When G‑d is To Be Found

On the verse,1 “Seek G‑d when He is to be found,” our Sages comment:2 “These are the 10 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.”

The wording of our Sages’ statement is problematic. On one hand, the expression “the 10 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur,” seems to imply that Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are not included in these days.3 Nevertheless, the expression “These are the 10 days...” indicates that Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are indeed included in the count, for there are only seven days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

This compels us to understand that there are two elements to the observance of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur: a) an essential quality which transcends the service of teshuvah, and b) the service of teshuvah whichcharacterizes all 10 days.

First, our Divine service must center on the essential aspect of Rosh HaShanah. Afterwards comes the aspect associated with teshuvah. Thus, there are 10 days of teshuvah between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, for the aspect of teshuvah associated with Rosh HaShanah comes after the essential aspect of Rosh HaShanah.4

Making Him King

Teshuvah transcends all other mitzvos. Itcan thus atone for all blemishes in the observance of mitzvos, for it reaches a deeper point in the soul than is reached by the other mitzvos.5 And as mentioned above, since the essential aspect comes before the service of teshuvah, it follows that this aspect of Rosh HaShanah transcends even teshuvah.

What is the essential aspect of Rosh HaShanah? The coronation of G‑d as King. Thus our Sages quote6 G‑d as asking: “Say before Me... verses reflecting My Kingship to make Me King over you.”

Until we have accepted G‑d as King, serving Him through the observance of mitzvos is not relevant. And so our Sages quote G‑d as saying:7 “Accept My Kingship, and afterwards accept My decrees.” Therefore teshuvah, which serves to atone for failures in fulfilling the King’s decrees, is relevant only after His Kingship is accepted.

Our acceptance of G‑d as King relates to His essence — a level above all revelations. The observance of the mitzvos relates to G‑d’s will as it has come into revelation, for all the mitzvos are expressions of His will.

Teshuvah, which atones for transgressions of His will, relates to a higher level of G‑dliness, but one which still shares a connection to His will.8 For a level which totally transcends G‑d’s will must also transcend the servicewhich repents for transgressions of that will. Thus teshuvah still relates to revealed levels of G‑dliness. The acceptance of G‑d as King, however, relates to G‑d’s essence, which transcends all revelations.9

From this, we can appreciate the uniqueness of the souls of the Jewish people — that they can affect G‑d’s very essence and evoke in Him a desire to be King. To be able to affect G‑d’s essence, however, it is necessary to express the inner bittul that lies at the center of every Jewish soul.10 This is expressed in our request of G‑d:11 “Reign over the entire world in Your glory.”

“Head of the Year”

Names employed by the Torah are chosen because they describe the true nature of the things to which they refer, expressing their very life-force.12 This also applies to Rosh HaShanah, which literally means “head of the year.”13

The head has several unique aspects:

a) The head is the most elevated and sophisticated of all the body’s limbs;

b) The head includes the life-energy for all the limbs of the body within it; and

c) The head directs the functioning of all the limbs.

Parallels to all three qualities apply with regard to Rosh HaShanah:

a) The Divine service which characterizes Rosh HaShanah — the crowning of G‑d as King — affects G‑d’s essence, a level which is above the Divine service carried out throughout the year.

b) Rosh HaShanah is also a day of teshuvah. Teshuvah relates to the mitzvos, but stands above them. Indeed, it can be said to include them.

c) The good resolutions made on Rosh HaShanah influence one’s observance of mitzvos in the year to come, affecting them as the head directs the limbs of the body.

The Shofar’s Message

With regard to Rosh HaShanah, it is said:14 “The mitzvah of the day involves the shofar.” Based on the above explanations, it follows that all three factors mentioned above — the coronation of G‑d, teshuvah, and the observance of the mitzvos — are reflected in the sounding of the shofar.15 And, as is true with regard to all matters of P’nimiyus HaTorah, this concept is also alluded to in Nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah law.

In Hilchos Teshuvah,16 the Rambam writes:

Although the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a decree from the Torah, it also contains an allusion. [It is as if the shofar is saying:] “Awake.... Turn to G‑d in teshuvah.

