The Musaf service is the most significant of the Rosh Ha-shana services. We blow the shofar during this service, and the Sages ordained that we add the three berakhot of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot to its Amida. These sections express the unique elements of the day, and through them we can merit a good new year. As God said to the Jewish people: “On Rosh Ha-shana, recite Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot before Me. Malkhuyot to crown Me your King; Zikhronot to invoke your memory before Me; and how is this done? Via the shofar” (Rosh Ha-shana 16a). These three sections are one unit. One who is unfamiliar with one of them should not recite the other two either. They also must be recited in the correct order; one who recites them out of order has not fulfilled his obligation (SA 593:1; MB ad loc. 5).
The Sages ordained that each section should consist of ten verses related to the theme of the berakha. These correspond to the ten utterances with which God created the world, the Ten Commandments, and the ten times that the word “halleluhu” appears in the last chapter of Tehilim. Each section begins with three verses from the Torah. These are followed by three verses from the Writings, three verses from the Prophets, and a concluding verse from the Torah. Verses that mention calamities that befell the Jews are not included, nor are Zikhronot verses of an individual, even if they are positive (Rosh Ha-shana 32a-b; SA 591:4-5).
The first berakha includes both the sanctification of the day and Malkhuyot. It begins with “You have chosen us,” the familiar formulation that begins the fourth berakha of every Yom Tov. This is followed by Aleinu – familiar as the concluding prayer of every service – in which we praise and thank God for giving us the privilege of recognizing His reign and pray that all the nations accept the yoke of His kingship. We then recite the ten verses relating to Malkhuyot, concluding with “Shema Yisrael.” Although this verse does not explicitly invoke God’s kingship, it entails accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. The berakha concludes by asking God to rule over the entire world and draw us near to His worship, His Torah, and His mitzvot. “For You, God, are truth, and Your word is truth and endures forever. Blessed are you, Lord, King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.”
In the second berakha, that of Zikhronot, we recount how God remembers His world, all His creatures, and all their deeds, particularly on this day: “This day is the beginning of Your works, a commemoration of the very first day,” on which God judges the world. We pray for God to remember us for good and bring about salvation. We conclude: “Today, in Your compassion, You remember the binding of Yitzḥak for his descendants’ sake. Blessed are You, Lord, Who remembers the covenant.”
In the third berakha, Shofarot, we describe God’s revelation to us on Mount Sinai, which was accompanied by shofar blasts. We pray that we will again experience revelation and shofar blasts announcing the redemption. We conclude:
Blow the great shofar for our freedom, and raise a banner to gather our exiles; bring together our dispersed from among the nations, and gather in our scattered from the ends of the earth. Bring us to Zion, Your city, joyfully, and to Jerusalem, the place of Your Temple, in everlasting happiness…. For You hear the sound of the shofar and listen to its blasts, and there is none to compare to You. Blessed are You, Lord, Who listens to the sound of His people Israel’s shofar-blasts with compassion.
If one is in a place without a minyan, he should neither recite Musaf nor blow the shofar during the first three hours of the day, as that is a time of judgment. Without the merit of the community, we are afraid that he will not be judged favorably. However, one praying with a minyan may pray even during the first three hours, because communal prayers are always accepted. Even if an individual does not adequately concentrate on the prayers, God does not reject them (SA 591:8; MB ad loc. 15; Peninei Halakha: Prayer 2:1-2).