The following is a freely-translated excerpt of a public letter by the Rebbe written the week before Rosh Hashanah of 5729 (1968): 1
A basic theme of Rosh Hashanah is that it effects the coronation of G-d as king of Israel and king of the universe, as expressed in our heartfelt prayer and request: “Reign over the entire world!” 2
Such a request implies the readiness to set oneself in full conformity with the divine sovereignty; that one is prepared to utterly submit to the divine king, to the point that one’s entire being, and all that one has, is the king’s alone. This is the meaning of kabalat ol—“the acceptance of the yoke” of the divine sovereignty, which finds expression in all areas of daily life.
In truth, every day must bring an acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, particularly when one recites the Shema. 3 But there exists a most basic difference: on the daily level, kabalat ol, while being the inaugural and fundamental act of the day, is merely the basis upon which one’s behavior throughout the day is predicated. Rosh Hashanah, however, is a time when submission to the sovereignty of Heaven is also the quality and content of the day, pervading the entire person and manifesting itself in everything he does.
* * *
Every period and every locality has its special qualities and its specific difficulties.
In our time, there is a prevailing trend in many circles toward increased self-sufficiency and independence, not only in regard to material matters, but in ideological matters as well; an increasing unwillingness to submit to the established order, to accept things before they are fully understood by one’s own mind, and so on. This, it would seem, represents a challenge to the concept of kabalat ol.
This is particularly the case in countries that are (relatively) young and which were established upon a foundation of self-initiative and youthful energy, and where this spirit characterizes the entire structure of personal and communal life—all of which make it more difficult to conform with the criteria of kabalat ol.
Notwithstanding the above, we have the axiom that G-d does not demand from a person something that is beyond his capacity. 4 Since the submission to the sovereignty of G-d is the essence of Rosh Hashanah (and the foundation of all our deeds throughout the year), this is obviously applicable to all times and places. Certainly, it is possible and incumbent upon us to achieve a full acceptance of the divine kingship also in our time, and also in the above-mentioned circumstances.
Indeed, there is a special quality to our kabalat ol particularly in our time and in this part of the world. A person who is not conditioned to complete self-sufficiency but is accustomed to independence in certain areas but not in others—when such a person accepts something unquestioningly, this does not constitute a thorough and unequivocal acceptance. For such a person is accustomed to being told what to do and is often compelled to yield his will and modify his opinions. On the other hand, when a person who, as a rule, does not surrender his independence and his convictions is convinced that he must recognize and submit to a higher authority, this decision is made on a much deeper and more fundamental level and is substantiated by a total and immutable commitment.
- Likkutei Sichot, vol. IX, pp. 450-452. ↩
- From the Rosh Hashanah amidah. ↩
- “Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), which the Torah commands the Jew to recite every morning and evening. The significance of the recital is to “accept the yoke of the sovereignty of Heaven” (Talmud, Berachot 13a). ↩
- Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 11; Talmud, Avodah Zarah 3a. In his Mishneh Torah (Laws of Teshuvah, 5:1) Maimonides regards this as a self-evident truth. ↩