Shoftim/Elul – Preparing for Battle with the Teruah Blast

This week’s parsha, Parshas Shoftim, is generally the first parsha read in the month of Elul.  In the parsha, we read: כִּי-תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל-אֹיְבֶךָ, וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ–לֹא תִירָא, מֵהֶם – When you go out to war against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot – a people more numerous than you, you shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d, is with you, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt.  וְהָיָה, כְּקָרָבְכֶם אֶל-הַמִּלְחָמָה; וְנִגַּשׁ הַכֹּהֵן, וְדִבֶּר אֶל-הָעָם – And it will be when you draw near to the war, and the Kohen shall approach and speak to the people.  And he shall say to them, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל – Hear O Israel!  You are coming near today to battle against your enemies; let your heart not be faint, do not panic and do not break down before them.  For Hashem, your G-d, is the One Who goes with you…(Devarim 20:1-4).

There are physical wars and spiritual wars; actual wars and proverbial wars.  Wars of arms and ammunition and wars of the heart and mind. 

It is Elul.  The final month of the year.  And we are all, each and every one of us, going out to battle against our ever-present enemy, the yetzer ha’rah (evil inclination), who entices us to sin.  Against him we must be strong, prepared and battle-ready.

In Tehillim 27, which is recited twice daily after davening during Elul and through the Yomim Tovim, we reinforce the idea of being strong in battle.

The Psalmist says: אִם-תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי, מַחֲנֶה– לֹא-יִירָא לִבִּי – If a camp encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; אִם-תָּקוּם עָלַי, מִלְחָמָה— בְּזֹאת, אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ – if a war should rise up against me, in this I trust; one thing I ask of G-d, this I ask: to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life… וְעַתָּה יָרוּם רֹאשִׁי, עַל אֹיְבַי סְבִיבוֹתַי, וְאֶזְבְּחָה בְאָהֳלוֹ, זִבְחֵי תְרוּעָהAnd now, my head will be raised over my enemies around me, and I will sacrifice in His tent sacrifices with joyous blasts (teruah); I will sing to Hashem (Ps.27:3-4,6).

With the teruah, the jarring alarm-like blast of the shofar, the trumpet of victory and the call to arms, we will awaken ourselves out of our slumber and be victorious in this difficult battle.

אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם, יֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָהFortunate is the nation that knows the teruah blast; Hashem, in the light of your countenance they will walk (Ps.89:16).  R’ Avraham Yitzchak Ha’Kohen Kook zt’l explains that within the shofar blast, one may hear the inner stirring of the soul and the call of teshuva (repentance). 

In one of the Jerusalem neighborhoods, a group of workers was under pressure to complete a particular building, and they continued working during Rosh Hashana.  When the neighbors realized what was happening, they immediately notified R’ Kook.  He sent a personal messenger to the construction site – with a shofar in hand.  The messenger approached the surprised workers and wished them a shana tova.  He announced that R’ Kook had sent him to blow shofar for them all, in order that they would be able to fulfill the mitzvah on Rosh Hashana.  He respectfully requested that they take a break from their work to listen to the blasts.  He then recited the appropriate blessings and proceeded to blow shofar.

The message of Rav Kook and the piercing shofar blasts, there on the hot construction site, achieved their goal.  “Each blast shook the delicate chords of the soul and awakened the Jewish spark in the hearts of the young workers.  They set down their work tools and gathered around the ba’al toke’ah (shofar blower).  Some were so moved that they began to weep.  The ancient blasts of the shofar, reverberating in the unfinished Jerusalem building, transported them back to their father’s house.  They saw images of grandfather, the shtetl and the shul, a world of Jews standing in prayer.”

They began to question, “What has happened to us?  Where are we?  What have we come to?”  They stood around, confused and absorbed in thought.  When the shofar blowing was over, there was no need for words.  The workers unanimously decided to stop working.  They quickly changed their clothing and hurried to join in the Rosh Hashana tefillot at R’ Kook’s yeshiva (Silver from the Land of Israel, p.62-63).

Rav Soloveitchik teaches, “The root of the word teruah, which refers to the shofar blast, has two meanings.  On the one hand, it suggests G-d’s shattering punishment (see Is.24:19) and is used in the context of destruction (see Jer.4:19).  The human being dwells in a valley of tears which will be exposed to destruction.  The theme of Rosh Hashana is din, judgement, and no one can avoid din

“However, if man employs the shofar, coupled with the merit of the forefathers, the shofar becomes an instrument which facilitates friendship between man and G-d.  In his blessing to Yosef’s children (Bereishis 48:15), Yaakov spoke of Hashem, הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי, who has befriended me.  Here, the (root of the) word (teruah) refers to friendship. 

“Rosh Hashana begins as din but concludes as rachamim (mercy), a transformation which takes place through the shofar.  This is why we recite the verse ותרועת מלך בו, and the teruah of the King is within him (Bamidbar 23:21), in the Mussaf of Rosh Hashana” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bamidbar, p.190-191). 

Let us hear the shofar blast this Elul, let us answer its call, and let us all arise from our slumber as we choose the righteous paths of teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka.  And through this avodah (Divine service), may we merit that the teruah of Din be transformed into the teruah of Friendship this Rosh Hashana, as we are inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life – amen v’amen.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

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