We all know that the main Avoda of Rosh Hashana is to mamlich Hashem - to accept Him as King over us. But what does this mean? On one level it means to recognize that He is all-powerful and has total control over the world. But there is another very important aspect to being Mamlich Hashem. The Gra and Malbim note that with reference to non-Jews Hashem is called a Moshel, whereas with regard to Jews He is called a Melech. A Moshel is a dictator who has complete power but is not loved by his subjects because they perceive that he is not the source of good for them. The goyim see Hashem as a ruler who may be powerful but they would prefer that He not interfere with their lives.
In contrast, a Melech is a ruler who we accept with love over us because we recognize that He is the source of all goodness - the Jewish people are supposed to have this attitude to Hashem’s kingship. In order to properly mamlich Hashem we must recognize that He and He alone is the ONLY source of meaning and happiness. The antithesis of this is the negative mitzvo of not following after other gods. This is not limited to not worshipping idols, it also requires that we acknowledge that there is no other source of our well-being other than Hashem. If a person believes that there is any other factor in his life that is independently significant to his happiness then he transgresses the mitzvo of not following other gods. There are numerous possible ‘alternative’ sources to attributing our well-being, including money, physical pleasure, material attainment, honor, or even ourselves. A person can say he believes in G-d but if he acts as though any of these factors provide him with any happiness to the exclusion of Hashem, then he cannot properly make Hashem King.
The extent to which we recognize that doing ratson Hashem is the only key to success has a great effect on our shemiras hamitzvos, both avoidance of negative (lavim), and performance of positive mitzvos. With regards to lavim, my Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita suggests that the shoresh of many aveiros is a belief that there are other ways of succeeding in life apart from keeping the Torah. For example, a person may be faced with the opportunity to gain financially by doing something which is halachically highly questionable; The outcome of his decision whether to do the issur or not may well be based on his emuna - if he really believes that Hashem is the only key to goodness then he will refrain from doing something that Hashem tells him not to do. But, if, deep down, he feels that there is another way, apart from shemiras hamitzvos, in which a person can succeed, such as cheating in financial areas, then he will likely succumb to the temptation. Another example is when a person is put in a situation where he could speak lashon hara, if he has a clear realization that doing so, will, ultimately cause him only pain, then he will not do so. But if, b’shaas maaseh he feels that telling over this piece of gossip will give him pleasure, then he will do so. Of course, a person may not be consciously making such cheshbonos, but deep down they are probably the root of the rationalizations that a person makes when he sins. The more a person can mamlich Hashem, that is, to recognize that He is the ONLY source of happiness, then he will be more successful in his avoidance of doing aveiros because he will recognize that doing them would ultimately not provide him with any real happiness.
The same concept applies for performance of positive mitzvos: it is discussed by Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l. He asks; the Gemara states that there is no reward for mitzvos in Olam Hazeh - this means that a spiritual act such as a mitzvo cannot be sufficiently rewarded by anything in Olam Hazeh. Yet, Chazal also teach us that reshaim receive the reward for their mitzvos in Olam Hazeh - how can they be satisfactorily rewarded by this-worldly pleasures? He answers that the reward a person receives for a mitzvo is no more than the value he himself attributes to that mitzvo. Therefore, a rasha, who sees physical pleasures as the source of his fulfillment will be rewarded with just that for his mitzvos. When the Gemara says that there is no reward in this world, it means that a mitzvo done by a person who has an appreciation of the spiritual pleasures cannot be rewarded with the transitory pleasures of this world.
Based on this, we can gain a greater understanding of the importance on Rosh Hashana of recognizing that Hashem is the only source of true happiness: We are judged on this day according to how many mitzvos we have fulfilled against the number of aveiros that we have committed. However, the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva writes that each mitzvo has a different potency based on a number of factors, one of the most important being the intentions behind the mitzvo. If a person’s aspirations are largely for this-worldly pleasures then this will surely effect his shemiras hamitzvos; There will be occasions where he will refrain from performing a mitzvo in order to satisfy his desires. Rav Shmuelevitz gives the example of a ben Torah stopping learning in order to earn some money. He is demonstrating that the mitzvo of Talmud Torah is worth less than the amount of money he could gain. Thus, even when he does perform the mitzvo, it is tainted by his underlying attitude that it is worth less than other forms of pleasure such as gaining money. The alarming consequence of this is that the reward he will receive for his mitzvos will only be equal to the value that he himself ascribed to the mitzvo. Thus, it is also apparent in our performance of positive mitzvos, that the extent to which we acknowledge that only Hashem is the source of goodness and that doing His ratson is the only way to succeed in life, bears a great effect on how we emerge from the din of Rosh Hashana.
We spend much of Rosh Hashana in tefilla - those tefillas repeatedly emphasize how Hashem is our King. When we say these words again and again on the day, let us remember what they mean: that Hashem is a loving King who is the source of all good, if we can internalise that then we can emerge from Rosh Hashana triumphant.
Kesiva v’chasima tova.