It’s Rosh Hashanah – Fill Your Day with Joy?
We are used to thinking of Rosh Hashanah as a day of awe which we approach with much trepidation. After all, it is a day of judgement, a day on which every person is judged for his deeds and his verdict is given for the coming year, and a solemn mood would be expected. However, there is another aspect of Rosh Hashanah. The Alter of Slabodka says that it is a day of happiness! It is a holiday like other joyous holidays, and we even make a point to purposely eat sweet foods on this day to exhibit our happiness.
This concept is expressed by the prophet Nechemia. Nechemia rebuked the Jews on Rosh Hashanah for not following the Torah properly, and the Jews began to cry tears of remorse. But then, Nechemia told them (Nechemia, 8:9-10) that they should not cry and mourn; rather they should go home, eat and drink, and make sure they are not sad, because it is a holy day, and their joy will be their strength.
The Joy of Coronating the King
The question we must ask is, why should we make a point to be happy on Rosh Hashanah? What is it that we should rejoice about on Rosh Hashanah? The Alter of Slabodka explains that besides the awesome judgment which takes place on this day, it is a day on which we crown God as our King. How would it look if everybody was sad on the day a king is being crowned? Rosh Hashanah is a day of celebration. It’s a day on which we celebrate the coronation of the King of all kings. Being the servants of the Almighty is an unbelievable merit. Affirming ourselves as the subjects of God is a tremendous happiness which we must express on this day.
The Sforno adds (Parshat Emor 23:24) that because it is a day of judgement, it is therefore befitting to rejoice over the fact that God is our king, in order for God to have mercy on us. Being enthusiastic over God being our King is a great merit to draw God’s kindness upon us. At the same time that we feel trepidation, we must make sure to also exhibit our joy on this day, to show our loyalty to our King.
This concept is also reflected in the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Saadia Gaon says that one of the themes of blowing shofar is that it resembles the blowing of trumpets which is customary when crowning a king. This is an exciting time of joy. This explains why, prior to blowing the shofar, we say verses about blowing shofar which express themes of joy.
Rabbi Yeruchum Levovitz (Da’at Chachma Umussar, ma’amar 89) takes this a step further and says that crowning God as our king means it’s a day of special closeness to Him. Since it is a day on which special attention is given to His kingship in the world, it induces special closeness to His people. And the more we acknowledge God’s kingship, the closer we bring ourselves to Him.
Rejoice – We’re Servants of The King!
On Simchat Torah, the day on which it is customary to have seven rounds of singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls, the Slonimer Rebbe, known as the Birchas Avraham, would be the one to end each round in his synagogue. One time, the congregation was dancing to the song of the words from the prayers, “I am a servant of the Holy One Blessed be He,” and the dancing didn’t stop. The Rebbe just kept on going on and on, with no end in sight. It was getting late, and the people were wondering why the Rebbe wasn’t ending the round of dancing. At one point, someone changed the song to a different one, and that is when the Rebbe ended it. They then understood that the Rebbe just couldn’t bring himself to stop the singing and dancing to these precious words, pronouncing the joy of being servants of God.
Fusing Awe With Joy
Although the spirit of Rosh Hashanah is not one of dancing and singing, the inner emotions of joy should be there nonetheless. On the one hand, we must conduct ourselves with an air of seriousness as is befitting a time of judgment. On the other hand, it is a time we focus on declaring God as our King, which calls for great happiness over our good fortune of being His subjects. It is a time of special joy which we can utilize to gain great closeness to God. When God is judging us and determining what kind of year we will have, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to come to this day with enthusiasm over His kingship and the merit of being His servants.
Happy Rosh Hashanah to you and yours!
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber firstname.lastname@example.org