1. This Shabbos is the Shabbos on which the month of Tishrei is blessed. Indeed, there is an added dimension to that blessing this year when Rosh HaShanah falls on a Shabbos. The Baal Shem Tov taught that although the blessing of the month is not recited by the Jewish people, the month is blessed by G‑d, Himself. That blessing is expressed by the Torah reading which begins, “You are all standing today.” “Today,” refers to Rosh HaShanah, the day of judgment. The Jews are all “standing,” victorious in judgment.

Blessing the month in this manner has a unique connection to the celebration of Rosh HaShanah this year because it falls on a Shabbos. In regard to such a Rosh HaShanah, the Mishnah relates that “the shofar was sounded in the Beis HaMikdash, but not throughout the country.”

The mitzvah of blowing the shofar is one of the fundamental aspects of Rosh HaShanah — “the mitzvah of the day is [performed] with the shofar.” Rav Sa’adia Gaon explains this concept, associating the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah with the sounding of the shofar at the coronation of a king. Rosh HaShanah represents the acceptance of G‑d as King of the world as our Sages declared: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, states: ‘Recite before Me verses of Kingship... to make Me king over you.”‘ The blowing of the shofar plays an important role in this process of crowning G‑d as King as our Sages continue “With what [is this brought about]? With the shofar.” If so, why did the Sages nullify the performance of the mitzvah of blowing the shofar when Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbos? How can our acceptance of G‑d as King be complete without this mitzvah?

These questions are the subject of several Chassidic discourses which explain that when Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbos, the influence of Shabbos compensates for that of the shofar. The acceptance of G‑d as King involves the arousal of His will to rule by revealing the quality of pleasure. Generally, this is brought about through the blowing of the shofar. When, however, Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbos, there is a dimension of pleasure which is drawn down by the Shabbos itself which is constant and not dependent on the service of the Jewish people.1 Hence, the efforts of the Jews to arouse Divine pleasure through blowing the shofar are unnecessary.

There are, however, several levels in Divine pleasure. Therefore, in the Beis HaMikdash, where a higher level of Divine pleasure could be drawn down, the shofar was sounded on the Shabbos as well. Throughout Eretz Yisrael, however, it was not possible to draw down this level2 and, therefore, the shofar was not sounded when Rosh HaShanah fell on the Shabbos.

This explanation, however, appears to require amplification. One of the fundamental aspects of the acceptance of G‑d as King is that it is effected through the service of the Jewish people. They are the ones who “Recite... to make Me king over you;” it is their service which brings about His Kingship.

The latter is associated with the idea that Rosh HaShanah is celebrated on the anniversary of the sixth day of creation, the day of the creation of man and not on the anniversary of the creation of the world at large (the 25th of Elul). At the beginning, G‑d created the world as an expression of His kindness. Afterwards, everything depends on an arousal from below through service on the part of man.

An example of this service can be seen in Adam’s actions directly after his creation. Adam caused G‑d’s kingship to be proclaimed throughout the totality of existence when he approached all the creations and told them, “Come let us bow down and prostrate ourselves before the L‑rd, our Maker.” Similarly, each year, Rosh HaShanah is celebrated on the anniversary of the creation of man for it is the service of man — and more particularly, the Jewish people3 — which expresses G‑d’s kingship over the world at large.

Accordingly, the nullification of the mitzvah of blowing the shofar when Rosh HaShanah falls on the Shabbos appears problematic. Although the aspect of Divine pleasure is drawn down by the Shabbos irrespective of the service of the Jewish people, the fact that this service is lacking would appear to detract from the acceptance of G‑d as King which is dependent on the Jews’ service as explained above.

This difficulty can be resolved by explaining that not blowing shofar is — like the actual sounding of the shofar — an act of service with symbolic connotations.4 It does not represent the failure to perform a mitzvah, but rather an act of service, indeed a higher act of service than the actual sounding of the shofar when Rosh HaShanah falls during the week (for surely, the influence of Shabbos is not intended to lead to a reduction in our service to G‑d).

To explain: Blowing the shofar expresses the quality of bittul (self-nullification). As we accept G‑d as King, we nullify ourselves before Him in an act of homage, giving ourselves over to His service. This bittul arouses G‑d’s desire to accept our homage and desire Kingship.

