Head and Beginning
There is nothing arbitrary about a name given in the Holy Tongue: the very letters that constitute such a name disclose the intrinsic nature of the entity named. The name of the New Year festival, “Rosh HaShanah,” literally means not “beginning of the year,” but “head of the year.” I.e., the relationship of Rosh HaShanah to the other days of the year parallels the relationship of the head to the other organs of the body.
There are three dimensions to the relationship between the head and the body. First, the brain controls the functioning of the body as a whole, as well as that of its individual organs. Second, the life-energy of all the organs is centered in the brain, each of whose components is connected to one of the organs. Finally, the brain is the seat of the power of thought, the highest of human faculties.
Our divine service on Rosh HaShanah is characterized by spiritual parallels to each of these three physical functions. First, on Rosh HaShanah we resolve to advance in all aspects of our Torah observance, and the resolutions undertaken at this time influence the quality of our divine service throughout the coming year.
Second, with Rosh HaShanah we begin the Ten Days of Teshuvah (usually translated “repentance”; better: “return”). Since teshuvah comprises all the other mitzvos, it can atone for deficiencies in the observance of any of the mitzvos.
Finally, the divine service of Rosh HaShanah involves a level of absolute connection between man and Gd. Our Sages teach that on Rosh HaShanah Gd asks man to “accept Me as King over you,” and in fact the recognition of Gd’s sovereignty is a major theme of the Rosh HaShanah service. This act of recognition establishes a bond between the essence of man and the essence of Gd.
Three Levels of Connection
These three elements of Rosh HaShanah are related to three levels of connection with Gd.
(a) The first bond is established through Torah observance. Because Gd’s will is manifest in the Torah and its mitzvos, by observing them we connect our thoughts, words and actions with Him.
(b) There is, however, a second and deeper bond with Gd. For while it is true that observance of mitzvos establishes a connection with Gd, the conditions of this relationship presuppose that the individual is a separate entity who desires to connect to Gd through this observance. Teshuvah, by contrast, involves a bond which relates man to Gd directly, without the medium of mitzvos.
Each of us shares a bond with Gd that is not at all dependent on our deeds. For this reason, even a person who has failed to establish a connection with Gd through mitzvos or who has obstructed that connection by his conduct, is still capable of feeling a desire to return to Him. A person’s desire to return to Gd
evokes a response from Him. Like a father who loves his children regardless of their conduct, Gd maintains a bond with us which continues even when our conduct appears to draw us away from Him. And when a person turns to Gd in teshuvah, this bond surfaces and makes its presence felt.
Since the connection to Gd established through teshuvah is deeper than that which is established through the observance of mitzvos, it can compensate for any deficiencies in our observance of the mitzvos. Nothing can block the expression of this deep connection we share with Gd.
(c) Nevertheless, despite the depth of the connection with Gd established through teshuvah, a certain distance remains between man and Gd. In fact, it is our feeling of separation from Him that motivates our desire to return to Him. By contrast, our willingness to accept Gd as King expresses the idea of man’s absolute bond with Gd. Man accepts Gd’s sovereignty because he cannot conceive of any alternative; he cannot conceive of the possibility of living without a King.
(This understanding of the Kingsubject relationship also applies to Gd. Gd, so to speak, cannot conceive of being without subjects. It is for this reason that He turns to man and asks of him to “accept Me as King over you.”)
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos Vol. IV, Rosh HaShanah;Vol. XIX, Sukkos
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