Rosh Hashana is the topic of this week’s article. What part do I, the individual, play on this universal day of judgement? What is the main content of our prayers and the purpose of the day? Interestingly, although Rosh Hashana is the first day of the year, in the prayers we find almost no mention of requests that attempt to shape the coming year – blessings, health, happiness… is asking even permissible? And how does one ask? This year, Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, a day on which one does not make personal requests. How can we ask for a sweet new year on the upcoming Rosh Hashana? When praying for the ill on Shabbos, it is customary to add the words “Shabbos hi mlizok…”. Are these words added this year when praying for the ill? Davening for someone else’s needs is always praiseworthy. Can one pray for a friend’s parnassa on Rosh Hashana? And what about praying for children? We all have so many wants and needs. What and how to pray for them is the topic of this article.
Rosh Hashana – the Purpose and the Goal
Rosh Hashana Prayers
We stand at the threshold of Yemei Hadin, the days on which every person’s destiny is sealed – who will merit life, health, good parnassa, nachas – and the opposite, chas veshalom. Judgement is passed not only on the individual, but also on countries and nations of the world – which land will enjoy prosperity and where people will die of famine; which countries will sign peace deals and which will be ravaged by war. The piyut U’nesane Tokef gives a vivid description of the proceedings. And we know that last year’s blessings are not guaranteed to us, everything starts from A.
Considering the far-reaching ramifications of the day’s proceedings, we would expect the machzor to be filled from cover to cover with prayers for a good year, along with various appeals for our wants and needs. But contrary to the expected, the prayers — as designed by Anshei Knesses Hagedola — do not contain even one mention of such requests. During the era of the Geonim certain additions were made, mentioning requests for inscription in the Book of Life – Besefer chayim, Zochreinu lechayim – additions that are made over the entire Aseres Yemei Teshuva. The other additions, added only on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – U’vchen ten pachdecha, contain explicit requests for the revelation of malchus Shomayim. Only after the prayers have concluded do we add the Avinu Malkeinu prayers — as we do on any day of prayer. This is our opportunity to ask Hashem for a good year. Only after the conclusion of the prayers are we finally allowed to list the various aspects of the wonderful new year we wish for. Why are those requests not part of the main prayers of the day, and seem to be added as an afterthought?
The question becomes more pronounced when examining the piyutim that were added during the period of the Rishonim such as U’nesane Tokef. The piyut gives a riveting description of the fear that grips all the realms of creation on the Day of Judgment and the various consequences of that judgement. The piyut ends with the cure for evil decrees – teshuva, tefilla and tzedakah, but does not contain the proscribed tefilla!
The Gemara (Maseches Rosh Hashana 16a) hints to the answer:
Recite before Me on Rosh Hashana verses that mention Kingships, Remembrances, and Shofarot: Kingships so that you will crown Me as King over you; Remembrances so that your remembrance will rise before Me for good; and with what will the remembrance rise? It will rise with the shofar.
Indeed, being blessed for a good year on Rosh Hashana is not achieved through extensive begging and compiling pages of requests. It is achieved through crowing Hashem as our King, through saying and internalizing that Hashem created the World, remembers and knows everything and nothing is overlooked or forgotten. This mindset will cause us to be inscribe in the Book of Life.
The Zohar in Tikunei HaZohar expresses this idea explicitly. The Zohar writes that during the galus the Shechina is in exile, locked away in jail. The passuk “He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man” (Shemos 2:12) refers to Aseres Yemei Teshuva, days in which Am Yisroel has the power to extract the holy Shechina from its jail, to bring about its Redemption. But, instead of asking Hashem to redeem the Shechina from its exile everyone is busy like dogs, asking for sustenance, pardoning and kapara, to be inscribed for life, all the while forgetting the main part. The Zohar explains the root of this behavior lies with the erev rav, that mixed multitude that latched onto Am Yisroel when they exited Egypt, whose every act of chessed is only done for their own benefit.
Despite the Zohar’s degrading description we just read (of ourselves, perhaps…?), we learn from Rabbi Yisroel Salanter’s writings (Kisvei Hasaba MiKelem, Yomim Noraim, p. 118) that refraining from asking for our personal needs on these days of judgement is also not appropriate. One should, indeed ask for what he perceives as his needs – life, parnassa, children, success. He writes that one who narrows his requests of Hashem only to augmentation of Malchus Shomayim is actually deceiving himself. One who, when asked for a small donation towards Torah study refuses due to his financial situation, but on Rosh Hashana is suddenly willing to disregard his entire future life that is being decided upon at those precise moments and concentrate only on Malchus Shomayim — is simply misleading himself. Although truthfully, one should only concentrate on Malchus Shomayim on Rosh Hashana, one who cheats himself into thinking that that is his only concern, is not only cheating himself but displaying a lack of faith — he does not really believe that his life is dependent upon those moments.
