July 18, 2024
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Rosh Hashanah: Recognizing Our King

One of the most stirring prayers of the Yomim Noraim (High Holidays) is the prayer of Avinu Malkeinu—Our Father, Our King. We recite a prayer similar to this right after the shofar blowing as we say, “Please, Hashem, whether we are like children or servants, have compassion on us.” I always thought the addition of the description of Hashem as “Avinu,” our Father, is what invoked the mercy of Hashem to us as a Father to His children. However, I would like to use the following story to bring out a new understanding of this prayer.

Yossi Bamberger was a restless 12-year-old boy who had often made trouble in yeshiva over the years. Yossi’s father was the principal. In sixth grade, his trouble and antics increased. Despite many warnings, his misbehavior continued. In the middle of the year, the rebbe approached Yossi’s father, the principal, and said he cannot continue having Yossi in class with his behavior. Rabbi Bamberger gave his son a final warning. “If you don’t shape up, then we will have to find a different yeshiva for you.” Things improved for a few days, but then it was back to the antics and misbehavior. The rebbe sent Yossi back to the principal, who said, “Yossi, I’m sorry, but we need to find you a new yeshiva. You can no longer be in this yeshiva.” “But Daddy,” cried Yossi, “you can’t do that to me. I’m your son.” The father just shook his head and took Yossi home.

At home, Yossi locked himself in his room and cried himself to sleep. The next morning, Yossi pleaded again. His father said, “We have an interview with a new yeshiva tomorrow. I think you will do well there.” That night, Yossi again cried to his father, but to no avail. The following day, Yossi wrote a letter that he taped to the door of his father’s office. When he arrived, Rabbi Bamberger read the letter: “Dear Rabbi Bamberger, principal of Yeshiva Toras Emes. My name is Yossi Bamberger from the sixth grade. I am very sorry for my recent misbehavior. I was disruptive and I feel terrible. I really want to be in your yeshiva. If you let me back in, I will abide by all the rules and regulations.” Rabbi Bamberger smiled and told Yossi he was welcome back in the yeshiva.

What was so special about this letter that made all the difference?

I believe this story brings out an important point. On Rosh Hashanah we recite the Avinu Malkeinu—Our Father, Our King—prayers. This prayer was composed by Rabbi Akiva when he went to pray to Hashem for rain to stop a terrible drought. When Rabbi Akiva opened his prayer with the words “Avinu Malkeinu”—Our Father, Our King—it immediately began to rain. (Gemara Taanis) What was the novelty of those words that invoked an immediate positive response from Hashem?

I always thought the addition of “Avinu” invoked the mercy of Hashem to us as a father to his children. However, the Sfas Emes gives us a whole new perspective. On Rosh Hashanah, our focus is accepting upon ourselves the sovereignty of Hashem as our King and our total submission to Him. After the first set of 30 blasts, we recite the following verse from Tehillim, “Fortunate is the nation who knows how to awaken the mercy of Hashem through the blowing of the shofar.” What is the secret of the shofar that is so dear to Hashem? It’s the fact that we are approaching Hashem not as our Father, but as our King. Even though He is our Father, we want to accept upon ourselves to obey Him, not as a child, but as a servant. As children, we might feel we can get away with many things, since fathers often overlook misdeeds of their children. But on Rosh Hashanah, we approach Hashem in His capacity as King. We commit our allegiance to listen and obey all of Hashem’s wishes.

Yossi did not make any progress in approaching his father as a son. The key to success was to humbly approach his father in his capacity as the principal. So too, when we approach the Almighty as King, Hashem is happy because it shows we are not looking for a free ride. We know we are servants and we want to obey are All-Knowing King.

Let us enter Rosh Hashanah with the mindset of accepting upon ourselves the absolute sovereignty of Hashem and our desire to be governed by all His mitzvos as a servant obeys a king. This will arouse the compassion of Hashem to us and help bless us with a sweet new year full of health, happiness and success in all areas.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

 Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara-learning program. Recently he has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Springfield, and Fort Lee. This year he joined Yeshiva Heichal HaTorah as a Gemara iyun rebbe. His email is [email protected].

 

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