, as a new turn for the world, and this is the new year." Din is an element in the "new turn," and therefore is not connected to the past. (Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l writes similarly in Mishnas R' Aharon in several places.)
Chazal comment on the posuk "You shall make an olah" that concerning all korbonos the Torah writes "You shall sacrifice an olah" but here the Torah writes "You shall make an olah." On Rosh Hashanah, that is, we must make ourselves like an olah before Hashem. (The poskim cite this as the reason for our saying Selichos at least four days before Rosh Hashanah. We must examine ourselves to insure we have no blemishes four days before we become a korbon — Mishnah Berurah 581:6). "You shall make an olah" — making yourself like an olah — is the pinnacle of accepting His malchus, and by doing so we will be zocheh to receive Divine abundance.
"Say Malchuyos before Me so that you will make Me king over you" (Rosh Hashanah 16a). Malchus Hashem is the essence of Rosh Hashanah and of din. On this day we must completely accept His malchus on ourselves. The brochoh's ending, "the King of judgment," is said in the Shemoneh Esrei of Aseres Yemei HaTeshuvah instead of "King Who loves righteousness and judgment." "Judgment" is dependent upon how much HaKodosh Boruch Hu is king over each person: to what degree a person accepts His malchus.
Although din is the acceptance of malchus Hashem for the future, and it is unconnected with past sins, it is still impossible on Rosh Hashanah to overlook the past. These sins have made the neshomoh coarse, and they interfere with its ability to see the truth clearly, as Chazal (Ovos 4:2) write: "One mitzvah leads to another, and one aveiroh leads to another" (see Or Yisroel 14). If so, how can we accept malchus Hashem completely on Rosh Hashanah when we are still sullied with cheit and our neshomoh is coarsened, Rachmono litzlan?
"Blow a shofar at the moon's renewal, at the time appointed for our feast day" (Tehillim 81:4). Chazal (Yalkut, Tehillim 831) comment that "blow a shofar at the moon's renewal" means that we should "renew and improve our deeds; and I will cloak your sins, as is written, `You shall forgive the iniquity of Your people, You have covered all of their sin' (Tehillim 85:2)." We must "renew our deeds" by accepting malchus Hashem for what we do in the future, and "improve our deeds" that we have done until now in an imperfect way, not in a way befitting servants of Hashem. If we do so Hashem pardons ("covers over") our sins.
Hiding our sins means that although the sin still exists, since the kaporoh for sin will come only on Yom Kippur, the neshomoh is completely purified from every sin that is corrected through accepting Hashem's malchus. Hashem conceals it so that it will not make the neshomoh coarse. Chazal infer this Divine behavior from the posuk "You have covered all their sin" (Tehillim 85:2). Although not wiped out, the sin has been "covered" and does not influence the neshomoh's tohoroh at all. Indeed there will be a din on Rosh Hashanah for sins a person which has not decided to stop committing in the future [each sin constituting a contradiction to malchus Hashem], but they are taken into consideration only in reference to how they disturb the sinner's acceptance of malchus Hashem, not allowing him to attain strength to sin more later [and, as mentioned, there is no other approach to sin except how it contradicts malchus Hashem]. This is the explanation of the Rambam's statement (Hilchos Teshuvoh 3:4) that each sin is evaluated according to how it uses the powers one has received from the Creator for the opposite of Hashem's will, a contradiction to malchus Hashem, and that every mitzvah has a different level in its acceptance of malchus Hashem and making one a "servant of Hashem."
According to what we have explained, there is no disparity between what we have written here and the Gemora (Rosh Hashanah 16b) and the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvoh 3:6), who state that "every year each person's sins and zechuyos are weighed on Rosh Hashanah. He who is found to be a tzaddik is sealed for life . . .." Surely all that a person does is judged, but it is looked at according to outlook of whether a person accepts malchus Hashem or not. Sins that he has rectified through "accepting His malchus" are "covered" through this din.
Now we can fully understand the part Rosh Hashanah has in the structure of teshuvoh and the reason it is the first day of the Aseres Yemei HaTeshuvah. By completely accepting Hashem's malchus we bring ourselves to a solid recognition that we should not sin again. We understand it is impossible for us to use the powers we have received from Him for the opposite of the aim they were intended for. Malchus Hashem and the din on Rosh Hashanah compose a foundation for a clear recognition of what cheit is. What follows naturally is an unequivocal decision to perfect ourselves in all the ways of teshuvoh during the rest of the Aseres Yemei HaTeshuvah so we can be zocheh to have our sins "covered."
Rosh Hashanah itself was not made to be a day on which we will be actively engaged in the practical side of doing teshuvoh, such as vidu'i, which is actually forbidden on Rosh Hashanah. Besides the simple reason that the day's essence is for us to be engaged in recognizing malchus Hashem, a full acceptance of malchus Hashem is extensive enough an activity to occupy us for all of Rosh Hashanah. Actually, a person who is crying and expressing remorse about his sins cannot at the same time properly accept malchus Hashem. To accept malchus Hashem a person must have an elevated nefesh and benevolent heart, which are liable to be impaired temporarily by crying and anguish for having sinned. Somewhat of an example can be cited to this from nevu'ah, which can be attained only through the simchah of a mitzvah. [Of course this is besides what Kabboloh teaches us, that mentioning sin on Rosh Hashanah provides power for the Satan to denounce Jews, Rachmono litzlan.]
