A primary aspect of the Rosh Hashana davening is the Malchiyos: accepting Hashem’s authority. In the Musaf tefila, ten verses mentioning Hashem’s rule are cited. The tenth is “Shema Yisrael.” This is the only one of the ten which does not mention the word “Melech.” Nonetheless, the Shema is known by the Rabbis as ‘Kabalas Ol Malchus’ — accepting authority.
The Mitzva of the Shema
Every day, the Shema is recited, morning and night. The Shema contains the foundations of Yiddishkeit, and a full realization of this mitzva takes some study.
The basic mitzva is to ‘accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven’ upon oneself. Unfortunately, it is very common to forget to think about this (Rav Yisrael Salanter, cited in Shem Olam by the Chofetz Chaim, 1:12)!
Rav Moshe Feinstein says that ‘accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven’ is contained in the two words — “Hashem our G-d.” We accept upon ourselves that we are subservient to Him. (Igros Moshe 5:5)
Properly, one should have in mind that 1. he is fulfilling the mitzva, 2. the meaning of the words and 3. that Hashem is the one and only power.
Nonetheless, Rebbi Akiva Eiger writes that the most important aspect is ‘accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.’ As mentioned, this is the one intention that is most forgotten!
Love of Hashem
The Shema discusses tefillin. Mentioning tefillin alone is not sufficient; if possible and permissible, one should wear the tefillin when he recites the Shema. Otherwise, his actions are contradicting his words. Similarly, when one says, “You shall love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might,” he should actually arouse this love in his heart. (Mishna Berura 24:14)
In Mishna Berura, the Chofetz Chaim writes that failure to fulfill what we are saying (not wearing the tefillin etc.) does not mean that we have not performed the mitzva of reciting the Shema. Nonetheless, he writes in Shem Olam that saying the words, “You shall love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might,” is certainly not fulfilling the mitzva of loving Hashem (without arousing this love). This is comparable to saying, “You shall bind the tefillin on your arm,” when he is not wearing the tefillin. Obviously, such a person has not performed the mitzva of laying tefillin just because he recited the verses! Here, too, just because he reminded himself of the mitzva to love Hashem doesn’t mean he has fulfilled the mitzva of loving Hashem! (Shem Olam, 1:12)
To love Hashem with all one’s heart, soul and might, is a tall order. Complaining bitterly certainly doesn’t seem consistent with being in love…
We have all suffered during the pandemic. Having had many things taken away from us, and, at the same time, seeing the pain of the many who have lost their lives or health — should give us pause.
How many dear friends and Rabbonim died — alone and forlorn in a hospital bed! As we mourn for them and console their loved ones, let’s recognize the hundreds and hundreds of small things which we take for granted every day.
On Pesach night, the piyut of Dayenu is read. It’s bewildering. “If He brought us to Mount Sinai but didn’t give us the Torah, it would have been enough…” How could this have been enough? The Jews without Torah?
It’s saying something extremely important. Even if we are missing the most important thing, the ‘tachlis’ — nonetheless, we must be grateful for the gifts we received! The proof of this is the end of the piyut: “If He gave us Eretz Yisrael, but didn’t build the Beis Hamikdash, it would have been enough.” The Beis Hamikdash is the conclusion. It is the most important thing, the tachlis. But we would still be grateful. And, in fact, we are grateful, even though He did, in fact, take it away. He took away the most important thing — but we thank Him and love Him and daven that it should be returned to us, soon, in our days.