Rosh Hashana is not just the anniversary of Creation. It is also the anniversary of the beginning of God’s rule over mankind.
Although one might be led to believe that the primary theme of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is apples and honey or nice clothes and good meals or a day off work, it simply isn’t the case. Although they, too, are important, Rosh Hashana is essentially a celebration of God as King of the World. Period. It is also the day that God judges the world and seals each and every person’s fate for the coming year.
Why is Rosh Hashana the day when our coming year is decided? It is the anniversary of the creation of the world and the beginning of the Jewish new year. As we say in the Rosh Hashana prayers, “This day is the beginning of Your works, the commemoration of the first day.”
However, the meaning of “creation of the world” is not as clear-cut as it may seem. Notice how on Fridays, the daily prayers include the following excerpt from Psalms: “God will have reigned, He will have donned grandeur.” (Psalms 93) This verse is recited because it is on a Friday that God completed His work and began ruling over His creations.
As can be seen from the story of Creation, God created everything else in the world before He created man. Man was the last thing to come on the scene. Note, however, that nowhere is God referred to as “King” until after the creation of man. Hence, Rosh Hashana, which celebrates God as king of the world, also celebrates the anniversary of the creation of mankind and, by extension, the completion of the world. This explains the verse: “This day is the beginning of Your works, the commemoration of the first day.” God is only king when humanity can coronate Him.
Why is mankind so vital for the success of God as king? It is because of the free choice that we have. Human beings can make choices in life. We know what is right and what it wrong, what is moral and what is not, which choices will please Him and which choices will anger Him. We choose whether we are going to follow the Torah or not.
God is a king, not a dictator. A king is generally a figure that the people have chosen to accept upon themselves. Before the creation of man, there was no one to accept God. Animals and vegetation cannot make choices. They cannot declare God as king. They have no mitzvot (commandments) to observe. Only with the creation of man did God become king in every sense of the word.
We see from here that Rosh Hashana is not just the anniversary of Creation. It is also the anniversary of the start of God’s rule over mankind. Our thoughts and prayers should be focused on Adam, the first human creation who was also the first of the king’s subjects. We have to reaffirm the choice that Adam made when celebrating the acceptance of God as our king and before whom we stand in judgement.
Adam symbolizes Rosh Hashana in another way as well. Even though Adam and Eve sinned, they acknowledged before whom they sinned. We also sin; we sin all the time. Rosh Hashana is the time to recognize our sins and to recognize before whom we have sinned.
On the day of judgment, let us pray that our slates are cleaned up, that we may start afresh and that we are blessed with a great new year. Indeed, may He answer our prayers and bless us with a good year in the great merit that we generate on Rosh Hashana by declaring God as our one and only king!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel