“With trumpets and the sound of the shofar call out before the King, Hashem” (Tehillim 98:6).
One of the numerous reasons cited by Rav Saadya Gaon for the mitzvah of tekias shofar is that Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of creation, when Hakadosh Boruch Hu first ruled. The custom upon the crowning of a new king was to blow trumpets and horns, announcing everywhere the beginning of his kingdom. Since every year on this day we enthrone Hashem as king upon us, we also sound the shofar to celebrate His kingdom.
Can we even begin to understand what malchus is? Can we fathom the reverence people once had for their rulers and their trepidation before them? Nowadays, where we live, the institution of a monarchy is obsolete. In a democracy, there is hardly any fear of government officials, and they are often mocked and ridiculed by the press and the citizens. How, then, can we even imagine what it means to coronate a king?
“When I was a child,” recalled the Chevroner mashgiach, Rav Meir Chodosh, “I heard a detailed account of the crowning of Czar Nikolai, the Russian monarch. Preparations for this gala event took place throughout the entire country, involving thousands of officials and soldiers. A vast area of land spanning many kilometers was designated for the occasion, with many soldiers guarding it. Select individuals from various cities and towns were chosen for the great privilege of attending this momentous happening. These fortunate people made their own personal preparations, ordering custom-made suits, hats and shoes. For that entire period, they would walk around with heads held high, radiating pride that they were the envy of the population. Even their families and friends would boast that they were relatives and acquaintances of someone who received an admission card to the coronation. Any town that didn’t receive even one invitation was considered lower class.
“Most of those who were invited could not shake the king’s hand or even get close to him. They were merely able to stand in a fenced-off area some distance away from the proceedings. Here, only those who pushed to the front of the crowd or those who towered above the rest could see from afar the stage upon which the ceremony took place. Mayors of the big cities, high-ranking officers, ministers, ambassadors and delegates from other countries were more privileged and had special reserved seats somewhat closer to the stage. The most distinguished officials sat up front and had a chance of shaking the new ruler’s hand.
“The road leading to the event was paved, cleared, and fenced-off, guarded by multitudes of soldiers. In honor of this affair, brightly-colored uniforms were designed and their entire appearance exuded honor to their new leader. The monarch was set to ride in an open carriage followed by the entire royal family. For a lengthy period beforehand, the army held special exercises to ensure that everyone knew their special assignment. Extensive practices were held so that everything would go just right. Woe to the soldier whose attire would not be sparkling and pressed as expected. Even a button not properly shined could cost a soldier his life.
“People arrived to the area days in advance to secure for themselves a chosen spot from which they could witness this great historic spectacle. For many hours, the people waited, the crowds swelling by the minute. Soldiers nervously tried to control the growing populace. Suddenly, officers appeared riding on splendidly-adorned horses. Gold-plated trumpets sounded the arrival of the new czar. Now there was pushing and a feeling of tension in the air. In the rush to see the king, many of the weaker people fell to the ground and were unfortunately trampled to death.
“Finally, that great moment arrived. The czar made his appearance and thousands cheered, ‘Long live the king!’ Many people fell on their faces with great emotion. Whoever was fortunate to see the czar felt a sense of satisfaction and would have what to relate to his grandchildren.
“The royal family approached the ceremonial area, while all the invitees stood up, straightening out their clothing and brushing their hair. They were staring at the king, their eyes welling up with tears, their hearts filled with emotion. For the rest of their lives, they would never forget that moment.
“The king ascended to the stage and the ceremony began. A general, decorated with medallions, picked up a box embellished with diamonds and precious stones. With great emotion, he passed the box to a higher ranked general, who opened it and passed it to a general superior to him. Out of this box, he removed the spectacular crown that glistened under the bright sun. Now he handed the crown to a chosen individual designated to place it on the king’s head. Those who attended this event, not to mention the individual who performed the coronation, were looked at by the citizens with a mixture of envy and admiration” (Lekach Tov).
