By the Grace of G‑d
The Days of Selichos, 5723 [1963]:
the 150th year since the histalkusof the Alter Rebbe [5573/1812]
Brooklyn, N.Y.

To the sons and daughters of Israel,
wherever you may be:
May G‑d bless you with life.
Abundant peace and blessings!

A feeling of holiness fills the heart of every Jew with the approach of the days of Rosh HaShanah – the Days of Awe1 which open the new year. (May it come to us and to all of Israel with goodness and blessings!)

This feeling is far deeper than a fear of (G‑d forbid) punishment2 or the like. The yirah3 that is aroused by the Days of Awe is yiras haromemus, awe in response to exaltedness.4 One is overwhelmed by the awareness that he is about to participate personally in the imminent coronation of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He – for that coronation is the central theme of Rosh HaShanah.5

The coronation of the Creator of the universe as King of the entire universe, which Jews request and accomplish on Rosh HaShanah, requires that every Jew have a personal bond with Him. This must be a direct and deep-seated bond on the part of every individual Jew as an individual,6 and not only as a part of the community at large. The coronation is carried out by the personal request of every man and woman among us, that the One Above should accept this coronation. And this brings about the bond that is expressed in the phrase, “For we are Your people, and You are our King.”7

The concept and the experience of this coronation find their highest expression in the prayer, “Our G‑d, G‑d of our forefathers! Reign over the entire universe in Your glory, be exalted [over all the earth in your splendor…]. May everything that has been made know that You have made it […], and may everyone who has breath in his nostrils declare that the L‑rd, G‑d of Israel, is King, and that His kingship has dominion over all.” All of creation8 – and especially man, who has a soul – recognizes and subordinates itself to the kingly dominion of the One Above. This prayer simultaneously highlights yiras haromemus, that is, awe in response to exaltedness, and also its inevitable consequence – one’s preparedness and desire to fulfill the King’s commands.

Hence, even though Rosh HaShanah is the introduction and beginning of the Ten Days of Penitence,9 [the penitential prayer of] Tachanun is not recited on those days, nor is there any confession of sins.10 This is so because the union with G‑d that a person senses through the coronation permeates him so utterly, that no matter how intense is his anguish over his past actions, this anguish is nullified11 by his overwhelming feeling of awe in the presence of G‑d’s exaltedness.

Actually, teshuvah in its deeper meaning12 – returning to one’s Source13 – is also in full accord with the innermost theme of Rosh HaShanah, which is related to the concept of coronation.

It is only after Rosh HaShanah14 that one proceeds to address the further aspects of teshuvah – remorse over the past and resolves for the future, together with confessions and Selichos and so on – as imperative consequences of the coronation that took place on Rosh HaShanah. This is so because a person’s awareness of the renewed and tightened bond that unites him with the King must arouse a desire and a resolve to be worthy of it. And this in turn obligates him to set aside whatever disturbs that bond – his iniquities, his sins, and even his unintentional transgressions.

* * *

Regrettably, it must be stated that for various reasons there have been years and places in which the spiritual uplifting of Rosh HaShanah and the Ten Days of Penitence has not been fully utilized. The Days of Awe came and went, and in some communities and in some individuals that uplifting dissipated, without having brought about a change and an improvement in their personal daily life, as might have been expected of every Jewish man or woman. As a result, an improvement has also been lacking in the interpersonal realm.

One of the main causes of this is the fact that some people do not utilize the inspiration of the Days of Awe in a way that will affect themselves, but in ways that will affect others. These days are often exploited15 for airing wide-ranging slogans that address worldwide problems – messages that obligate no one, and certainly no one in the writer’s immediate vicinity... Such pronouncements leave everyone gratified. Their ostensible justification is that Rosh HaShanah relates to the entire universe, and the world has no shortage of high-sounding matters that need to be improved or changed.

Such matters will mostly remain unaffected by fiery oratory and staunch resolutions. Such talk only serves the speaker as a convenient and respectable excuse for not focusing his total and critically-required attention on his personal stocktaking and on his daily life.16 And this is an area which could in fact be affected by a determined resolve on his part.

The contrary approach to the above kind of talk is highlighted in the mitzvah of Sounding the Shofar, the only obligationthat is unique to Rosh HaShanah. It is not fulfilled by a number of instruments, but only by one,17 and that one is not a complicated musical instrument that can produce outstanding compositions. Quite the contrary: the Shofar is specifically the plain horn of an animal. Moreover, the mitzvah is fulfilled by whatever sound the Shofar produces.18 The Shofar thus highlights a lesson – that first and foremost, a person should focus on the individual, on himself, with an accent on introducing kedushah into even the plain and ordinary aspects of his daily life as an individual. Only then should he address the social life of that individual – himself – as part of a community, and so forth.

* * *

May G‑d grant that every Jew, man or woman, and especially every spiritual leader, will not spend the holy moments and the soul’s inner arousal during the Days of Awe on addressing worldwide or nationwide problems. No matter how important they may be, they are not the theme of Rosh HaShanah and the Days of Awe, neither for an individual nor for a congregation. Rather, let every individual respond to the urgent call of this day – “Make Me your King!” – by accepting G‑d as his personal King. And as a consequence of this acceptance, let every individual respond to the call to teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.19 All of the above must begin with oneself and come from oneself, and only later should it relate to those around oneself, in one’s community and so on.

May the spiritual arousal and revival of these days remain and permeate all the days of the coming year.20 May they bring every Jew a deeper bond with G‑d, a bond that will be expressed in his daily life in harmony with the G‑d-given Torah and the G‑d-given mitzvos. And the change for the better in one’s spiritual life will certainly lead to a change for the better in his material life,21 so that this will be a year of blessing in every regard.

With blessings that you be inscribed and sealed
for a good and sweet year,
with goodness that is visible and obvious,

Menachem Schneerson