© 2014 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Rosh Hashanah: the King Who Ascends on the Throne of Judgment
Know your CREATOR, know yourself and know the difference
1: Rosh Hashanah: Adam’s Birthday
You remember our class about King Solomon’s Throne of Judgment. The king, we’ve said, ascends on it, on six stairs, to do justice. Imagine that once a year the King of the Universe, G-d, ascends on His Throne (on Six Days) to pass judge the entire Universe, in particular Adam. This is the essence of Rosh Hashanah awesome holiday. Let’s elaborate on this.
‘Rosh’ means ‘Head.’ ‘Hashanah’ means ‘the year.’ Rosh Hashanah (RH) is the “head of the year” or the New Year High Holiday.
According to tradition, RH is the annual anniversary of Adam creation. Hence it is not only a Jewish holiday; it is rather Mankind’s holiday, a celebration for all peoples.
How should we celebrate it?
On our personal birthdays we love to recall the circumstances surrounding our birth. We recall how our parents met and what sort of life they had at that time. We love to recall how our birth impacted their lives: from a loving couple they changed into a loving family. We feel proud to recall that our birth has increased our parent’s love to each other, how we’ve served as a glue to unite them together. We also recall the unlimited love they showered on us. At the same time, we also remember their expectations from us and we wonder whether or not we’ve met these expectations.
In the same token we should also celebrate Adam’s birthday. We would recall the circumstances around Adam birth, what the Heavenly ‘parents’ YHVH ELKM did at that time, how they ‘met’ and how their Oneness increased by Adam’s birth. We recall that Adam is the glue that keeps the Attributes together in Oneness. We recall the Parent’s expectations from us and we wonder whether or not we’ve met these expectations.
Lt’s never forget that the CREATOR is ONE and beyond our human conception, and that we relate to Him by metaphors to satisfy our limited imagination. We only use names and titles that the Torah allows us to use.
Hence on the anniversary of Adam creation it is appropriate to reflect on his birth as described in Genesis. Adam was born, it says, on a particular Day, under certain circumstances, to meet a certain goal.
The Creation of Adam
Adam was created, of course, on the Sixth Day of CREATION (in which we still live) as the last creature before the Sabbath.
What was the ‘Parent’ ELKM doing at that time?
ELKM, for Six long Days, had been creating the world “awesomely alone,” as a tyrant, by successive orders that were fulfilled with no contest. He said “Let there be light” and light was there; “Let there be grass” and grass was there, and so on.
Moreover, ELKM also judged each passing Day with a harsh scrutiny with no Mercy. The creatures He deemed “good” He allowed to live on and enter the next Day, whereas those He deemed ‘not good’ He eliminated right there and then.
Then, before the end of the Sixth Day, ELKM lifted up His Sword higher than before. Instead of judging only one passing Day He judged the ENTIRE CREATION from the Beginning to that moment, threatening to eliminate it to nothingness, khalah, as He had done to numerous previous other Universes.
Moreover, ELKM increased the yardstick by which He measures CREATION. Henceforth He would be satisfied by a “good” verdict, but rather with a “Very Good” one.
What an awesome judgment it was! If ELKM would be Very Pleased, He would allow the Universe to enter the next Day, the Seventh with is the Eternal Sabbath. Since the Sabbath is His Queen, His Bride, we can say He would cease His world and take the Universe forwards to meet His Bride, “KHALAH.”
On the other hand, if ELKM would not find the Universe Very Good, He would ‘finish it no nothingness, in Hebrew also KHALAH.
What could make CREATION deemed ‘very good’?
Could CREATION elevate itself from being ‘good’ to ‘very good?’ Did CREATION have any hope to withstand the new harsh scrutiny?
ELKM would have terminated our Universe with wrath to khalah, nothingness had He not decided to give it a chance and bring the Bride in.
For that, ELKM descended from His high pedestal of Judgment as a tyrant, and turned to another Attribute of the Infinite CREATOR, the Attribute of MERCY, YHVH, who reigns in the Eternal Sabbath. He stepped down from His Throne in modesty to consult Her, something He had never done before!
That point is important in the Rosh Hashanah story. From an ‘awesome tyrant’ who Consults no one, ELKM ‘descended ‘to become a ‘King Who Consults’ with Modesty. (In Hebrew the word ‘to consult,’ nimlach, is the same as ‘enthroned.’ Hence who is a king? The ruler who consults others before making his decision.) This change alone gave our Universe a hope to survive.
Not only ELKM descended from his High pedestal, He has also changed His tone. Moreover, a new look appeared in His eyes, a look of Longing, not unlike the look in the eyes of of a Groom longing to meet His Bride, Khalah. That look too offered CREATION a new chance to survive the End of the Sixth Day’s scrutiny.
With that longing, ELKM turned to the Merciful YHVH and asked Her “Would you come over to my world to share its rule with me? Your presence here would make it look Very Good in my eyes!”
YHVH agreed and She entered our World from Her Reign, the Eternal Sabbath. You can see Her in the text as a shy Acronym penetrating the Sixth Day. She entered our Universe as a Ray of Light that disperses darkness, or as a Modest Dove that disperses arrogance, or a Beautiful Cherub that spread Love and Holiness.
