Compiled by Dina Fraenkel
In the Mussaf service of Rosh Hashanah we say, “Today the world was born.” However, our Chachamim tell us that the world was actually created on the 25th of Elul1, so why do we say the world was born on Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah actually marks the sixth day of Creation – the day that Hashem created man. Why, then, do we commemorate the day man was created, rather than the day the world was created, the day Hashem showed His power to create something from nothing2? In addition, the 25th of Elul was called “one day” instead of “the first day”, signifying that Hashem was “alone in His world” and the world was completely one with Hashem, with no separation.3
Although the uniqueness and magnitude of the 25th of Elul is clearly significant, Rosh Hashanah stands out even more. The creation of man on Rosh Hashanah added a new dimension and connection between Hashem and His world. Man is the only being in both the physical and spiritual worlds that has the ability to choose to accept Hashem as King.4 All of the other creatures, from animals to angels, are linked to Hashem through the act of Creation, not through their free will.
When Hashem created man, He created the possibility of voluntary consent to live according to G-d’s Will, and a conscious decision to accept the unity of Hashem. In Chassidus, this concept is alluded to in the example of a tyrant and a sovereign. Both are absolute rulers, but the tyrant rules without his subject’s consent, by force, while the sovereign is ruler by virtue of his subjects’ acceptance of his rule. They are free to leave his kingdom at any time.5 Man, according to Chassidus, relates to Hashem as a sovereign, choosing Him each year anew as our King.
Man is the only being that has the ability to choose
Why do we need to consciously accept Hashem’s sovereignty? We know that Hashem is an inherent part of every aspect of creation and we are not really able to even fathom the extent of G-d’s unity with the world. So, why is our acceptance so important? G-d created the world in order to have a “dwelling place in this, the lowest, world.”6 It is not enough for Hashem to spread His energy into the lower worlds, but man, who has the dominion over the lower worlds, has to recognize Hashem in his midst and accept Him. This acceptance makes Hashem’s dwelling place complete.
Man is also created in order to spread the awareness of Hashem’s unity to all parts of the world. Adam haRishon exercised this power on his first day in the world by telling all of creation: “Come, let us bow down; let us bend the knee before G-d our Maker.”7 By teaching the world about Hashem’s power, we become His partner in creation.8 This perception and power, unique to mankind, makes Rosh Hashanah, the day man was created, stand out above the 25th of Elul, because the potential of man to consciously become one with Hashem overshadowed all of the previous levels of creation.
On Rosh Hashanah, we are correct in saying, “Today the world was born.”, even though the actual world was created on the 25th of Elul. We can understand this by looking at the Talmud and the laws of ritual purity. An incomplete object, or raw material, is not subject to the laws of purity until it is complete.9 Even though the 25th of Elul and the subsequent days revealed Hashem’s great power, these preceeding days were totally eclipsed by the creation of man and the great aspects of G-dliness that were revealed on Rosh Hashanah. By creating man, Hashem created a new definition of existence and the world before this creation did not previously exist. Thus, the anniversary of the creation of man can be considered the anniversary of all of creation.
1. Vayikra Rabbah 29:1; Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer 8:1.
2. Ramban on Bereishis 1:1.
3. Bereishis 1:5; Rashi on Bereishis 1:5; Bereishis Rabbah 83:8.
4. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah, ch. 5.
5. Likkutei Torah, Rosh Hashanah, p. 55b ff.
6. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec 3; Tanya ch. 33 & 36.
7. Zohar III, 107b; Tehillim 95:6.
8. Shabbos 10a; see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 95 ff.
9. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Kelim 5:1.