We Also Recommend
Rosh Hashanah as the Opening Day of a Court Trial
“The great shofar is sounded. A still small voice is heard. This day, even the angels are alarmed, seized with fear and trembling as they declare: ‘The day of judgment is here!'”
In a loud and trumpeting voice, the cantor describes the shofar’s blast, then softly and gently describes a “still, small voice.” This poignant line from the Musaf (“additional”) service sets a tone for the High Holidays. It is a dichotomy that is played out over and over throughout the liturgy of the Days of Awe. On these days, we sing of the king, judge, and awesome sovereign who sits in judgment over us, while at the same time, we appeal to God’s mercy and longstanding tradition of forgiveness, likening God to a shepherd sheltering a flock.
Rosh Hashanah is the first day of court. In the liturgy, we see this played out in the number of references to God as sovereign, ruler, and as a most judicious king. Additions and different emphases start as early as the beginning of the Shaharit (morning) service, with the word “Hamelekh” (The King). While these words also appear in the liturgy of Shabbat morning, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur they are highlighted in such a way that a new leader begins the service with a powerful note on the word “King” itself.
The structure of the morning service on Rosh Hashanah is similar to weekday and Shabbat services. It is, however, additional piyyutim (liturgical poems) such as L’eyl Orekh Din (“to the God who sits in judgment”) or Adonai Melekh (“Adonai is King”) that evoke the seriousness with which we would approach a trial with the true judge.
Torah Readings on Rosh Hashanah
The Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah is from the story of Isaac’s birth, describing God’s kindness in giving a child to Abraham and Sarah in their old age (Genesis 21). On the second day we read the story of the binding of Isaac, which ends with a ram as a substitute for Isaac (Genesis 22). The shofar that is so prominent on Rosh Hashanah is considered to be symbolic of this ram.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.