Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Twenty-Seventh Day of Elul 5780
The sounding of the shofar is the most memorable moment of Rosh Hashanah. It is the very symbol of the holiday. However, the meaning of the shofar blasts is not always well understood. The sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is divided into three parts, each with its own themes and meanings. Today, we are going to consider the first section, which is called Malchuyot, or “Sovereignty.” It reminds us how shofar blasts were used in ancient times to announce the entrance of a sovereign king.
The Malchuyot section includes the prayer we call The Great Aleinu. This prayer originated as a Rosh Hashanah prayer, but was later added to the end of every service, all year, simply as “the Aleinu.” In this prayer we accept God as the ruler of our lives and of all existence. It includes a prostration in which the prayer leaders bow, get on their knees, and place their foreheads on the ground. In ancient times, this was a sign of obeisance, humble submission, and deep respect.
This is a difficult idea for contemporary Americans to accept. We are taught to believe in the values of liberal democracy where everyone is equal under the law and each person has the right to make their own choices for their lives. We recoil at the idea of submitting ourselves to an authority who rules over us.
However, this idea of God’s sovereignty is central to the journey of t’shuvah. In order to return to the life that we intend to live, each of us has to give up the egotistical belief that we are the center of the universe. We find that this idea is a cause of selfishness and misery for ourselves and for others.
We need to accept the idea that there is a moral compass to the universe and a meaning to life that does not originate with our own ego. We accept God as sovereign as a way of modeling ourselves according to something outside ourselves – something that embodies the highest and best aspirations for the world and for all life.
Practice for this day:
Consider the central ideas or goals that motivate you in life. Do they include ideas like family, kindness, peace or justice? Do they also include striving for material wealth, power over other people, your own pleasure or prestige? We are all guided by all sorts of goals and aspirations in life. The ones we prize the most determine the kind of people we will be. Make a conscious choice about what will be sovereign over you in the coming year. Write down the aspirations to which you wish to declare loyalty and to which you will make obeisance in your life. Consider prostration as a physical embodiment of your declaration of loyalty.