Then, Like a Bride observing her Groom’s home for the first time, so did YHVH observe our World from the End of the Sixth Day. Assessing every creature created on the Sixth Day She said: “How can I share your World where I have no Place to rest my Wing, where I see no heart in which I can dwell!”
How right she was! Indeed, no creature created so far could perceive the Merciful YHVH, since they were all created by ELKM alone. All creatures created before, may they become intelligent as can be, would never comprehend Mercy. A spider for instance can evolve into a scientifically smart society, yet incapable of perceiving the Merciful YHVH. The Serpent of Eden was a “smart beast of the field” and it knew ELKM, but it failed to mention YHVH. As a beast, it could not perceive Mercy.
Hearing Her, ELKM the Groom said: “Let us make an Adam in our form and our Image.” He meant: Our child Adam will unite us. He would do my work and would be capable of inviting you into his heart. He would abide by my Commandments and spread your Mercy, Compassion, Forgiveness and Holiness in my world. I will make him successful creature in my world, while ou will fill his heart with heavenly warmth and joy.…
The Merciful YHVH agreed, and the two Attributes, holding Wing against Wing like two Cherubs in Love, flew over CREATION. They flew over it backwards from the Sixth Day to the Beginning, as described Genesis Chapter 2. On their way they consolidated the Universe by their mutual Love and Oneness.
After consolidating the World, YHVH ELKM formed the Adam in their One Image and Form. ELKM formed Adam from the material of the Six Days. He also endowed Adam with Wisdom and Talent to create and invent and decipher all the mysteries of the Universe. He also blessed Adam (and Eve) to be fruitful and multiply and rule over all other creatures.
ELKM then made a room in Adam’s heart capable of perceiving and accepting the Attribute of MERCY, YHVH. Adam would be the only creature in which YHVH can dwell. But it would be up to Adam to invite YHVH into his heart and do Her work of Mercy Compassion and Forgiveness.
Hence Adam was made to UNITE ELKM and YHVH, the Groom and the Bride in his heart. Achieving that goal, matching the Groom with the Bride, would incite an explosion of Warmth and Joy that he would otherwise never feel. Both the Groom and the Bride would feel Very Good and allow CREATION to proceed on into the next Day, the Eternal Sabbath.
The Sixth Day of CREATION is not yet over. When it comes, at the End of Time, ELKM will pass His harsh Judgment on the entire CREATION, from the Beginning to that point in time. If He would find CREATION to be Very Good, if Adam has united YHVH with ELKM, then khalah, the world would be allowed to enter the Sabbath. If not, than Kahlah! Annihilation!
ELKM however does not wait with His Universal Judgment for the End of Times. Every year, on the annual anniversary of Adam creation, the RH Holiday, ELKM ascends again on the Throne of Judgment as He had done at the Beginning, and pass His Judgment on the Entire CREATION assessing whether it has become Very Good.
We live all year long under YHVH ELKM, the King. On RH, the King ascends on the Throne of Judgment and judges the entire Creation to see whether or not it has become Very Good. All creatures pass before His Throne and He REMEMBERS each and every one and decides its fate for the next year. Adam too is included.
As the King sits on the Throne of Judgment He judges the Universe first under the Attribute of Judgment, ELKM. It is a harsh, merciless assessment of the truth.
Then, if we merit, the Judge would consult MERCY, YHVH, to formulate our final verdict.
You can say that when the King ascends on the Throne, he first sits on the Throne of Justice them moves on to sit on the Throne of Mercy. He would apply Mercy to our judgment only by our merits.
Thus all year long we refer to HaSheM as “The King who Loves Justice” meaning justice done by Man. But on RH He is referred to as “The King Who Is Justice.”
Also all year long we refer to HaSheM as Our King. On RH we call Him “Our FATHER, Our KING,” avinu-malkeinu. Like a prince who calls his father, on the prince’s birthday, My Father My King.
On what Commandment we are judged on RH?
We need to abide by all of ELKM’s Commandments. But foremost among them is IDOLATRY. Why? Because at Adam’s birth ELKM said: “Let Us Make and Adam in Our From and Our Image “ a statement that, as we’ve learned, has opened up the option of IDOLATRY by the very fact it is given in plural voice. Adam is born to withstand the trial of IDOLATRY, in its largest meaning.
On what else are we judged particularly on RH? On our evilness. Remember, we are judged on whether or not we’ve become Very Good or Very Bad. To be Very Bad in YHVH eyes means to be evil, cruel and indifferent to other people’s pains. Hence on RH we emphasize our prayer that all evil would be erased form the world.
The origin in the Torah
The only special scripture Commandment for the RH is the blowing of silver trumpets and ram’s horn.
In the Holy Temple they blew two silver trumpets and one horn. Outside the Temple, they blew only the horn.