A question arises: Why does the Rambam state this concept in Hilchos Teshuvah rather than in Hilchos Shofar? Although the Rambam is speaking about teshuvah, since he is explaining the motivating principle for the mitzvah of shofar, seemingly, it would have been more appropriate to include it in Hilchos Shofar.

To cite a parallel: The Rambam concludes his Hilchos Mikvaos17 with an explanation of the motivating principle for immersion in a mikveh:

These are decrees of the Torah.... Nevertheless, there is an allusion to the concept... to purify one’s soul from its impurity and base character traits.... by immersion in the waters of pure knowledge.

This concept, though related to the Divine service of teshuvah, is stated in Hilchos Mikvaos and not in Hilchos Teshuvah because it describes the rationale for immersion in the mikveh. Why then is the rationale for sounding the shofar not explained in Hilchos Shofar?

The Rambam’sstatements also provoke another question: The Talmud states:6 “Say before Me... verses reflecting My Kingship to make Me King over you. By what means? Via the shofar.” The shofar is thus the medium which brings about the coronation of G‑d.18

Why does the Rambam not mention this allusion?

The answer to these questions requires that we understand three elements involved in the sounding of the shofar:

a) The mitzvah of sounding the shofar, as expressed in all the particular laws which apply to it. The Rambam considers this as one of the 613 mitzvos, and mentions these laws in Hilchos Shofar.

b) The concept of teshuvah. This is alluded to by the sounding of the shofar. Teshuvah reflects a rung above the observance of mitzvos. To point to this quality, the Rambam mentions this concept in Hilchos Teshuvah, and not in Hilchos Shofar. Hilchos Shofar contains a description of the laws of sounding the shofar. It does not mention teshuvah, forthis dimension transcends the mitzvos and is only alluded to by the shofar.19

This is reflected in the wording used by the Rambam: “Although the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a decree from the Torah.” In other words, although it is fundamentally a mitzvah, “it also contains an allusion,” i.e., it refers to teshuvah, which transcends the mitzvos.

c) The aspect of sounding the shofar which brings about G‑d’s coronation. This aspect transcends the mitzvah of sounding the shofar entirely, and cannot be communicated even by an allusion. For an allusion reflects a thrust toward revelation, while the coronation of G‑d, by contrast, brings forth the bittul that lies at the foundation of the soul [which is entirely above revelation].20

Choosing Freely

Based on the above, we can appreciate the connection between the sounding of the shofar and the verse:21 “He chooses our heritage for us,” which is recited before the sounding of the shofar.

In an ultimate sense, free choice involves choosing without regard to any factor or consideration other than the initiative of the one who chooses. When a person’s choice is motivated by a reason, it is as if that reason forced him to choose; this cannot be considered free choice.22

How then can G‑d’s “choos[ing of] our heritage for us” be associated with the sounding of the shofar? If His choice is dependent on the sounding of the shofar, how can it be considered free?

These questions can be answered by referring to the above concepts. The two aspects of sounding the shofar associated with the performance of the mitzvah and the Divine service of teshuvah do not relate to G‑d’s essence. Instead, they draw down merely the revealed aspects of G‑dliness — an arousal from above that is dependent on an arousal from below.

The bittul of the soul’s essence, which is expressed by the coronation of G‑d through the sounding of the shofar, relates to G‑d’s essence, tapping that level of the soul on which Jews are one with G‑d. And at that level, G‑d chooses the Jews freely; the sounding of the shofar is not what causes Him to choose.23

Unlimited Blessing

G‑d’s essence knows no bounds. Since the influence drawn down by the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is rooted in G‑d’s essence, this influence is not restricted by any limitations of the spiritual cosmos. The influence is drawn down precisely as He desires it to be. And what He desires is certainly good, as it is written:24 “In the countenance of the King, there is life.” Penai, translated here as “countenance,” also means “inner dimension.” Thus any desire emanating from G‑d’s inner dimension will surely be associated with life and goodness.

This will be revealed on the material plane, for G‑d’s essence is connected to our material reality. And so it is that every Jew will be inscribed for a good and sweet year, filled with open and apparent blessings.

(Adapted from Sichos Rosh HaShanah and Sichos Simchas Beis HaShoevah, 5723)