Other than the mitzvah of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, perhaps the most important observance of the day is found in the Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayers.

Ordinarily, the Musaf prayer contains seven blessings: the standard three opening and three closing blessings of the Amidah, and one middle blessing called Kedushat Hayom (Sanctification of the Day), which reflects the unique holiness of the day and recounts the special offerings brought in the Temple. The Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayer contains nine blessings, making it the longest Musaf prayer (in terms of blessings) of the entire year.

The standard six opening and closing blessings frame three unique blessings known as Malchiyot (Sovereignty), Zichronot (Remembrances) and Shofrot (Sounding of the Shofar), corresponding to three of the themes of the day. (The blessing of Kedushat Hayomis merged together with Malchiyot, since they share many of the same themes.1)

Why 9 Blessings?

The Talmud tells us that these nine blessings correspond to the nine times that Channah the prophetess mentioned G‑d’s name in the prayer of gratitude she said on Rosh Hashanah following the birth of her son, the future prophet Samuel.2

Blowing of the Shofar

The Mishnah tells us that after each of the blessings Malchiyot, Zichronot and Shofrot are recited, we blow the shofar.3 This is in addition to the stand-alone shofar-blowing that takes place after the reading of the Torah.

Note that the shofar is only blown when praying communally. In fact, the Ashkenazic custom is to only blow the shofar during the chazzan’s repetition of the Amidah, while the Chassidic and Sephardic custom is to blow during the silent Amidah as well. If one is praying without a minyan, he doesn’t blow the shofar (or hear the shofar blown by someone else) when reciting these three blessings.4

Thus, it is very important to pray this Musaf with the congregation. This is in addition to the general reason that G‑d is more likely to “overlook” iniquities and accept the prayers of a community.5

What’s in These Blessings?

Each of the three blessings includes three verses from the Torah (Pentateuch), three from Nevi'im (Prophets), three from Ketuvim (Writings) and a concluding verse from the Torah, for a total of ten verses. The number ten corresponds to the Ten Utterances with which G‑d created the world.6

Malchiyot (Sovereignty)

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the day that Adam, the first person, was created. It was the creation of man that crowned G‑d as King of the universe. While there were creations before man, including angels, one is only king over subjects, not slaves (angels) or animals. When Adam was created and recognized that G‑d was Master and King of the universe, he felt that it was necessary for all of creation to acknowledge this, transforming the day of his creation into the day of G‑d’s coronation.

Thus, in this blessing we start off by reciting verses expressing our gratitude that G‑d has established a special relationship with His nation, and that He is King and Master of all the world. We end this blessing with an expression of hope and confidence that the day will come when all nations of the world will recognize G‑d’s reign over the universe.

Zichronot (Remembrances)

As King, G‑d judges how loyal each one of his subjects was throughout the year. G‑d is a G‑d of mercy; in judging us, He not only remembers our every action—for good or not so good—throughout the year, but He also remembers everything that has occurred throughout the history of creation that may stand in our good stead.

Thus, while this blessing includes verses that remind us how G‑d recalls everything we did, we also recite verses that express how G‑d remembers the righteous acts of our ancestors, concluding with the blessing “. . . Who remembers His covenant.”

Shofrot (Sounding of the Shofar)

The shofar blasts signify both the coronation of the King as well as the announcement of the King’s arrival.

The Talmud tells us that G‑d says to us on Rosh Hashanah, “Say before Me verses whose themes are sovereignty, remembrances and shofar. Sovereignty, so that you should crown Me king over you; remembrances, so that I should remember you for good; and with what? With a shofar.”7 Thus, it is through the shofar that the first two “objectives,” coronation and remembrance, are accomplished. Additionally, the sounding of the shofar reminds us of the two greatest events in all time: the giving of the Torah and the coming of Moshiach. Thus, we recite verses describing the revelation at Sinai as well as a prayer for the sounding of the great shofar heralding the final redemption.

Expression of the Fundamentals of our Faith

The 15th century Jewish philosopher Rabbi Yosef Albo explains that these three blessings are an expression of the most basic principles of the Jewish faith. We start off with Malchiyot, which reminds us of the existence and absolute sovereignty of G‑d. Zichronot reminds us that G‑d knows and remembers every action, and it is His providence that decides our fate. Shofrot reminds us of the truth and eternity of the Torah, which was given to us with a tremendous shofar blast that emanated from heaven. Such a heavenly shofar blast will once again be heard in the Messianic Era, when all will recognize the truth of the Torah, as the prophet Zachariah proclaims: “And the L‑rd G‑d shall sound the shofar, and He shall go with the whirlwinds of the south.”8 9 May it be speedily in our days!