Shabbos is also connected with the concept of bittul. On Shabbos, a Jew ceases his personal activities and stands before G‑d in an attitude of bittul. During the week, G‑dly light is not in open revelation. Hence, there is no difficulty in man expressing his own identity through his service. Shabbos, however, is a day of holiness conveyed by G‑d. Each Jew is “standing before the King,” as it were. In such a situation, any service is inappropriate. Our Sages relate that, in the king’s presence, making even the slightest gesture is considered equivalent to an act of rebellion.

To apply these concepts in regard to the blowing of the shofar: The coronation of G‑d as King on Rosh HaShanah represents a higher level of bittul than Shabbos. The combination of the two factors, Shabbos and Rosh HaShanah, however, produces even a deeper dimension of bittul.

To explain this concept in terms of the service of Adam, the first man, as cited above: The bittul which Adam was able to bring about with his statement, “Come let us bow down and prostrate ourselves before the L‑rd, our Maker,” was incomplete. Firstly, it was a bittul based on a rationale — because G‑d is “our Maker,” therefore, we nullify ourselves to Him. Furthermore, the expression of homage is through the performance of an activity, prostration, which itself reveals that the individual paying homage feels his identity at the moment he is performing this act of self-negation. In contrast, on Shabbos, a person does nothing to express his homage. Instead, he stands before G‑d in complete and total bittul.

Thus, we see two levels of bittul:

a) One in which a person negates himself to G‑d totally. As a servant who gives himself over totally to his master, he gives over his will and his soul to G‑d. Nevertheless, the person’s identity is still felt. The process of giving oneself over is a service.

b) One in which a person loses all consciousness of his individual identity. It would be improper to say that there is a person who negates himself to G‑d. The person’s identity is not felt at all, all that is felt is G‑d.5

On this basis, we can explain the difference between the bittul brought about by the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and the bittul that exists on Rosh HaShanah which falls on a Shabbos. The blowing of the shofar represents an active expression of bittul, paralleling Adam’s proclamation, “Come let us bow down...” It describes a level where a person gives himself over to the coronation of G‑d as King. There is, nevertheless, a consciousness of one’s own identity as the one who performs this act of coronation.

When, however, one proceeds in the service of bittul to the point where one’s existence is not felt at all, i.e., not that one consciously negates one’s existence, but that one has no sense of self whatsoever, it is not appropriate to blow the shofar to crown G‑d as King or to call others to pay homage to Him. There is no need for such activities for one does not feel any existence apart from Him. One is standing before the King, Himself. Therefore, it would be improper to bow down or sound the shofar for such activities have no place — and indeed are out of place — in His presence. Thus, not blowing the shofar on Shabbos represents a higher and more complete level of bittul than the sounding of the shofar.

A parallel to these two levels of bittul can be found in the two expressions of G‑dly light within our world. There is one level of G‑dly light which enclothes itself within the world to bring it into being and grant it life. Though a person (and the world at large) must negate himself to this G‑dly light, this level of G‑dly light recognizes the existence of the world and views it as an entity. There is, however, a higher level of G‑dly light which transcends the world. From the standpoint of this level of light, there is no existence apart from Him and the existence of the world is, in essence, negated.

The difference between Shabbos and the days of the week parallels the differences between these two levels of G‑dly light. The G‑dly light revealed during the week represents the level of light which recognizes the existence of the world and undergoes the tzimtzumim necessary to enclothe itself within such a world. On Shabbos, however, the G‑dly light rises to its source and a level of complete bittul, “only He exists and there is nothing apart from Him,” is revealed.6

Accordingly, when Rosh HaShanah falls during the week, the bittul which our service expresses relates to the G‑dly light that is enclothed within the world. Therefore, it is expressed through an activity, blowing shofar, which emphasizes man’s identity while it negates it. In contrast, when Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbos the bittul relates to the level of Divine light which transcends the world. Therefore, this bittul is complete, nullifying man’s existence entirely and is expressed by our not blowing the shofar and standing in total nullification before Him.7

The above explanation raises a problem. As mentioned above, even when Rosh HaShanah fell on Shabbos, the shofar was blown in the Beis HaMikdash. Surely, in the place where G‑d’s presence is openly revealed, the fullest state of bittul would be reached. If, as explained above, the blowing of the shofar reflects a lower level of bittul and a consciousness of self, why was the shofar sounded there?

