Hayom Haras Olam

Rabbi Darrell Ginsberg

Menahel – Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah


As we approach Rosh Hashana, it behooves us to begin reviewing the tefilos of this important day to prepare ourselves adequately.

To many of us, the experience of "spending the day in shul" is synonymous with the Yomim Noraim, the High Holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It happens to be that hundreds of years ago, the tefila on Rosh Hashana was actually quite short due to the absence of various piyutim and other inclusions (these inclusions being an Ashkenazic phenomenon). One can only imagine that either the services ended earlier than ours, or the chazzanim were better trained in melodic lengthening. Either way, one effect of these later additions, other than ensuring a late lunch, is the potential loss of focus on the original tefilos arranged by Chazal which are found in the Rosh Hashana musaf. Sure, a beautiful rendition of "U'Nesane Tokef" and "Melech Elyon" can be quite inspiring. Yet, one must be sure to study the core themes developed by Chazal. In approaching these tefilos in an analytical manner, inquiring both into their order as well as their content, one can see the beauty of the ideas of Chazal emerge. An example of such a tefila that requires a deeper comprehension is that of "Hayom haras olam," ("On this day You created the world") a tefila that is traced back to the times of the Geonim and was included in the siddur of the Rambam.

The Rosh Hashana musaf is broken up into three sections: malchiyos, zichronos and shofros. Upon the chazzan's conclusion of each section, the shofar is blown. Immediately after, the chazzan and tzibur recite, "Hayom haras olam":

"Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgment – whether as children or as servants. If as children, be merciful with us as the mercy of a father for children. If as servants, our eyes depend upon You, until You will be gracious to us and release our verdict as light, O Awesome and Holy One."

Poetic, literary, a moving illustration comparing the mercy a child receives to that of a servant - this tefila has it all. A beautiful tefila indeed - but one must ask, what is it doing here? Why is there a need to recite this tefila rather than move straight into zichronos or shofros? It seems, on a thematic plane, to be a break in the rhythm of the tefila, so to speak. One would think with the recitation of the bracha and the sounding of the shofar, the section is complete.

The other issue involves the comparison between being a child and/or being a servant. Certainly, such a comparison evokes a powerful response in the mispallel, but is this how we should relate to God's mercy? Mankind certainly is not the ?child? of God in any biologic sense, and whereas there are those who present God in an overly paternalistic manner, to say that God cares for us as a ?father? would to his ?child? sounds suspiciously like some fundamental concepts in another religion. Furthermore, how do we understand the concept of God's mercy being split into two scenarios, that of child or slave? At the end of the day, humanity needs God's mercy.

One of the most cherished topics within the venue of congregational speeches is the importance of Rosh Hashana being Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment. Whereas such great emphasis is placed on this aspect of Rosh Hashana, it is interesting that in the central tefila of Rosh Hashana, the musaf, Chazal do not really focus on this theme. It is true that many of the piyutim that are dispersed throughout the chazzan's repetition contain references to judgment taking place; these, however, were added much later. The central tefila, as expressed throughout the writing of the above three sections, never actually uses the term Yom HaDin, nor is there much focus placed on "being judged." This indicates that one's center of attention should not be on the aspect of din. Yet we know, of course, that Rosh Hashana indeed is Yom Hadin. It could be that "Hayom haras olam" functions to tie the ideas expressed in the majority of Chazal's tefilos with the phenomenon of Yom HaDin. Looking into each section of the musaf reveals fundamental concepts in so far as God's relationship to the world. We analyze how God functions as the Supreme King, the Melech Elyon, as written by Chazal in malchiyos. We study the concept of God's omniscience, expressed throughout time with His hashgacha, in the portion of zichronos. We read through the section of shofros, detailing the gilui schechina - "You were revealed in Your cloud of honor to Your holy people to speak with them." Each section is replete with abstract concepts and ideas, found both in the words of Chazal and the verses taken from Tanach . And with the completion of each section comes the blowing of the shofar, expressing our limitation in our ability to praise God (see article from this past Shabbos). It is after this moment that "Hayom haras olam" is recited. A person should not continue with the tefila before relating that which he recited to the concept of God's judgment. In a sense, "Hayom haras olam" serves to guide man's thoughts from the abstract realm and relate them to the expression in the world of God's judgment. While the essential ideas of the day are contained within the three sections of musaf, the tefila would be incomplete without relating them to the reality of Yom HaDin.

This helps clarify the function of the tefila. However, the question of the comparison between child and servant needs to be elucidated. In acknowledging God's justice, and beseeching Him for mercy, the dual nature of man (a very common theme in both Rosh Hashana and tefila in general, elucidated by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in his 1974 Teshuva Drasha) becomes apparent. As a unique creation, humans are composed of both body and mind, and man stands qualitatively distinct from all other creatures. He alone in this physical world possesses the ability to engage in yediyas Hashem, forging a unique relationship with God. It is within this context that we ask God for mercy like a father to child. Built into the very fabric of the relationship between father and child is overarching mercy. So too, built into the creation of the qualitatively distinct man comes the concepts of din and mercy. There is another expression of man, however, expressed through the idea of servant. In this scenario, mankind views himself as simply one of the many of the created beings in this world. The very property of being ?created? by definition means we exist within the natural world. True, we are the most advanced, possessing distinct qualities that separate us from the others. However, when it is all said and done, we are "affar v'efer," (dust and ashes) sharing that same character with all other physical beings. In this context, we recognize how we are completely dependent on God, like servant to master. When looking at that type of relationship, mercy is not built into it. As the Avudraham (Seder Teiflas Rosh Hashana) points out, there are masters who at times act mercifully - certainly, though, it is not inherently part of this relationship. So too, the concept of mercy is not one that is naturally built into the dependent created being and his Maker. It is through the recognition of this dependence that we hope God indeed judges with mercy.

The tefila of "Hayom haras olam" brings to light the great importance in focusing beyond the melodies and songs, as well as diverting one's eyes away from the clock on the wall (it's almost over). It is a short tefila, one that easily could be glossed over. Yet understanding its role, as well as the meaning behind its powerful imagery, helps clarify the relationship between God as the Supreme Ruler and His role as Judge. It also assists us in understanding the midah of mercy, and how man's view of the self plays a pivotal role in its execution. With this in mind, may we merit to receive God's mercy in the year ahead.