Said G‑d: ... Recite before Me verses of sovereignty on Rosh Hashanah, so that you make Me king over you

Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16a

The following is a freely-translated excerpt from a public letter by the Rebbe issued the week before Rosh Hashanah of 5729 (1968):

A basic theme of Rosh Hashanah is that it achieves the coronation of G‑d as king of Israel and king of the universe, as expressed in our heartfelt prayer and request: “Reign over the entire world!”

Such a request implies the readiness to place oneself in a state of full conformity with the Divine sovereignty; that one is prepared to utterly submit to the Divine king, to the point that one’s entire being, and all that one has, is the king’s alone. This is the meaning of kabalat ol--“the acceptance of the yoke” of Divine sovereignty—an acceptance which finds expression in all areas of daily life.

In truth, every day of the year brings an acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, particularly when one recites the Shema in the morning and evening prayers. But there exists a most basic difference: on the daily level, kabalat ol, while being the inaugural and fundamental act of the day, is merely the basis upon which one’s behavior throughout the day is predicated. Rosh Hashanah, however, is a time when submission to the sovereignty of Heaven is also the quality and content of the day, pervading the entire person and manifesting itself in everything he does.

Totalitarianism Today
Every period and every locality has its special qualities and its particular challenges.

In our time, there is a prevailing trend in many circles toward increased self-sufficiency and independence, not only in regard to material matters, but in ideological matters as well; an increasing unwillingness to submit to the established order, to accept things before they are fully understood by one’s own mind, and so on. This, it would seem, represents a challenge to the very concept of kabalat ol.

This is particularly the case in countries that are (relatively) young and which were established upon a foundation of self-initiative and youthful energy, and where this spirit characterizes the entire structure of personal and communal life—all of which make it more difficult to conform to the criteria of kabalat ol.

Notwithstanding the above, we have the axiom that G‑d does not demand of a person something that is beyond his capacity. Since submission to the sovereignty of G‑d is the essence of Rosh Hashanah (and the foundation of all our deeds throughout the year), this is obviously applicable to all times and places. Certainly, it is possible and incumbent upon us to achieve a full acceptance of the Divine kingship also in our time, and also in the above-mentioned circumstances.

Indeed, there is a special quality to our kabalat ol in our time and in this part of the world. When a person who has been conditioned to having limits placed on his independence accepts something unquestioningly, this does not constitute a thorough and unequivocal acceptance; for such a person is accustomed to being told what to do and is often compelled to yield his will and modify his opinions. On the other hand, when a person who does not, as a rule, surrender his independence and his convictions is convinced that he must recognize and submit to a higher authority, this decision is made on a much deeper and more fundamental level and yields an absolute and immutable commitment.