I really wanted to write about both the parsha and Rosh haShana, but as usual, too much to do and too little time, so I have to keep this short and will try in a jumble to touch a few bases.
R’ Chaim Volozhiner takes note of the fact that when the navi describes Chanah’s tefilah, which we will IY”H read on Rosh haShana, it doesn’t say, “vatispallel EL Hashem,” but rather “vatispallel AL Hashem.” (Shmuel I 1:10) Why the strange expression?
We learn from the navi something important about how we should daven and what we should daven for. The Zohar uses very harsh language and compares someone who comes before Hashem with a list of requests to a dog that cries “Give! Give!” to its master. So what are we doing when we daven for health, for parnasa, for all the other things we ask for? On Rosh haShana even the shofar is a means of bakasha. The Sefas Emes writes that the 12 shofar blasts, Tekiya-Teruah-Tekiya, Tekiya-Shevarim-Tekiya, Tekiya-Shevarim-Teruah-Tekiya, correspond to the 12 middle brachos of our shmoneh esrei where we make our requests to Hashem. How in light of this Zohar could Chanah devote an entire tefilah to pleading with Hashem for a son and how can we devote so much of our tefilos to making requests?
The answer is that we are not davening “EL Hashem,” to G-d, bringing to him a laundry lists of our personal wants, but rather we are davening “AL Hashem,” davening about G-d, davening for kavyachol his needs and his wants. A world with a Shmuel haNavi who can serve in the Mishkan and who can inspire Klal Yisrael with his leadership is a world with a greater presence of the Shechina, a world that is closer to G-d. Had there not been a Shmuel haNavi, there would be a tremendous vacuum of ruchniyus that would have been unfilled. When Chanah asked Hashem for a son, it was not a personal request rooted on her emotional needs and wants, but rather it was a request rooted in the desire to bring about hashra’as haShechina, what Hashem wants.
Everyone thinks that the reason we eat the simanim on Rosh HaShana night is because it’s not enough to just ask for the laundry list of things that we want, but we have to go a step further and translate those requests into symbolic actions to make them more real, to give them more weight. The Sefas Emes in his first piece on Rosh haShana says exactly the opposite. A siman is just a remez, a little hint. Our main concern and our main request on Rosh haShana is that there be more kvod malchus shamayim. As an aside, we sneak in a little hint to some of our own personal needs and wants as well. We don’t do it openly – we just make a siman, a remez, because these are all secondary to what our real focus is, which is malchus Hashem. If we are leading lives l'shem shamayim and our needs and wants are l'shem shamayim, then m'meila when there is more kvod shamayim our needs will be fulfilled as well.
The Tiferes Shlmo on Parshas Nitzavim echoes the same theme. He points out that the word “shama” at the end of the pasuk, “…V’hasheivosa el levavecha b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha Hashem Elokecha SHAMA,” (30:1) seems completely extraneous. Be inserting a few commas, a few extra pauses, he reads the pasuk in way that makes every word count. “V’hasheivosa el levavecha,” we have to take to heart, “b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha,” in all those places that Hashem was forced to send us because we needed the punishment of galus, “Hashem Elokecha shama,” Hashem himself is there along with us. Sure, our being in galus feels bad for us, but what should really bother us is kavyachol the pain the Shechina is in because it is schlepped into galus along with us, just so we are not abandoned. The next pasuk then continues, “V’shavta AD Hashem Elokecha” – again, not “EL Hashem,” but rather “AD Hashem” (just like the words of the haftarah ,“Shuvah yisrael AD Hashem Elokecha…”) The return being spoken about is a return to a focus on the Shechina rather than ourselves, a re-orientation to the right priorities.
That in a nutshell is part of our avodah for the upcoming days. Hopefully we will all be vehicles through which there is a greater giluy of kvod shamayim in the world, and through that we will benefit bracha and hatzalacha in the upcoming year.