We are taught that each of the “Ten Days of Repentance” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is connected to one of the Ten Commandments.
For example, the first of these 10 days (which is also the first day of Rosh Hashana) corresponds to the first of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God,” the second day to the second commandment “You shall have no other Gods besides Me,” and so on. I want to focus on day number one and commandment number one. Based on this teaching we see that the primary theme of Rosh Hashana is the belief that God is the King of the world.
Indeed, this is the primary, and almost exclusive theme of Rosh Hashana. It is none other than a celebration of God’s majesty and Kingship over the world. Sure, there is the somewhat frightening aspect of judgement on Rosh Hashana, but take a look at the liturgy…. judgement take s a back seat to the primary purpose of Rosh Hashana: celebrating God. The Rosh Hashanah prayers focus on royalty, majesty, God, the King. Many times throughout the prayers we reaffirm our acceptance of God as King of the world and recommit to fulfilling his commandments. We declare ourselves to be loyal servants of the King. It’s only after accepting God upon ourselves do we have the right to approach Him with the “wish list” we all come to the synagogue with every year.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, known as the “Akeidat Yitzchak.” Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son on the altar just as God had commanded. It is a very exciting story, and this reading is the climax of the Rosh Hashana service. In fact, there are dozens of Rosh Hashana rituals and customs that are intended to recall and invoke the Akeidat Yitzchak. It is interesting to note, however, that we conclude the reading of the Akeidat Yitzchak with information regarding the birth of children and grandchildren to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. Why is this relevant? Why do we need to read this on Rosh Hashana?
It is explained that this genealogical narrative is the conclusion of God’s “testing” Abraham to see if he would sacrifice Yitzchak. Recall that Abraham and Sara finally had a child after many years of praying, and now he is told to kill the child that God gave them. That’s pretty shocking and tragic. Meanwhile, however, Nahor is having many children without any problem. Imagine how hard this was for Abraham. His brother the idolater is being blessed with children, but he, the world’s number one monotheist, is suffering! This was all a part of Abraham’s test of faith, just like the test to see if he would sacrifice his son.
This is the reason that Nahor’s genealogical record is read on Rosh Hashana. It reminds us not to be deterred when the wicked prosper, and to be devoted to God even when things don’t seem to be going our way, or the way they should. There are tests on the inside, and tests on the outside. Abraham passed them all. We can too!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin