Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Va-Yelekh-Shabbat Shuvah 5766/ October 8, 2005

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,




Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot – Spheres of Faith


 Rabbi Oren Duvdevani




A fundamental and immanent tension exists between the two central components of Rosh ha-Shanah.  On the one hand, Rosh ha-Shanah is the day on which the synagogue service holds exceptional primacy of place.   The deeply moving prayers of this day penetrate to the furthest reaches of our consciousness, bringing us to high points not experienced throughout the rest of the year, for.   On the other hand, the commandment to hear the shofar on this day seems the complete antithesis.   If prayer in general, and on the High Holy Days in particular, is noted for its richness of language, designed to express the depth of emotion and full force of experience that a person undergoes on these days, the sound of the shofar seems archaic, primitive and unsophisticated.

Perhaps this contrast was in the mind of those who shaped the order of worship on the day of Rosh ha-Shanah.   This is because despite the depth and sublimity of prayer and its tremendously rich language – there is an emotional and experiential level in Man’s soul that even the most sophisticated of prayers cannot express.  At that point where words cease, a person has nothing left but to express himself through sobbing or sighing devoid of words, sobs and wailing (geniha, yelala) that the Talmud described as reminiscent of the sound of the shofar.

Proof that the Sages sought to emphasis this contrast can be found in the fact that the musaf prayer of Rosh ha-Shanah is essentially an amalgamation of shofar blasts and prayers in a single service.  This amalgamation represents the perfect model, in the Sages’ opinion, for expressing the essence of this day as a day of “remembrance by the shofar blast.” [1]   It is this combination that gave rise to the pattern of the musaf prayer on Rosh ha-Shanah:   Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot [Kingship, Remembrance, and Shofars]

 Having said that prayer expresses Man’s cognitive facilities while the shofar blast represents emotional and experiential spheres, let us try to understand the threefold Musaf prayer. In order to comprehend the fundamental structure of this prayer, we would do best to consider the words of the prophet Isaiah:   “Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears, and seal its eyes – lest, seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasp with its mind, and repent and save itself” (6:10). It seems that the three fundamentals of sense and awareness indicated here – seeing with one’s eyes, hearing with one’s ears, and grasping with one’s mind – are what constitute the underlying foundation of the prayer of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot.


“Seeing with its eyes” – seeing with one’s eyes, looking at the facts, expresses the historical recognition and foundation of our faith, which finds expression prominently in the verses of remembrance (Zikhronot).   If we consider the verses read there, we discover that they comprise a sort of historical overview of Divine Providence and how it has functioned, beginning with G-d remembering Noah in the ark, later remembering the merits of our patriarchs, which in turn led to the exodus from Egypt, and ultimately remembering the people of Israel in their exile, in days to come.

“Hearing with its ears” – undoubtedly hearing with one’s ears ties in with hearing the sound of the shofar.   But what lies beneath hearing with one’s ears?  Towards what is it directed and how does it relate to hearing the shofar?


If we study the blessing of shofarot and the verses recited there, we discover that the central axis around which they revolve is faith as something one experiences, faith that stirs up the spirit and excites feeling in a person’s soul.  The person of faith oscillates between opposing poles of emotion:   between a feeling of sublime awe as expressed in the verse, “With trumpets and the blast of the horn raise a shout before the Lord, the king,” [2] or a sense of hope and renewal as expressed in the verse, “And in that day, a great ram’s horn shall be sounded; and the strayed who are in the land of Assyria and the expelled who are in the land of Egypt shall come and worship the Lord on the holy mount, in Jerusalem.” [3] Another emotion is the sense of fear and awe as expressed in the verse, “All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blast of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance.” [4]


“Grasp with its mind” – insofar as the verses of Shofarot represent the emotional turbulence and experiential awareness that goes along with faith, and the verses of Zikhronot express faith based on historical awareness, one could say that the verses of Malkhuyot express faith based on the almost philosophical, inner process of the soul that a person undergoes with respect to belief:  “That whatsoever has been made know that You made it, and that whatsoever has been created know that You created it, and that whatsoever has breath in its nostrils say:  The Lord G-d of Israel is King, and his dominion reigns over all.”   Proclaiming the Lord king on Rosh ha-Shanah expresses the most fundamental position of human beings in the world – the realization of being the creation of G-d, subject to Him and His dominion, but at the same time also accepting the yoke of the Lord’s kingship lovingly.

[1] Cf. Babylonian Talmud, Rosh ha-Shanah 16a:   “On Rosh ha-Shanah recite before me verses of kingship, remembrance, and shofar blasts; kingship, so that I be made King over you; remembrance, so that you be remembered for good by Me; how so?  With the shofar.”

[2] Psalms 98:6.

[3] Isaiah 27:13.

[4] Exodus 20:15.