14 Sep 2023 Rosh Hashana 5784: The Call of the Shofar
Rosh Hashana 5784. Another year – 5783 – has come and gone, and here we stand on the precipice of a new year. We reflect on the year that has passed, on our achievements, our shared mission, our communities, families, friends, and our Land. We beseech HKB”H that this new year should be one of abundant and overflowing simcha, joy, bracha, blessing, good health and shalom, peace, for all.
It is the call of the shofar, the chefetz mitzvah (mitzvah object) of Rosh Hashana (R”H) that cries out to us to repent, to come closer to G-d, to leave our sins behind, and to reach ever higher spiritual heights in the new year. The Torah identifies R”H as a day of shofar blast in two different places.
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: דַּבֵּר אֶל–בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר: בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ, יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן—זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה, מִקְרָא–קֹדֶשׁ – Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be a cessation for you, a remembrance of the shofar blast, a calling of holiness” (Vayikra 23:23-34).
“וּבַחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֗דֶשׁ מִקְרָא־קֹ֨דֶשׁ֙ יִֽהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֣א תַֽעֲשׂ֑וּ י֥וֹם תְּרוּעָ֖ה יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם – And in the seventh month, on the first day, a calling of holiness it shall be for you; you shall not perform any mundane work. It shall be a day of shofar sounding for you” (Bamidbar 29:1).
The Rambam famously teaches that the shofar calls out to us to wake up from our spiritual slumber and arouse ourselves from our lackadaisical attitudes in avodas Hashem.
אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁתְּקִיעַת שׁוֹפָר בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה גְּזֵרַת הַכָּתוּב רֶמֶז יֵשׁ בּוֹ כְּלוֹמַר עוּרוּ יְשֵׁנִים מִשְּׁנַתְכֶם וְנִרְדָּמִים הָקִיצוּ מִתַּרְדֵּמַתְכֶם וְחַפְּשׂוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂיכֶם וְחִזְרוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה וְזִכְרוּ בּוֹרַאֲכֶם
Even though the sounding of the shofar on R”H is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if [the shofar’s call] is saying: Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva, 3:4).
Particularly powerful and poignant are the words and reflections of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z’l. “What does R”H say to us? Of what is it a reminder? How can it transform our lives?… R”H tells us is that life is short. Untaneh Tokef tells the poetry of morality with haunting pathos: Man is founded in dust and ends in dust. He lays down his soul to bring home bread. He is like a broken shard, like a passing cloud, like a breath of wind, like whirling dust, like a dream that slips away…
“Furthermore, R”H tells us that life itself, each day, every breath we take, is the gift of G-d: Remember us for life, O King Who delights in life, and write us in the book of life – for Your sake, O G-d of life. Life is not something we may take for granted. If we do, we will fail to celebrate it. G-d gives us one gift above all others, said Maimonides: life itself, besides which everything else is secondary… Judaism, as opposed to other religions, sought G-d in the here-and-now of life on earth. Yes, we believe in life after death, but it is in life before death that we truly find human greatness.
“R”H reminds us that life may be hard, but it can still be sweet, the way the challah and the apple are on R”H when we dip them in honey. Jews have never needed wealth to be rich, or power to be strong. To be a Jew is to live for simple things: the love between husband and wife, the sacred bond between parents and children, the gift of community where we help others and others help us and where we learn that joy is doubled and grief halved by being shared. To be a Jew is to give. It is to learn and never stop seeking, to pray and never stop thanking, to do teshuva and never stop growing. In this lies the secret of joy… Life is sweet when touched by the Divine…
“So on R”H we remember and ask G-d to remember those who came before us: Avraham and Isaac, Sarah, Hannah, and Rachel, the Israelites of Moses’ day and the Jews of every generation, each of whom left some living legacy in the prayers we say or the melodies in which we sing them. And in one of the most moving verses of the middle section of Mussaf we recall the great words said by G-d through the prophet Jeremiah (2:2): זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ, אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ—לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר, בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה – I remember of you the kindness of your youth, your love when you were a bride; how you walked after Me in the desert, through a land not sown. Our ancestors… never stopped following G-d though the way was hard and the destination distant… We have inherited wealth, not material but spiritual. We are heirs to our ancestors’ greatness… R”H and Y”K allow us to begin anew, forgiven, cleansed, undaunted, ready for the next challenge, the next year…
“And whether the shofar is our cry to G-d or G-d’s cry to us, somehow in that tekia, shevarim, terua – the call, the sob, the wail – is all the pathos of the Divine-human encounter as G-d asks us to take His gift, life itself, and make of it something holy by so acting as to honor G-d and His image on earth, humankind. For we defeat death, not by living forever but by living by values that live forever; by doing deeds and creating blessings that will live on after us; and by attaching ourselves in the midst of time to G-d Who lives beyond time, ‘the King – the living, everlasting G-d’… Those who fully enter the spirit of R”H emerge into the new year charged, energized, focused, renewed, knowing that to be a Jew is to live life in the presence of G-d, to sanctify life for the sake of G-d, and to enhance the lives of others – for where we bring blessings into other lives, there G-d lives” (Ceremony & Celebration, p.20-25).
בברכת שנה טובה ומתוקה,