This difficulty can be resolved as follows: Even the complete negation of one’s existence, which characterizes the service of Rosh HaShanah which falls on Shabbos, still has a certain connection to one’s individual existence. The very fact that one’s individual identity has to be negated, even though that negation is complete and total, reveals a trace of personal existence. If an entity had no concept of individual existence whatsoever, there would be no need to mention its negation. To borrow a concept, in Tanya, the Alter Rebbe states that it is ludicrous to describe the sophistication of an intellectual concept by saying that “it is so uplifted, you can’t touch it.” The two subjects, intellectual concepts and physical sensation, exist in two totally different frames of references and it is improper to use them together. Similarly, when a person operates within a framework of utter negation, the concept of an individual identity, even when mentioned in the context of negating that identity, is entirely foreign.

To illustrate the concept in terms of the example mentioned above: When a person stands still in complete self-nullification before the king, unable to move a limb because he negates his authority over his entire being, there remains a concept of self. Thus the concept of self is negated (in a complete and total manner), rather than expressed, but the person has not transcended this entire frame of reference.

When, however, a person is concerned with the king and has no sense of self whatsoever, there is no necessity that he remain still. When the king desires that a particular activity be performed, he will not hesitate to perform it. Since he is not concerned with his own identity — even the negation of that identity — and his only desire is to fulfill the king’s will, he will perform these acts naturally, without the necessity for a conscious decision.8

This is the level of bittul which was expressed in the Beis HaMikdash when the shofar was sounded on Rosh Hashanah which fell on Shabbos. As long as a person has any conception of self (even the negation of self), it is impossible for him to perform the activity of blowing the shofar amidst the revelation of G‑dliness. The performance of any activity runs contrary to the bittul which he has achieved. In the Beis HaMikdash, however, the place where the absolute unity of G‑d and the Jewish people is revealed, the blowing of the shofar does not present a difficulty. Since the blowing of the shofar is a mitzvah of the Torah, the performance of this activity is not an expression of the person’s individual existence, but rather, reflects how he has no identity whatsoever and is totally given over to G‑d’s will. Therefore, he fulfills His will as a natural response.

This service is made possible by the revelation of a level of G‑dly light which transcends utterly our frame of existence. Previously, it was explained that Shabbos represents a level of G‑dly light which transcends our existence. The very fact, however, that the revelation of this light necessitates the negation and the cessation of worldly activity (work is forbidden) reveals that it still shares a connection to our frame of reference (as the person who stands motionless in complete self-nullification before the king still has a connection to self).

In contrast, in the Beis HaMikdash, G‑d’s essence, a level that stands entirely above our frame of reference — so much so that describing it as transcending our existence is inadequate — is revealed.9 Therefore, the shofar was sounded in the Beis HaMikdash even when Rosh HaShanah fell on Shabbos. This level of G‑dliness does not require the negation of one’s existence. On the contrary, this is the level which is the source for G‑d’s desire to create the world. Thus, at this level, man’s actions in coronating G‑d by blowing the shofar find favor.

This concept can be further illustrated — and explained on a deeper level — through the comparison between Torah and mitzvos. Mitzvos represent G‑d’s commands to man, instructing him how to behave within the context of our world. Thus, they give place for the identity of man and for the world. In contrast, the Torah stands above the world and from the standpoint of Torah, man and the world do not exist as entities with an independent identity. They exist only to allow for the fulfillment of the Torah’s directives on the level of deed.

To explain this contrast within the context of the mitzvah of blowing shofar: From the perspective of mitzvah, both the world and man possess an identity and the mitzvah of blowing the shofar represents the subjugation of these identities and the coronation of G‑d as King over both man and the world.

From the perspective of Torah, however, the only concern is the coronation of G‑d. Nevertheless, G‑d desired that His coronation come about through man’s efforts in blowing shofar. This does not endow man with any importance. On the contrary, man and the world exist only as intermediaries through which G‑d’s will is carried out.

Therefore, in the Beis HaMikdash which is identified with the Torah — for the ark, the essential element of the Beis HaMikdash, contained the tablets of the law and a Torah scroll — man’s blowing of the shofar does not represent a contradiction to the concept of bittul. On the contrary, from the perspective of Torah, man’s efforts are not important in their own right. The essential thing is the coronation of G‑d.

A parallel to this concept also exists at present, the recitation of the verses of Shofaros in our Mussaf prayer. These verses are recited on the Shabbos as well. Since this reflects the Torah’s conception of the blowing of the shofar — and are recited by man in a manner of “My tongue will repeat Your statements,” i.e., they are “Your statements” and we only repeat them — these verses are recited on Shabbos as well.

As mentioned above, this concept is related to the blessing of the month of Tishrei which, in contrast to all the other months of the year is blessed by G‑d and not by the Jewish people. The fixation of the calendar is related to the service of the Jewish people. The Midrash relates that:

The angels come before the Holy One, Blessed be He, and ask Him: “When is Rosh HaShanah?...” The Holy One, Blessed be He, answers them: “Why are you asking Me? Let us go and enquire of the earthly court.”

Nevertheless, when it comes to blessing the month of Tishrei which was instituted in place of the sanctification of the month, we do not bless the month ourselves. Instead, this blessing is performed by G‑d. This implies, as explained above, that the Jews stand in a state of complete bittul to the extent that they are not able to bless the month themselves and leave the blessing to G‑d. G‑d’s blessing, however, is expressed through the Torah reading which is recited by the Jews, emphasizing how, in a manner similar to the blowing of the shofar in the Beis HaMikdash, the bittul of the Jews does not prevent them from performing an activity. Rather, their unity10 with G‑d is so complete that they act, not as independent entities, but as mediums to express and reveal G‑d’s blessing11 within the world. This state of utter bittul is the proper preparation for the coronation of G‑d as King on Rosh HaShanah in the following week.

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2. Erev Rosh HaShanah is the birthday of the Tzemach Tzedek. This year, that date receives additional significance for it is the 200th anniversary of the Tzemach Tzedek’s birth. Accordingly, this day should be used in a full manner to spread Torah and mitzvos and, in particular, to spread the teachings of Chassidus.

The day should be used to study the teachings of the Tzemach Tzedek, both in Nigleh and Chassidus,12 and to hold a Chassidic farbrengen (if not on Rosh HaShanah itself, on the days which are close to it according to the local situation).

The two names, Tzemach and Tzedek, both refer to Mashiach. Thus, the 200th anniversary of the Tzemach Tzedek’s birth, the day when “the spiritual source of his soul shines powerfully,” is a proper way to conclude, תשמ"ט, the “year of release,” and enter תש"נ, “the year of miracles.”

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3. Today is also the yahrzeit of my grandfather, Rav Meir Shlomo Yanovsky ע"ה. The two names Meir and Shlomo reflect a fusion of opposites, conceptually similar to the fusion of opposites represented by this week’s two Torah portions, Nitzavim and Vayeilech.

Nitzavim, “standing,” represents the establishment of a position of strength. In contrast, Vayeilech, “and he went,” alludes to the concept of progression. Reading the two portions together reflects the fusion of the services together.

Similarly, the name Meir refers to a high rung of understanding as we see in regard to the Sage, Rebbi Meir, that the other Sages were unable to grasp the full measure of his understanding. Although he tried to communicate to them, they could not comprehend him entirely. Thus, this relates to Vayeilech which indicates that there is always a higher rung to aspire to reach.

Shlomo relates to the word shleimus which means “completion” and thus, alludes to the concept of revelation within this world as in the era of King Shlomo which was an era of peace, prosperity, and tranquility. Thus, the fusion of the two represents the revelation of these high levels in a full and complete manner.

On a deeper level, each of the two names reflects both of these qualities. Though Rabbi Meir’s wisdom transcended that of his colleagues, he was also the author of most of the Mishnayos in the Talmud; i.e., he was responsible for formulating the text used for instructing the Jews in the actual fulfillment of Torah law. Shlomo also possessed the quality of being uplifted. He “sat on the throne of the L‑rd” and was exalted over the level of the people at large.

The life of my grandfather, Rav Meir Shlomo, also reflected both these qualities. On one hand, he was one of the young men who lived in Lubavitch to study with the Rebbe Maharash who is identified with the adage, Lechat’chilah Aribber, (“My first impulse is to climb over”), this representing a high spiritual peak. Later, he served as the Rav of Nikolaiv, a large city where he was forced to decide a variety of halachic questions regarding business law and participate in affairs involving the government officials. Needless to say, this post required him to express these qualities within the context of this world.