This reflection is an excerpt from the Hebrew College High Holiday Companion, published in August 2017, for study and reflection during the High Holidays. Learn more and order your copy.
I: Malkhuyot (God’s Sovereignty)
The line “Adonai melekh, Adonai malakh, Adonai yimlokh l’olam va’ed” (God reigns, God has reigned, and God will reign forever) is found here and several other places in the machzor, but does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It is an early formulation of Jewish liturgy as it was first emerging in the post-biblical era. It is a statement of the eternal and unchanging truth that our faith proclaims. There is a One who stands behind all being, whose life force permeates all that exists. That One existed before Creation and will be here after all of us are gone. Each of us creatures, as varied and unique as we are, stands in the presence of that One.
Rosh Hashanah is our season of renewing that faith. It is all about Creation and re-creation, birth and rebirth. Our Torah readings in this season begin with the birth of Isaac and conclude with the re-birth of Jonah. Adonai Melekh, repeated in so many ways on this day, is our way of affirming that we can turn to the One who created us to help us create ourselves anew. We do it by Teshuvah, the act of acknowledging and returning to our Source, to the place we came from, to our truest selves, to the truest Self.
To say Adonai Melekh is an act of submission, something so very hard for us headstrong moderns. “I recognize that I did not create myself. I do not have all the answers. I will not live forever, and I do not know why I am here.
Please help me to figure it out.”
II: Zikhronot (God’s Remembering)
Jews are all about memory. We have been around longer than most identifiable human families, and our memory goes all the way back. Abraham. Moses. Ruth. David.
Esther. They all still live in our calendar, hence in our imagination. They link to all our personal memories: friends, parents, grandparents; all of them come and surround us, especially in this sacred season.
But those are human memories. Here we are looking for much more: God’s memory. The unchanging One, the great One of being. Does it remember? What we are really asking here is: “Am I remembered? Is my life memorable in any way? Is anybody paying attention?
Am I being noticed?”
This is our answer. “Yes, You, Adonai, remember the whole enterprise. Each one of us, every creature in Your image, is seen and noticed, remaining eternally present within that One.
III: Shofarot (God’s Calling)
We submit. We are noticed. We do not have all the answers, but our lives make a difference. The truths of malkuyot and zichronot now lead us to a third step: shofarot. We are being called. The shofar verses we invoke here call to us from the past and from the future. They are the shofar of Sinai, the soundtrack of that smoking mountain where we were first called to live in God’s presence, and the herald of a messiah yet to come, calling us all to partake of the great redemption, the fulfillment of all our human dreams.
We stand here in the middle, hearing the shofar sound forth from the past and the future. But the sound we most need to hear is the call of the present, the shofar that says to us in this very moment “Wake up! You are being called.”
We submit. We are noticed. We are being called.
Adonai melekh, adonai malakh, adonai yimlokh l’olam va’ed.
Rabbi Arthur Green is the founding dean of Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School and now serves as its rector. A nationally recognized historian of Jewish religion and a theologian, he has lectured widely and taught Jewish mysticism, Hasidism, and theology to several generations of students at the University of Pennsylvania, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Brandeis University, and Hebrew College. He is the founder of Havurat Shalom, an egalitarian Jewish community in Somerville, Mass., and remains a leading independent figure in the Jewish renewal movement. He is the author of more than a dozen books.