Rav Yisroel explains (Kochvei Or, 83) that one who narrows his prayers to only his spiritual pursuits will not reach sufficient internalization and feeling of eimas hadin. Therefore, on Rosh Hashana, when one is judged also about his material well-being, one is obligated to ask and beg to be granted all of his needs again, as well as be gifted with his wants. Only after clearly internalizing the gravity of these days and the fearsomeness of the times will he be able to, on Yom Kuppir, ascend even further and ask Hashem for all those spiritual needs such as forgiveness, spiritual success, and kevod Shomayim. With that, he will be inscribed for a good year. This is why Hashem, in His infinite kindness, preceded Yom Kippur with Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana one is filled with fear of the judgement and is aroused to beg for his life. Only afterwards comes Yom Kippur – after living for ten days with the fear of judgement one becomes slightly accustomed that fearsomeness and he can sincerely ask Hashem for his spiritual needs.
On the other hand, since one prefers to be judged even for his physical needs only after doing teshuva properly, Hashem, in His infinite kindness, designed it that Yom Kippur’s judgement also finalizes the judgement on our physical needs. Therefore, one who is clean and pure on Yom Kippur can overturn the previously unfavorable judgement of Rosh Hashana. [It is important to note that the Zohar’s castigation is referring only to one who makes personal requests on Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, the Magid Tzedek points out (Bamidbar 231a) that the Zohar forbids it also on Rosh Hashana.]
Rav Eliyahu Dessler, though, has another approach (Michtav Me’Eliyahu, volume 3, p.73). In his opinion, the approach Rav Yisroel Slanter describes is applicable for his own generation, when begging for personal needs aroused the heart to prayer and people were able to connect to Hashem in their private requests. But in this generation [i.e. Rav Dessler’s generation] prayers are lacking in concentration even when praying for our immediate needs and few feel as they would had they been standing to judgement before a flesh-and-blood judge. However, since prayer must not be cancelled, we must make every effort to arouse in our hearts feelings of closeness to Hashem to whatever extent possible. In this kind of situation, it is preferable to direct our thoughts to spiritual matters.
For You, Living G-d
The first three brachos of the Amida are designed as praise for Hashem, not personal requests, says Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Bloch in Shiurei Da’as (part II, p. 182). Why then did the Geonim institute the personal request zochreinu lechayim in the first bracha?
Rav Bloch explains that indeed, the life we ask for on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is not to take advantage of for personal pleasure. The life we ask for on Aseres Yemei Teshuva is life that is praise for Hashem, life that strengthens and enhances K’vod Shomayim. Without people who will keep Torah and mitzvos the ultimate purpose of the world will not be realized. This is why in the brachos that describe the kedusha and power of Hashem’s malchus we ask zochreinu lechayim. This request, though, is not an erev rav -type of request – only for themselves. On the contrary, we ask for life in which to bring about further and greater K’vod Shomayim.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe zatal (Alei Shur, volume II, p.420) writes that Rav Yisroel Salanter would linger on the words zochreinu lechayim for a long time. He was known to say that this is the only hope one can have in this judgment – the proclamation to make every effort to live life for G-d’s Glory.
The Kedushas Levi (Devarim L’Rosh Hashana) sees asking for personal requests as a fulfillment of Hashem’s Will. The Rishonim instituted zochreinu lechayim because Hashem, Who is Rav Chessed, takes the greatest pleasure in providing for His creatures. Therefore, when praying, it is actually appropriate for every person to think “I hereby prepare myself to pray for life and parnassa so that Hashem should have the pleasure of my receiving that abundance.” This is the real meaning of the Zohar when writing that one should not ask for the shefa for himself but for Hashem’s Will.
The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, Yemei Harachamim, p152) wonders about the passuk (Tehilim 27:4): “One [thing] I ask of the Lord, that I seek-that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Seemingly, the passuk’s wording is repetitive: “One [thing] I ask of the Lord, that I seek”. But, explains the Chasam Sofer, Dovid Hamelech tells Hashem that indeed, he does have many personal requests, but the ultimate purpose of those requests is so he will have those resources with which to bring to fruition his one and only desire – “to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” This is also how the Chasam Sofer explains the above-mentioned Zohar – of course one needs to asks for his physical needs and wants, also on the Yomim Noraim — we even see it appears in the Avinu Malkeinu prayers, as well as in the additions that the Geonim instituted – Besefer Chayim, Zochreinu Lechaim etc. Additionally, one can ask for fulfillment of his personal desires, but the purpose and goal of all the requests should be one – that they serve as a tool with which to merit to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
Rosh Hashana’s Purpose
Whether you end up asking for your own needs or not, it is important to remember that our main purpose and goal on Rosh Hashana is to coronate Hashem, as Chazal write (Maseches Rosh Hashana 16a): “And recite before Me on Rosh Hashana verses that mention Kingships… so that you will crown Me as King over you”. Rav Sraya Devlitzky (Ani Ledodi p. 98) explains that although the world was created on the 25th of Elul, the day man was created was designated as the first day of the year because the purpose of the world is Malchus Shomayim, and there is no Malchus Shomayim without man who can coronate Hashem. Without man there was no purpose in Creation — only creation of man gave value to the creation of the world. Therefore, the goal of the day is Kabolas Malchus Shomayim and prayer for its fulfillment.
