At the tender age of fifty-seven I learned an aspect to Rosh Hashanah that I had never understood before. This past month I was privileged to attend a number of outstanding lectures, including ones given by HaRav Yehonason Alpern and Rebbetzins Yemima Mizrachi and Holly Pavlov. They taught me that personal requests have no part in the Rosh Hashanah prayers. Rather it is a time to crown the King of Kings and to make requests for the Jewish people.
A close look at the prayers of Rosh Hashanah confirms this. Even the beautiful Avinu Malkanu which is full of requests for kindness, annulment of harsh decrees, health, forgiveness, livelihood, and redemption is written in the plural form. We do not pray just for ourselves or our loved ones. We pray for the Jewish people as a whole.
As we end this year the world is focusing on the UN and the Arab request for another state to be established in the heart of Israel. I cannot help remembering Erev Rosh Hashanah eleven years ago. Arab rioting on Har Habayit instigated the Oslo War. Just weeks earlier Ehud Barak, then prime minister of Israel, and Yasser Arafat had met at Camp David to make peace. Barak had offered Arafat ninety percent of the territory of Yehudah and Shomron for a state but declined to split Jerusalem or to let Arab refugees from 1948 return to Israel. His offer was thrown in his face and a war of terror began. It was a war against women and children with suicide bombers and drive-by shootings. There was no one is Israel whose lives were not affected by the terror.
We were caught by surprise eleven years ago. Today it is different. The army is prepared. The police are ready. And the people have their prayer books in hand.
It is not coincidence that the Arab bid for statehood is coming at the time of Rosh Hashanah. This year as I listen to the shofar blasts I will refrain from my personal prayers as I have been taught. Instead I will focus on the Jewish people and pray that we won't return to those horrible days of terror, that we won't have to say to our loved ones, “Call me when you get there”, that we won't check the news or dread the ringing of the phone. I will pray that we will be able to walk the city streets without constantly looking over our shoulders. Most of all, I will pray for true peace.
May everyone be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Avinu Malkanu: Our father, our king
Har Habayit: The Temple Mount