The King and I
Hamelech (“the king”) is a common word in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, whose main theme is our coronation of G‑d as king of the universe and our submission to His kingship. Indeed, it is the first word chanted by the cantor on Rosh Hashanah morning, starting the Shacharit prayers with an awe-inspiring melody of “Ha-me-lech!”
One Rosh Hashanah morning, the great Chassidic master Rabbi Aaron of Karlin fainted when he came to the word Hamelech. He later explained that he recalled Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s encounter with Vespasian. Rabbi Yochanan had himself smuggled out of the besieged city of Jerusalem to plead with the Roman general to spare the Torah center of Yavneh. When Rabbi Yochanan entered Vespasian’s tent, he addressed him as “Your Majesty.”
“You are deserving of death on two accounts,” said Vespasian. “First, I am not the king, only His Majesty’s general.” (In fact, a messenger from Rome was already approaching the general’s camp to inform him that he had been appointed sovereign of the empire.) “Secondly, if I am indeed king, why did you not come to me until now?”
“I thought to myself,” said the rebbe of Karlin, “if we address the Almighty as ‘King,’ does this not invite the question, ‘If I am indeed your king, why did you not come to me until now?’ What can we answer to that?”
Rosh Hashana begins Friday evening. We light the Shabbat and holiday candles at 6:46 PM. On Saturday night, after 7:44 PM, we light the holiday candles from a preexisting flame. Rosh Hashana finishes Sunday night at 7:43 PM.
**These times are for NYC. If you are located elsewhere, and to learn more about Rosh Hashanah, please visit JewishNewYear.org.
Wishing you a Ketiva Vechasima Tova and a happy, healthy, sweet New Year!
Rabbi Yehuda and the staff at Mitzvah Tank NYC
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