On Rosh Hashanah we are obligated to "eat sumptuously and drink sweet beverages" (Nechemia 8:10) to give the body strength so that its needs will not disturb the neshomoh from raising itself to the heights necessary to accept malchus Hashem. This is similar to the chiyuv to eat meat and drink wine on Yom Tov, which we learn from "you shall rejoice on your festival" (Devorim 16:14). HaRav Moshe Tikocszinsky zt'l, the mashgiach of Slobodka Yeshiva, taught that simchah during Yom Tov is not mere rejoicing. The essence of simchah during Yom Tov is our rejoicing because of receiving the spiritual abundance to which we are zocheh during Yom Tov. We are therefore "forbidden to marry during Yom Tov" since we must "rejoice in the Yom Tov and not in a [new] wife" (Mo'ed Koton 8b). Accordingly, we must understand why there is a chiyuv to eat meat and drink wine on Yom Tov. It seems that to attain the spiritual simchah of Yom Tov we must give the body what it craves so that it will allow the neshomoh to elevate itself with the spiritual simchah of Yom Tov. Similarly, our obligation to eat and drink on Rosh Hashanah is to allow our neshomoh to lift itself so it can accept the malchus of Hashem.
The Tur (581) and the Poskim rule that we should wash ourselves and cut our hair before Rosh Hashanah. This is based on a Midrash: "What nation is like this nation, who knows the character of its Elokim? . . . They wear white clothing . . . eat and drink and rejoice on Rosh Hashanah, since they know that HaKodosh Boruch Hu will do a miracle for them."
Being aware of how Hashem acts is necessary so we can know how to accept Hashem's malchus. We must "serve Hashem with fear and rejoice with trembling" (Tehillim 2:11), and there is no contradiction between the rejoicing and the trembling.
In Nechemia (8:9-12) is written that am Yisroel cried on Rosh Hashanah for their sins (and it is mentioned there that they had what to cry about), but Nechemia, Ezra, and the Leviyim instructed them: "You should not mourn or cry," and instead "eat sumptuously and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord, for the joy of Hashem is your strength."
Many ask why the people were told not to cry. It was the Day of Judgment and they were justifiably crying about their sins.
It seems that Ezra and Nechemia told the nation that Rosh Hashanah's essence is accepting Hashem's malchus, and that is our avodoh on this holy day. Their crying preoccupied them and made them think about matters that interfered with the day's avodoh. "For this day is holy to our Lord" — its holiness requires us to concentrate on the day's specific avodoh and not on anything else. "For the joy of Hashem is your strength" — the joy consists of rejoicing in Hashem's malchus that you have accepted on yourself, and "it is your strength" — enabling you to be zocheh in the din.
The halocho for Rosh Hashanah is "the more a person is bent over, the better" (Rosh Hashanah 26b). Accepting Hashem's malchus means humbling oneself before the King of the World.
R' Yisroel of Salant asks why Rosh Hashanah comes before Yom Kippur. Is it not easier for us to go though a judgment when we are already spotless from sin? R' Yisroel answers that Rosh Hashanah must be before Yom Kippur so that the awe of the din on Rosh Hashanah will awaken us to do teshuvoh.
Some question R' Yisroel's answer. Is it not still hard for a man to be judged when the oppressive weight of all his sins presses on him?
Actually the opposite is true; because Rosh Hashanah falls before Yom Kippur we gain tremendously. By accepting malchus Hashem on Rosh Hashanah we construct for ourselves an understanding of what sin actually is, and of the impossibility of living with sin. Through this we arrive at full teshuvoh on Yom Kippur.
Naturally it can be added that "trembling over din" also helps us reach full teshuvoh. Concerning the question how we can be judged when a heavy burden of sins weighs us down, the more the sin is rectified on Rosh Hashanah through accepting Hashem's malchus it is "covered" on Rosh Hashanah and does not disturb the din at all.
Chazal (Midrash Shocher Tov, Tehillim 130) write about the posuk (Tehillim 130:4) "forgiveness is with You" that "forgiveness is stocked next You on Rosh Hashanah so that Your creatures will fear You on Yom Kippur." This complies with the teirutz of R' Yisroel, "so that the awe of the din on Rosh Hashanah will awaken us to do teshuvoh," and it follows from what we have written that forgiveness is the sin's being "covered" on Rosh Hashanah.
Many ask that since Rosh Hashanah is the Day of judgment, why do we not request on Rosh Hashanah to be zocheh in our din, and that all our requests be answered? Is it not now the most proper, and the most urgent, time to do so? However, we see that our main tefillos on Rosh Hashanah are about malchus Shomayim.
I indeed heard from a godol beTorah that this is mesirus nefesh from us. On this day that we need so urgently to ask for our needs, we refrain from doing so and instead ask for kevod Shomayim. It is, however, difficult to accept that those who set out the tefillos expected each Jew to forget his own needs entirely and reach such a high level of mesirus nefesh for kvod Shomayim.
The tikkun of the world to accept malchus Hashem is dependent upon us. Through completely accepting on ourselves Hashem's malchus we cause the whole Creation to reach its tikkun. This is the main purpose of klal Yisroel in the world.
Our tefillos on Rosh Hashanah contain two requests that are actually one: First that we be zocheh to accept malchus Hashem upon ourselves, and second, that through our doing so the whole world will also reach a tikkun and accept malchus Hashem. When we accept Hashem's malchus upon ourselves there is no more need to request anything else in ruchniyus or gashmiyus, since Hashem will then provide us with all the keilim needed for His avodoh. Our request for "a tikkun for the world through malchus Hashem" therefore actually includes requesting our needs, making any additional request superfluous.
HaRav Yechezkel Taub shlita is a well known kiruv expert in Eretz Yisroel