1. Days of Chessed, Days of Gevurah

As1 is well known, the First Day of Rosh HaShanah can fall only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Shabbos, and never on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. To quote the classic mnemonic,2 לא אד״ו ראש - “Rosh [HaShanah] does not fall on [Yom] Alef, Daled or Vav.” This calls for explanation: How can Rosh HaShanah never fall on Friday, when the very first Rosh HaShanah - the day on which Adam was created - was the sixth day of Creation?

At first glance one might seek to answer that the above rule applies only to an era in which the beginning of each month is calculated and determined in advance - whereas [in the period of the Beis HaMikdash,] when each Rosh Chodesh was determined and sanctified according to the fresh testimony of witnesses who had just sighted the newly-born moon,3 Rosh HaShanah could indeed have fallen on the other three days as well.

According to Rav Saadiah Gaon,4 however, who holds that even during that period the Torah’s requirement for determining Rosh Chodesh was chiefly dealt with by calculation, the above rule (לא אד״ו ראש) is binding at all times, even when Rosh Chodesh is determined by the testimony of witnesses. We thus need to understand the difference between the first Rosh HaShanah, which fell on Friday, and the Rosh HaShanah of every year since.

By way of introduction, let us see the words of Rambam:5 “In the above calculation, why is [the First Day of Rosh HaShanah] not made to fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday?… The Sages decided to intersperse the days of the week on which Rosh HaShanah can fall between the days of the week on which [because of their deferment] it cannot fall, in order to arrive at the day on which the relative positions of the sun and the moon can be calculated precisely.”6

Raavad protests: “According to him, it would never be advisable to fix [the First Day of Rosh HaShanah] on the day of its molad.7 For what sin should Sunday, Wednesday and Friday be punished by never having their molad set for [the astronomically precise time of] yom hakibbutz haamiti? And for what merit should Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Shabbos be rewarded by having their molad on time, without deferment?”

It could be suggested that Rambam did not clarify why these three particular days should be deferred (choosing instead to offer a partial explanation), because the real reason belongs to the realm of the Kabbalah (as will presently be explained). Rambam, though well-versed in the Kabbalah, was extremely wary about revealing any Kabbalistic perspectives, even by allusion (as, too, with Rashi), for doing so in his time entailed a risk. (This is discussed in the sichos of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz].8)

The deferment of Rosh HaShanah on these three days in particular may be explained according to the Kabbalah as follows:9

Sunday, Wednesday and Friday relate to the vector of Chessed: Sunday relates to the Sefirah of Chessed; Wednesday relates to the Sefirah of Netzach, which is a derivative of Chessed; Friday, a day concerning which the Torah twice writes טוב (“good”),10 likewise indicates Chassadim. Man’s task on Rosh HaShanah is to elicit G‑d’s sovereignty, and this is done specifically by accepting the yoke of heaven - a mode of avodah that derives from the vector of Gevurah. Rosh HaShanah is therefore deferred from Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, which relate to the vector of Chessed, and is calculated to fall instead on one of the other four days of the week: on Monday, which relates to the Sefirah of Gevurah; or on Thursday, which relates to the Sefirah of Hod, a derivative of Gevurah; or at least on Tuesday, which relates to the Sefirah of Tiferes, on the median vector.11

With this in mind, we can understand the difference between the days of the week on which any Rosh HaShanah can fall, and the day on which the very first Rosh HaShanah fell - for the above reason can apply only after the very first Rosh HaShanah, in the present era, when the function of Rosh HaShanah is secured by man’s avodah. (In the present era, “it depends on a spiritual arousal initiated by man below.”12) On the very first Rosh HaShanah, by contrast, all spiritual activity was initiated, though unsolicited, by G‑d, כי חפץחסד הוא - “For He desires to bestow kindness.”13 On that occasion, therefore, Rosh HaShanah fell on Friday, a day concerning which the Torah twice writes טוב (“good”) - a day of Chessed.

2. Tears of Joy

The Alter Rebbe once said that one’s avodah on the evening of Rosh HaShanah should be done in a spirit of joy. Soon after, the Tzemach Tzedek and R. Nachum (the son of the Mitteler Rebbe) called on him and asked: If the avodah of Rosh HaShanah should be done in a spirit of simchah, why did he cry?

The Alter Rebbe replied: “Those were tears of joy.”14

3. His Mercies Extend Over All His Creatures

[Approaching the river bank for Tashlich, the Rebbe looked for a spot from which fish could be seen, and said:] It is recounted that once when R. Chaim Vital was teaching as he walked near a river for Tashlich, a frog suddenly poked its head out of the water. When his son made a move to frighten it away, R. Chaim Vital told him to let it be: it wanted to hear words of Torah.15

4. A Jew’s Innermost Desire

Even when one’s prayers are not duly accompanied by meditation upon all the kavanos (the appropriate Kabbalistic intentions),16 the audible recitation of the words of prayer fulfills its function - because the recitation in itself reveals the individual’s true desire that springs from the very core of his soul. And this core remains intact within every single Jew.

What is the source for this statement in the revealed plane of the Torah?

[In certain cases where a recalcitrant husband refuses to give his wife a bill of divorce which the court has decided must be given, the Sages apply the rule,]17 כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני - “He is to be coerced until he says, ‘I want to do so.’” Rambam18 explains the rationale for this rule as follows: “Since he wants to be part of the Jewish people and wants to observe all the commandments and distance himself from the transgressions, and it is his Evil Inclination that has attacked him, then once he has been smitten until his Evil Inclination has been weakened and he says, ‘I want to do so,’ [he has acted] according to his will.” This means that making this statement is meaningful not because of the coercion, for consent extracted by duress is legally meaningless. The function of the coercion is solely to negate the threatening assault of the Evil Inclination. Once this is done, the statement - “I want to do so” - is meaningful because it reveals his real desire.

The same principle clearly applies to an individual seeking teshuvah. When one’s actions are as they ought to be, and there is also a request for forgiveness, at least orally, then this request is effective even if it is not duly accompanied by meditation on all the relevant [Kabbalistic] kavanos - because his spoken words reveal the true desire that derives from the innermost core of his soul.

Similarly, Chassidus19 teaches that the Sounding of the Shofar is basically an outcry: “Father, father, save me!” One erev Rosh HaShanah the Rebbe Maharash commented:20 “What matters most is not the words, ‘Father, father…,’ but the outcry.’” Even if the intention of ‘Father, save me!’ is imperfect, the outcry in itself suffices, because in it is revealed the innermost core of the soul.21 (It is recorded, by the way, that as a result of the above comment of the Rebbe Maharash, that year’s Rosh HaShanah was unforgettably powerful.)

Along these lines, too, the maamarim of the Rebbe Rashab22 interpret the verse,23 כי נער ישראל ואוה בהו - “For Israel is a child, and I love him.” The Rebbe Rashab explains: Even though Israel, childlike, is lacking in his grasp of Divinity, I love him nevertheless - by virtue of the essence of his soul.

5. A Tallis Katan at Night

[One of the chassidim accompanying the Rebbe asked whether the custom of wearing a tallis katan24 even when asleep borders on bal tosef25 - the prohibition of adding to the commandments of the Torah. The Rebbe replied:] This prohibition disallows doing an actual deed which would entail an addition to the mitzvah proper. In the case under discussion, since the act of wearing a tallis katan does not [even by day] constitute a mitzvah [that one is obliged to initiate] and the mitzvah is fulfilled automatically, the question of bal tosef does not arise.26