Compiled by Dina Fraenkel

Hashem’s Kingship is a primary theme of the Rosh Hashanah prayers —more specifically, our coronation of Hashem as King over the universe and our submission to Him as His loyal subjects. We ask Hashem to “reign over the entire world.” Our pleading and our desire to submit ourselves completely to Hashem’s will is the true meaning of Kabbolas Ol (accepting the yoke).

It is written by our great Sages that Hashem tells us, “Accept My sovereignty and then accept My decrees.”1 It is only possible to connect to Hashem through the mitzvos AFTER we accept Him as our King. The Gemara explains that no other elements of Divine service can even exist without the crowning of Hashem as our King!2 Even teshuva can only come after the acceptance of G-d’s Kingship, since teshuva is regret over the past and the determination to fulfill the Will of Hashem in the future.3

We express our Kabbolas Ol daily in the recitation of Shema, but that acceptance is the basis of our behavior on that day. On Rosh Hashanah, however, Kabbolas Ol is the essence of the entire day, consuming the entire person and pervading his every action, serving as the foundation for the core of our relationship with Hashem throughout the entire year and our ability to do teshuva on Yom Kippur.

One of the most moving and poignant expression of this theme is the climactic “HaMelech” prayer at the beginning of Shacharis on the morning of Rosh Hashanah. It is the first word sung out by the chazzan at Shacharis and crescendos to an awe-inspiring, booming, “Ha-me-lech!”

There is a well-known story of the Karliner Rebbe, Rav Aharon of Karlin, who fainted when he came to the word, “HaMelech“. Rav Aharon explained that he was thinking of the section in the Gemara discussing the encounter between Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Vespasian. Rabbi Yochanan smuggled himself out of Yerushalayim to entreat Vespasian to spare the city of Yavneh, a center of Torah. Rabbi Yochanan entered Vespasian’s tent and addressed him as, “Your Majesty.”

“You are deserving of death on two accounts,” said Vespasian. “First of all, I am not the king, only His Majesty’s general.” (Vespasian did not know that a messenger from Rome was already en route to the general to inform him of his new sovereignty.) “Secondly, if I am indeed king, why did you not come to me until now?”

“I thought to myself,” said Rav Aharon, “if we address the Almighty as ‘King,’ does this not invite the question, ‘If I am indeed your king, why did you not come to me until now?’ What can we answer to that?”

May each and every one of us run to greet Hashem and crown Him King over us and the entire world. With our sincere Kabbalos Ol and determination to do teshuva we should all be blessed with the immediate Redemption and celebrate Yom Tov in the Beis HaMikdash with Moshiach.

1. Mechilta, Shemos 20:3
2. Gemara, Rosh HaShanah 16a, 34a.
3. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 2:2.