The Rosh Hashannah Prayers


Rabbi Reuven Mann



The Rosh Hashana prayers contain the most profound and noble concepts that are vitally relevant to the fulfillment of mankind’s purpose. The prayers are based in certain premises:  the world was created by God and is designed and destined to achieve a certain purpose. 


The “tikkun olam” or repair of the world can only come about if man attains “yediat Hashem”, knowledge of God.  All of the problems of the world are due to mankind’s ignorance of God: for how can man serve God and fulfill the Divine will if he does not know Him, or His will? Thus, the prayer on Rosh Hashana is a universal one: that all mankind will be “corrected”.  This is a significant point, one we must not gloss over. The prayers uncompromisingly demand that a correction of the “mistake” must take place.  This is stated in the “Alainu” prayer, which forms an introduction to the “Malchius” blessing.  It is in the second paragraph, the “Al Kayn Nekaveh Loch”, “We hope that Hashem will uproot idolatry, and fix the world under One God”, to remove the false ideas that people have of God. 


The problem is not so much mankind’s ignorance of God, in the sense that man is blind to His existence and His will. Ignorance in itself would not be so bad. For then it would only be a matter of instruction and this is the mission of the Jewish people: to instruct the nations in the ways of Divine service. However, the problem is that the nations are not in the appropriate state to receive instruction. For they have not merely rejected God, but they have also falsified the very concept of God and supplanted appropriate worship, with human inventions. We therefore need Divine assistance to correct the problem. For the idolatrous religions are powerfully entrenched and religious people are the most stubborn and obstinate. They are fanatically attached to their theological falsehoods. The world is in a state of disrepair. And we pray for Divine assistance in uprooting falsehood from the world – so that all flesh will recognize Hashem and the “redemption” of mankind can then take place.


The “correction” involves two steps: recognition of the true God, i.e., abandonment of false concepts of God – what we call “Malchius” expressed in “Shimcha”, or  “Your Name”. We pray that God’s name and fame spread to all members of mankind. “Shimcha” represents the true concept of Hashem, how we should refer to Hashem. This is the first aspect of perfection – to divest oneself of falsehood in the realm of Hashem and to have an accurate notion of what we mean when we speak of Him. However, this alone is not enough, for the prayer continues.


It would seem that mere recognition of Hashem, while exceedingly important is, in itself, not enough. The objective is to follow through on the practical implications and significance of that recognition. This must infuse a person with awe, and a desire to live a life, which is in accordance with, and finds favor in the eyes of Hashem. Thus, the discovery of Hashem must lead to a new attitude toward life based upon acting in accordance with His Will.


However, the question then arises:  If I know Hashem, does this mean that I know His Will?  Does correct action automatically stem from affirmation of His Existence? Judaism answers in the negative. The third of the middle blessings is called “Shofrot” (shofar blasts). This is a reference to the heavenly shofar blasts, which were part of the Divine Revelation at Sinai. Judaism is founded on the notion that Hashem has revealed His laws and His “Derech Hachaim” (path of life) to mankind. Those who seek to serve Him must search out the authentic Revelation.


The path to proper Divine service is blocked by counterfeit religious systems, all of which, have brazenly appropriated the claim of having been “revealed” religions, or Divinely given. Just as the righteous person must differentiate between the true God and the idolatrous notion, so too he must be wise and discern the true religion, i.e., the revealed religion, from the falsified ones, which have been invented by man and whose claim of Divinity is arrogant and unfounded.


Rosh Hashana is thus a challenge to the Jew as well as to the world. Indeed we must awaken from our slumber and activate our minds to confront the central truth of human existence.