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.1 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 year2 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 G‑d. Our Sages3 teach that on Rosh HaShanah G‑d asks man to “accept Me as King over you,” and in fact the recognition of G‑d’s sovereignty is a major theme of the Rosh HaShanah service.4 This act of recognition establishes a bond between the essence of man and the essence of G‑d.

Three Levels of Connection

These three elements of Rosh HaShanah are related to three levels of connection with G‑d.

(a) The first bond is established through Torah obser­vance. Because G‑d’s will is manifest in the Torah and its mitzvos, by observing them we connect our thoughts, words and actions with Him.5

(b) There is, however, a second and deeper bond with G‑d. For while it is true that observance of mitzvos establishes a connection with G‑d, the conditions of this relationship presuppose that the individual is a separate entity who desires to connect to G‑d through this observance. Teshuvah, by contrast, involves a bond which relates man to G‑d directly, without the medium of mitzvos.

Each of us shares a bond with G‑d that is not at all dependent on our deeds. For this reason, even a person who has failed to establish a connection with G‑d through mitzvos or who has obstructed that connection by his conduct, is still capable of feeling a desire to return to Him.6

A person’s desire to return to G‑d evokes a response from Him. Like a father who loves his children regardless of their conduct, G‑d maintains a bond with us which continues even when our conduct appears to draw us away from Him. And when a person turns to G‑d in teshuvah, this bond surfaces and makes its presence felt.

Since the connection to G‑d 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 G‑d.

(c) Nevertheless, despite the depth of the connection with G‑d established through teshuvah, a certain distance remains between man and G‑d. In fact, it is our feeling of separation from Him that motivates our desire to return to Him. By con­trast, our willingness to accept G‑d as King expresses the idea of man’s absolute bond with G‑d.7 Man accepts G‑d’s sover­eignty because he cannot conceive of any alternative; he cannot conceive of the possibility of living without a King.

(This understanding of the King-subject relationship also applies to G‑d. G‑d, 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.”)8

Accepting G‑d’s Sovereignty

Our Sages9 teach that G‑d tells man, “Accept My sover­eignty and then accept My decrees.” The connection with G‑d which is established through observing the mitzvos (“My decrees”) is only possible after His sovereignty has been established. Even teshuvah is possible only after G‑d’s sover­eignty has been established. For the essence of teshuvah is regret over one’s past conduct and a firm resolution to fulfill G‑d’s will in the future,10 and this presupposes an existing subject-king relationship.

In our divine service on Rosh HaShanah, we therefore focus on the core of our relationship with G‑d, the acceptance of His sovereignty, for this serves as the foundation both for our observance of mitzvos and for our ability to do teshuvah.

A Selfless Self

Why is our absolute bond with G‑d established through the acceptance of His Kingship? The answer lies in realizing that deep down, underlying the varied peripheral facets of our personalities, the very core of our being is our divine soul, an “actual part of G‑d from above.”11 Therefore, it is not free self-expression, “being ourselves,” that expresses who we really are. Rather it is in the acceptance of G‑d’s sovereignty that our inner G‑dly potential finds expression. By getting to the core of our relationship with G‑d, we give voice to the core of our own being, to that quintessential element that is most truly ourselves.

Thus when a person requests of G‑d: “Reign over the entire world in Your glory,”12 his request should be a deeply felt desire, not merely a superficial statement. Every aspect of our being — and the essence of our being — should be given over to G‑d.

Our acceptance of G‑d’s Kingship on Rosh HaShanah has­tens the ultimate expression of His Kingship that will take place in the Era of Redemption. For then “G‑d will be King of the entire world; and on that day, He will be One and His Name will be One.”13 May this become manifest in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos Vol. IV, Rosh HaShanah;Vol. XIX, Sukkos