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WHY THE SHOFAR?

Roy Neuberger - Sep. 19, 2017


As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the entire world is aware of profound danger, a palpable threat emanating from a certain dictator who has access to the most powerful weapons as well as the means to deliver those weapons to distant lands. This uncontrollable dictator does not respond to the moral considerations which guide ethical, civilized people.


I believe it is no accident that this is occurring at the time of Yom HaDin.


There is another dangerous dictator who threatens us. His name is Yetzer Hara. We tend to ignore or belittle his existence because we want to believe he is not real, but, if we ignore him, then, somehow, events occur in the world which make it clear that our lives are in danger.


The words of the Novi leap from the page. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the wicked people and all the evildoers will be like straw and that coming day will burn them up, says Hashem, Master of Legions, so that it will not leave them a root or branch. But a sun of righteousness will shine for you who fear My Name, with healing in its rays and you will go out and flourish … and you will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on that day that I bring about, says Hashem, Master of Legions.” (Malachi 3:19ff)

 

By what means can we attempt to save ourselves from the conflagration and be healed by the rays of the “sun of righteousness?” The Novi makes it clear that this is a spiritual process. We have to be among those who “fear [His] Name.” We will have to work very diligently to try to achieve this madreiga.


“Min hamaitzar … from the straits I call upon G-d…. Do not shut Your ear from my prayer … when I cry out … Please accept with favor the offerings of my mouth, Hashem, and teach me Your judgments.” (Tefillah before Shofar blowing)

 

I would like to inquire why the Shofar is the unique feature of Rosh Hashanah. Why of all services is this avoda chosen to represent us?


This is a very loud world. We all suffer from noise pollution. Whether it is the screaming of a plane coming in for a landing, a jack-hammer on a city street, or a radio blasting out of a car window, this world is filled with noise. We add to it by allowing loud music at simchas and constant use of our cell phones, even when there is nothing to say. Many people are trying to make their voices heard, yet the airwaves are filled with emptiness.


If you want to hear the sound of reality, listen for a “still, thin sound.” This was the voice with which Hashem spoke to Eliayahu Hanovi (1 Kings 19:12) But you have to listen well. This is perhaps one reason why the Torah instructs us, “Shema, Yisroel.” We have to listen for the Voice of Hashem. It is there, but we have to filter out the noise.


This is perhaps related to the fact that the entire survival of Am Yisroel is suspended on one thread, which is called “Torah Sh’ba’al’Pe … the Oral Torah.” This Torah is to be heard and absorbed through intense and constant effort, by word of mouth from father to son, rebbe to talmid, generation to generation. Our enemies know it is the secret of our existence and that is why the ones who hate us burn our Talmud and relentlessly search for the “Shas Yid.” They know the secret of our survival, but they cannot eliminate that “still, thin sound,” because it comes from Hashem.  


On Rosh Hashanah we listen. We hear the call of the Shofar and we concentrate intently upon that sound in order to live. The Shofar is made from the horn of the animal that was shechted instead of Yitzchak Avinu, who was willing to give his life for Torah. It represents our only hope, which is to give our life for Torah. That’s the only way we are going to be able to be healed by the “sun of righteousness.” We have to listen for the Voice of Hashem. “On the third day… the sound of the shofar was very powerful … the entire people … shuddered (and) G-d spoke.” (Shemos 19:16)


Yes, we can escape from the insane dictator who is threatening the entire world with flames. And we can also escape from the mighty dictator within us. It will take intense kavana, intense desire, tears of teshuva, tears which fall onto the Machzor and reveal our desire for life. We can survive whatever is coming externally or internally if we beg Avinu Malkainu to save us, and listen to the sound of the Shofar.


Soon, b’ezras Hashem, we will hear the Shofar Gadol and see the day which is “everlasting Shabbos.” Ksiva v’chassima tova, and may Hashem rescue us from all evil!


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At this season I want to express once again my gratitude to Artscroll/Mesorah Publications for their wonderfully literate and articulate translations from Loshon Hakodesh, which I use (with their permission) in published writings throughout the year. May Hashem continue to grant them the privilege to disseminate His Word and raise the level of kedusha among Am Yisroel. I want particularly to pay tribute this year to Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz zt”l, the force behind this courageous project from its inception. As someone raised without Torah, I do not see how I could even have attempted to navigate the Ocean of Torah without this steady and sturdy ship.



 

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