The purpose of this blowing is expressed by the verse we recite along:
YHVH (has ascended) by the ram’s voice”
The silver trumpets mark the ascent of ELKM on the Throne of Justice
While the ram’s horns marks the ascent of YHVH
It fits. The silver trumpets’ voice presented awe and reverence to ELKM
The soft, broken voices of the horn represent the call for repentance in broken heart. Only repentance would ascend YHVH on Her Throne. Without it, YHVH would fly away from us, leaving us in the hands of ELKM, our prosecutor.
The Three Books of Life
On RH, a Book of Life opens up in the Heavenly Court and is self-read loudly. All our deeds and thoughts are announced to the Court. Nothing is lost.
Those who are deemed righteous would be inscribed in the Book to life right away
Those who are ‘not good’ in ELKM eyes or ‘evil’ in YHVH eyes would be inscribed right away to perish, either by fire, water, sword of malady.
Those who neither righteous nor evil, most of us, would be given ten more days to repent and change. These Ten days of awe are against the ten times ELKM had issued an order during the Six Days. Then, after the Ten days of repentance, our fate is sealed on Yom Kippur.
The prayer book reflects these ideas.
The above ideas permeate the liturgy of the day. Manny hymns describe the ascent of the King on the Throne of Judgment, which starts as a harsh absolute justice and ends up with mercy. Thye King moves from the Throne of Judgment to the Throne of Mercy. We them pray to see the end of IDOLATRY in the world and the eradication of evil to its kinds.
Thus the rabbis instituted, 2500 years ago, to recite verses that express three themes
KINGSHIP: The King ascends on the Throne of Judgment
REMEMBRANCE: He remembers us, and we remember our birthday and the purpose of our being here
Each theme is represented by 10 verses selected from the Torah, the Prophetsw and the Scrolls of Wisdom.
A unique New Year
Thus RH is different from all other New Year celebration in the world.
RH is not a day of pool partying, cocktail meetings and balloon floating
. It is, rather, a solemn day of judgment, yet a happy holiday.
In the Torah
RH does not appear in the open in the Torah.
In fact, the Torah recognizes two calendars:
(1) A year that begins in the spring with the month of Passover.>
(2) A Year that starts at Fall with RH.
Note that these calendars are 6 months apart.
The first calendar was used to count the number of the years of the king’s reign.
The second calendar was used to count the years in the Sabbatical cycles.
A day of holy convocation
RH, as all other holidays ordained by the Torah, is a day of ‘holy convocation.’ One should refrain from unnecessary work, almost like on the Sabbath. The only difference from the Sabbath is that on the holiday one may prepare and cook food to be used on the holiday.
We rejoice the holiday by wearing new and fine clothes, by eating good food and general solemn festivity. It is also a day for prayers and studying Torah.
Examples from the prayer book:
“Today is the day that the world was created.
Today you bring to judgment all the creatures of the world
If you treat us as your children, have Mercy on us like a father on his children
If like your slaves, our eyes are hung to your words…”
”On RH, He remembered Noah.
”On RH, He remembered Joseph in jail
”On RH, He remembered Hannah and her prayer.
“All the creatures in the world pass before you today
As sheep before the shepherd
And you remember each and every one of them
And decide their fate to another year.
No one can hide from your examining eyes,
And you see them all, and know their heart…”
“On RH you decide who will die and who will live
Who will perish by the sword, by beast, by hunger or by thirst.
Who will die by earthquake or by plague,
Who will die by suffocation, by water or by fire
Who will rise, and who will fall, who will be rich and who will be poor…
But REPENTANCE, PRAYER and CHARITY can tear the harshest verdict!”
The Coronation Night
You should visit a Hassidic synagogue on RH night. They call it the Coronation Night. It is one of the most moving prayers you would ever attend. Endowed with a deep sense of holiness, the congregation stands in awe before G-d declaring the acceptance of His Kingship.
what else do we pray for on RH?
Besides the above, we also pray on RH for
(1) The end of IDOLATRY
(2) The End of evil and of evil governments.
And of course, we pray for a good and healthy New Year.
Special customs for RH
When visiting a Jewish family on RH you can see the following:
(1) We eat sweet, honey and fruits. It comes from the Book of Nehemiah. When the Judean exiles returned to Judea, as Jeremiah had prophesized, they gathered together on RH at the public “Gate of Water” in Jerusalem. Ezra the scribe read before them the Torah, and they prayed and returned to G-d. Nehemiah then tell them “go home now and eat sweets and drink wine for today is a holiday of HasheM.” Since then, it has become a custom to first pray and read the Torah, then go home to celebrate the holiday with our families nad friends.
(2) On RH afternoon (the first day of the two) we visit a large body of water to pray. We recite Micha who says: “And you shall throw their sins into the abysses of the sea.” We ‘empty’ our pockets from sins and throw them into the sea, so to speak.
The origin of this custom is not clear, but it must be quite late, in the fourteenth century. It is not mentioned anywhere before. But it fits the themes of the holiday. First, as we have just said, it reminds us the prophet Micha’s words. But there is another reason: it fits the RH as a day of God’s Coronation, since the ancient kings of David’s house were enthroned on the water spring near Mt. Moriah.
(3) Another common custom of RH is to bless each other for the New Year, either personally or by letters or mail. A whole industry has sprung in the State of Israel revolving around that beautiful and meaningful custom.