In truth, the mitzva to coronate Hashem on this day of Judgement is a great asset for us because with one’s glad acceptance of Malchus Shomayim weakens the severity of his judgement.
Rosh Hashana like Shabbos and Yomtov?
On regular Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim we are forbidden from asking for personal requests. Even when there is a sick person who needs prayer desperately, unless his life is in danger, one should add “Shabbos/Yom Tov hi melizok u’refuah kerova lavo” (It is forbidden to cry out on Shabbos/ Yomtov but healing will come soon). This is the accepted custom and text. But on Rosh Hashana, the Mate Efraim writes (584) that when reciting a Mi Shebeirach for the sick, even if Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, this text is not recited because these days are designated as days for prayer and beseeching. This is also the Chazon Ish’s ruling (mentioned in Orchos Rabenu volume II p. 181) — it is permitted to make personal requests on Rosh Hashana because the entire day is designated for prayer and requests. This is also the ruling of the Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (chapter 59). Toras Haminhagim (Shone Halachos 582:7) explains that Rav Chaim Kaniyevski ruled that Rosh Hashana is the day of judgement and since our whole future is hanging in the balance, we are all considered to be a chole shyesh bo sakana – a dangerously ill patient– for whom one is permitted to pray on Shabbos.
Ask, Or Not
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Moadei Hashana, Rosh Hashana chapter 1:15) believes one is permitted to add personal requests even on Rosh Hashana that falls on Shabbos, but practically he would direct his students to refrain from it, even on Rosh Hashana that falls on a weekday. He instructed them to only pray for augmentation of Malchus Shomayim since that is the purpose of the holy day. His disciple, Rav Nebentzal (Yerushalayim Bemoadiah, Yerach Haeitanim, p. 190) writes that even one who would like to follow the simple meaning of the Zohar and refrain from asking for his own requests can nevertheless pray in his heart for his personal needs without actually uttering hem with his lips.
Rav Mordechai Gross (Iggrasa D’Chedvasa, Igeres 135:21) adds that the above is true in reference to one’s own personal requests, but if one is asking for the needs of his friend it is no doubt permitted and appropriate, and on the contrary – it is a special zechus for one to be nosei b’ol with his fellow Jew.
Prayer for Children
Rav Gross continues and writes that it is permissible, and even proper, to pray for children on Rosh Hashana because it is an opportune time for it. We learn in the Gemara (Yevamos 64b): Sara Imenu, Rachel Imenu and Chana all were “remembered” and blessed with children on Rosh Hashana. The day of Rosh Hashana is an opportune time to pray for children, whether one has children already or not, since bringing children into the world who will serve Hashem is part and parcel of augmenting Malchus Shomayim.
Rav Sraya Devlitzky writes (Ani Ledodi p. 98) that in the beginning, the Anshei Knesses Hagedola instituted the text of the tefilla sans any mention of personal requests. The only requests in the prayers were for the full appearance of Malchus Shomayim. With the spiritual drop in the subsequent generations, chachomim saw people would be unable to retain such a high level of aspirations and remain connected to the prayers, so they added the texts of Zochreinu lechayim. Nevertheless, the leaders of the various generations (Pele Yoetz – Rosh Hashana; Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin – Darasha Leslichos; Rabbi Chaim Palagi – Moed Lechol Chai chapter 13:14-15) warned not to ask for more than what is specifically written in the machzor in light of the Zohar’s admonishment. Later generations saw Rabbi Yisroel Salanter and others teaching that without asking for personal requests one is deceiving himself. Similarly, the Chazon Ish ruled to ask for personal requests even when Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos. This is true, only for one who can connect to the power of the day through the feeling of awe from his entire future being placed on the balance. But for one who feels it hard for him, and feels he can arouse in himself that same feeling through truthfully forgoing it all for the goal of Malchus Shomayim, it is better to direct his feelings and arouse himself in that direction.
Lema’ase, every person can decide for himself what method is more spiritually arousing for him – if it helps to think about his entire future and then ask for his personal requests or just to focus on Malchus Shomayim. Let us remember that the main goal of these days is to augment Malchus Shomayim and to allow us the opportunity to be part of the process. The judgement on these days is related to how much one can bring greater benefit to the whole historical process of world history. Therefore, even personal requests should be made with the intention to bring Hashem glory through them.
May we all be blessed with a wonderful year, a year in which we will grow in Avodas Hashem and bring about augmentation of K’vod Shomayim.