What does Hashem want us to ask for as we start the new year?
When we think of the many things we want for ourselves and our loved ones this coming year, the prayer checklist can become ridiculously long. Besides, our Sages teach that the theme of Rosh Hashanah is not about making personal requests, but rather to proclaim Hashem’s kingship over all.
The good news is that there is actually one request that encompasses it all, one request that, when fulfilled, gives us the best life we can ever imagine—plus more. And we’re not only allowed to ask for it on Rosh Hashanah; it is actually the essence of this exalted day. What is this tefilla?
Hayom haras olam, on the day that the world was conceived, let’s take a step back in time to understand the purpose of its creation and the purpose of our own creation, which provides us with a clue regarding the one thing we should be praying for.
What are we here for? Why would Hakadosh Baruch Hu take a pure neshama reveling in the holiness of the Heavenly spheres, clothe her in a physical body, and force her to descend into a world of pain, confusion, and spiritual pollution? Every rational Jew understands that Hashem did not put our neshama through this painful journey so we could strike it rich, become a size 2, or rise to the top in our profession. So too, He didn’t bring illness into this world so we can find a cure nor did He orchestrate for us to live with difficult people so we can fix them.
As a Being that is kulo tov, the epitome of goodness through and through, Hakadosh Baruch Hu wanted to grant our neshama unparalleled goodness, infinite pleasure. However, precisely because he is the essence of goodness, He understood that showering us with nahama dichesufa, (literally bread of disgrace), undeserved reward, wouldn’t feel very good to us. And so, He created this world and our bodies and arranged for our neshama to be placed on a journey, through which we would “earn” our way to all that incredible joy and spiritual pleasure. Through creating us each with our unique deficiencies and placing us in situations where we can grow out of our deficiencies and become the person He wants us to be, He enables us to attain those jewels.
Suffering is always painful. But, when we’re mindful of the nisayon’s purpose, we realize that there’s something we want more than the superficial salvation: to experience true simcha, which is only possible when we foster a relationship with Hashem. With this blessed clarity, we are able to feel the love Hakadosh Baruch Hu has for us and feel how He’s drawing us closer to Him through the nisayon. For one woman, the route to developing this closeness may be through the pain she feels living with a distant spouse, a nasty mother-in-law, or demanding boss. For another, it can be a sick or defiant child or the pain of infertility, lo aleinu. While the external details of the challenge differ, the underlying purpose is identical.
And so, as much as we wish the problems would magically disappear overnight, and we can surely pray that they do, being mindful of their purpose leads us to the one most important thing we should pray for: feeling Hashem in our lives.
Where do we ask for this clarity on Rosh Hashanah? By focusing on the essence of the day, coronating Hashem, we’re doing just that. On this day, we pray that we should accept Him as our King, that He open our hearts and minds to the messages He sends us every day through the circumstances of our lives. This is the day on which we beg Him to feel the privilege of serving Him, of doing His ratzon with joy.
We don’t have to look further than the brilliant, on-point words of Dovid Hamelech in L’Dovid Hashem Ori to know what to pray for this Rosh Hashanah: achas sho’alti me’eis Hashem osah avakeish, the one thing I asked from Hashem, that I shall request: to dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the delight of Hashem and to visit His sanctuary. Whether we’re aware of it or not, and the yetzer hara does a fabulous job at distracting us from feeling this yearning, this is the one thing every single one of us wants. Like Dovid Hamelech, all we really want is to feel this closeness to Hashem. When we merit this relationship, we can experience inner peace and joy in every circumstance.
When we enter the new year, we have so much to ask for. Whether it’s health, parnassah, nachas from the children, a deeper relationship with our spouse, we want it all, and rightfully so. But let’s take a moment to see beyond the surface, to understand why we want these things. Why do I want to be healthy? Why do I want to live comfortably? If we’re honest with ourselves, the final answer will always be because we want to be happy. While these things are certainly a bonus blessing from Hashem, they are not what leads to true joy. Rather, when we feel that Hashem, our King, orchestrates every aspect of our lives—from which parents we were born to, to who we married, down to the tantrum that led to overturned bowls of cereal and milk this morning—we can not only embrace the challenge, but experience a taste of the true joy we will merit in the World to Come.
This is not to say that we should be asking for challenges. If we’re mindful of our purpose in this world, we can attain this closeness from a place of gratitude, too. As the Ba’al Shem Tov says, the sooner we get the message, the sooner the mission of the pain is accomplished, which leaves no need for the challenge.
May this be the year that we merit feeling Hashem’s loving presence in our lives in times of bounty and simcha! Ksiva v’chasima tova to you all.
Shiffy Friedman is a kollel wife and mother of three kids. Whenever she’s not busy with drop-off or pickup (no carpools in Yerushalayim!) she works as a writer, editor (at The Wellspring) and therapist.