The prayers on Rosh HaShanah for material prosperity are in their essence cries from the soul for the fulfillment of a Jew’s mission to crown G‑d as King of the world.

Rosh HaShanah,1 the New Year, is the Day of Judgment for all man’s needs, material and spiritual,2 for the coming year. Jews therefore pray on Rosh HaShanah to be blessed with children, life and prosperity, and for success in their spiritual endeavors. Simultaneously, Rosh HaShanah also is the day on which Jews crown G‑d as King of the world,3 accepting upon themselves anew His absolute sovereignty. Accordingly, the theme of many of the Rosh HaShanah prayers relates to G‑d’s reign over the world and its inhabitants.

Paradox in the Rosh HaShanah prayers

Praying for prosperity is a very different matter than participating in a coronation; indeed, they necessitate conflicting attitudes in the participants. A coronation forges a new relationship between king and people: that of ruler and subjects. A true subject, in service to his king, may entertain no independent actions, speech or even thoughts. He discards his own identity, his whole being is devoted to the king. The king, from his side, is motivated to accept the crown when his people display their desire to truly accept his rulership and be loyal subjects — that to obey and serve the king they are prepared and willing to forego their own wants. For the king’s subjects, a coronation is a subjugation of the self.4

On the other hand, one must have a sense of self to be conscious of and pray for one’s needs.5

Prayer on Rosh HaShanah, then, involves two contradictory modes: A Jew needs to be conscious of his wants; simultaneously, those wants must be subdued and in effect, be non-existent. How are we to resolve this paradox?6

G‑d is truly crowned as King when all recognize His sovereignty, the realization of the Rosh HaShanah prayer, “Rule over the whole world in Your glory.” In turn, G‑d’s majesty and presence is evident in the world when its objects are used for G‑dly, holy purposes. G‑d is revealed as King when G‑dliness is revealed in the world.

In this grand design of transforming the hitherto mundane world into a fit abode for G‑d,7 in which the Jews play a central role, every Jew has his allotted part. To each Jew there pertains those objects which it is his mission, and his alone, to transform into G‑dliness by using them for holy purposes.8

This is the true motive behind the prayers for material prosperity on Rosh HaShanah. They are not prayers for personal gratification, but prayers to be granted those material objects with which to carry out one’s allotted part in the task of revealing G‑dliness in the world — and thereby crowning G‑d as King. The paradox is thus resolved: The prayers on Rosh HaShanah for material (or even spiritual) plenty stem not from consciousness of one’s personal wants but from the selfless desire to carry out one’s G‑d-given mission. It is but a further step in the proclamation of G‑d as King.

Inner meaning of prayers

But is this not too rarefied an ideal, one unattainable by all but the most spiritually exalted of people? The Rosh HaShanah prayers, framed by our Sages, are for all Jews, on all levels. And not all Jews can honestly say that when they pray for material prosperity it is purely for the sake of carrying out G‑d’s purposes.9

The difficulty is not that it is impossible to refrain from praying for one’s wants and instead to concentrate solely on G‑d’s coronation, for Rosh HaShanah is the time when a Jew, any Jew, can draw close to G‑d10 and, forgetting all else, be gripped with the burning desire to be together with the King. The difficulty is that all Jews, even the most ordinary, apparently are to perform contradictory services — simultaneously. One is required to ponder one’s own needs and to desire G‑d to fill them; but that self-same desire is to be unsullied by personal motives.

A Jew, however, is a composite of body and soul. The soul is “verily a part of G‑d above,”11 with the body subservient to the soul. Thus, the Baal Shem Tov taught,12 the body’s hunger for food and thirst for drink derive from the spiritual hunger of the soul inhabiting the body. Within the food and drink, as within everything in the world, there are sparks of holiness; and it is for those sparks that the soul hungers. The person may feel only the physical hunger, but in reality, the body’s hunger is the soul’s.

So too in the prayers of Rosh HaShanah. A Jew’s heartfelt prayers for G‑d’s blessings may appear to be motivated by his own bodily needs and desires. But that is only the appearance. In reality, those prayers are the innermost cry of the soul, the expression of its hunger to carry out its Divine mission of transforming the world into an abode for G‑d and seeing the realization of the prayer,” Rule over the whole world in Your glory.”

Chanah’s prayer

The above is paralleled by the narrative of Chanah,13 read as the Haftorah on Rosh HaShanah14 and which is the source for many of the laws of prayer.

Chanah, childless for many years, went to Shiloh, to the Sanctuary, and there prayed at length to G‑d, weeping profusely. She made a vow that if G‑d would bless her with a son she would give him to G‑d all the days of his life. Eli, the Priest, was watching her, and because Chanah was speaking to herself so that only her lips moved but her voice could not be heard, thought she was drunk and rebuked her. Chanah replied, “It is not so, my lord...I have drunk neither new wine nor old wine, but I have poured out my soul before the L‑rd.”15 Eli then blessed her that “the G‑d of Israel will grant your request which you have asked of Him.”16

Eli did not think Chanah was literally drunk with wine.17 But because Chanah prayed at such length18 he thought her drunk with prayer, which he believed was unseemly behavior in the Sanctuary. When one is standing before G‑d, one should be cognizant of nothing but G‑d. It is not the place for requesting one’s own needs, however praiseworthy those may be. Chanah’s desperate desire for a child, he thought, had led her to forget that she stood before G‑d.

“Before the L‑rd”

But Eli was wrong. Chanah told him that “I have poured out my soul before the L‑rd.” She was not drunk with her own yearning for a child. Her lengthy prayer was an outpouring from the innermost recess of the soul, that part of the soul indissolubly one with G‑d. There, no personal desires exist. There is no more fitting place for prayer that stems from there than “before the L‑rd.”

Chanah’s prayer for a son, then, was not for herself, but for G‑d. As indeed, she had vowed in her prayer: “I will give him to the L‑rd all the days of his life.” And that son was the prophet Shmuel.

The narrative of Chanah provides a clear lesson concerning Jews’ prayers on Rosh HaShanah, as noted earlier. Rosh HaShanah, when G‑d is crowned King of the world, is not the appropriate time for consideration of one’s needs for their own sake. The narrative of Chanah, however, teaches that the prayers of every Jew contain more than the superficial requesting of one’s personal wants. They are the outpourings of the inner soul, which is one with G‑d. One should, must, pray for one’s needs on Rosh HaShanah for in truth, in their essence, those prayers are cries from the soul to carry out its mission of making this world a dwelling place for G‑d.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, pp. 291-297