“Kingdom on earth is a likeness of kingdom in heaven” (Sanhedrin 105b). Such pomp and circumstance for a mortal human king. What were all of those people so excited about? The crowning of a flesh-and-blood ruler, a descendant of despotic rulers and himself far from a paragon of virtue. Russian monarchs governed ruthlessly, without much empathy for their subjects. In fact, this ruling family was eventually overthrown for what people thought would be a much better way of life: communism. One can imagine how despicable the governing Romanov family was. And yet, the enthroning of a new ruler brought such joy and pride to the land.
How much more so should we be exhilarated as we approach another Rosh Hashanah, the day of the creation of Adam Harishon, when he willingly accepted Hashem as King. Every year, on this day, we reaffirm that Hashem is the Melech Malchei Hamelachim. Many rulers who rule for the sake of power and fulfillment of their desires have fallen, their empires swept into the dustbins of history. Hashem, the Source of all goodness whose purpose in creating the world was chesed, lives on forever. Many nations have passed into oblivion, but Hashem’s people, the Bnei Yisroel, who reflect His values, live on forever. Shouldn’t we be ecstatic and express our gratitude that we are servants of such a King? As the novi said, “Go eat rich foods and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, for today is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad: the enjoyment of Hashem is your strength” (Nechemiah 8:10). This despite our feeling of trepidation on this Yom Hadin.
Were we just regular citizens affirming our loyalty to such a king, it would be ample reason to celebrate. But we are not merely any subject of the king, for He is Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, the King. We are the royal family. Unlike a mortal, power-hungry king, Hashem cherishes us and wants to be close to us. And because we possess Hashem’s special treasure, the Torah, and because we emulate His ways far more than any other people, we sit in the front row of the proceedings. Furthermore, through our tefillos and avodah on this day, we are actually crowning Hakadosh Boruch Hu, for by davening to Him and placing all of our hopes on His shoulders, we demonstrate that He controls all world events and all the hishtadlus of mortals is worthless without the King’s help.
If so many arrangements were made for the crowning of a mortal king, if so much time and energy were expended, it would behoove us to begin preparations for Rosh Hashanah in advance. In fact, Rav Yisroel Salanter was once overheard saying one Motzoei Yom Kippur, “Oy, another Elul is approaching and it needs preparation.” Unfortunately, there are excuses of daily pressures and tough schedules that prevent us from doing so, but at least on these last few days beforehand, we must exert ourselves in order to be primed for the occasion.
Here is a point to ponder.
About three months before the Steipler Gaon was niftar, he said to Rav Yaakov Galinsky, “We are close to the days of Moshiach, which are considered like Shabbos. If so, we are presently in a period comparable to Erev Shabbos.” The Eliyahu Rabbah (250:6) quotes the Mateh Moshe, who says that on Erev Shabbos, it is a mitzvah to taste some of the Shabbos delicacies, a minhag known as “to’ameha.”
What are these dishes of the Shabbos of Moshiach? “Then all shall come to serve You: they shall bless Your glorious name and declare Your righteousness in far-flung lands… They will reject their idols, be mortified with their status, and turn unanimously to serve You” (Mussaf, Rosh Hashanah). All of the ideas that mankind placed their hopes on will be proven futile. Mankind is still searching for ways to bring peace and serenity to the world. They are still turning in all directions other than Hashem, but they are running out of options. The pillars that they have leaned on in the past are all shattered, all their idols smashed. This is a taste of Moshiach.
There was a time when people were convinced that the unequal division of wealth was the cause of all of mankind’s problems. If only everyone could be equal, sharing everything like one big happy family, then all would be peaceful. It all sounded so good until this idea known as communism brought torture, the “cleansing” of undesirable individuals, prison camps, and eventually the crumbling of the economy.
Jews thought that being free in their own land would free them of the old plague of anti-Semitism. They were empowered by military conquests and the lightening victory of the Six Day War. But then came the debacle of the Yom Kipper War and their balloon burst. Since then, it has been all downhill, as the Arabs manage to unite the world against us.
The United Nations was another organization that people pinned their hopes on to bring peace to the world. But it was proven to be a corrupt establishment, and the world is as volatile and divided as ever, with the threat of nuclear war hanging over it.
Others thought that the pursuit of riches and earthly pleasures would bring them happiness, yet in today’s most materialistic society, there is so much bloodshed, so much heartache, and so much depression. One after another, the false gods have fallen and only one G-d stands. Ein od milvado.