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Can you believe it? Another Rosh Hashanah is on its way in just a few short weeks. The sounding of the shofar is by far the most pervasive symbol of Rosh Hashanah. What are some of its associations? Here is a sampling…
The Torah tells us that Rosh Hashanah is a Yom Truah, a day of sounding the shofar. Interestingly the Torah tells us that Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the seventh month, and never refers to Rosh Hashanah as New Year’s Day. Why was the shofar sounded on the first day of the seventh month? Perhaps to usher in the special ten day period of the days of Repentance and return before the Day of Atonement.
In days of yore, trumpets were sounded to organize a community. We see this as the Israelites march through the wilderness for forty years. The first long note, Tekiah, was for the purpose of convening the people together. The long short notes of staccato the Teruah was a signal for them to march and do battle. Our rabbis teach that the three broken notes, Shevarim, represent the weeping or brokenness of prayer Yevava. Therefore, the sounding of the shofar telegraphs to the Jewish people to convene, to weep and pray, to allow yourself to sense remorse and regret, and to march and do battle with your “evil inclination,” so that you may achieve a greater purity this coming year.
An ancient Midrash notes that Yevava, the broken crying, is also the sound of gentile mothers mourning for the likes of Sisera the Canaanite general that was killed when he fled the battle. On Rosh Hashanah we must be sensitive even to the suffering of strangers and even to the sufferings of those who are our enemies. Like the famous prophet on Yom Kippur, Jonah, we have to cultivate sensitivity and sense of responsibility even for our enemies.
According to Avot 5:9, the ram of the Binding of Isaac (Akedah) was created at twilight at the end of the 6th day of creation. This was, in a sense, the very beginning of history as human consciousness was experienced for the first time. A famous Midrash in Midrash Pirke de Rebbi Eliezer mentions that neither horn of the ram slaughtered in place of Isaac went to waste. The first horn was used to proclaim the giving of the Torah. The second horn was to be given to Elijah to use in gathering together all the Jews at the time of the Messiah. With this we see the shofar reminds us not only of creation, but of Revelation and Redemption, and thus represents the broadest sweep of all of Jewish religious history.
The shape of the shofar reminds us that we must bend our will heavenward. It is thought that its shrill and piercing gevaldik sound will scare away any evil demons or forces that might wish us harm. This is the superstitious reason why we sound the shofar—to scare away the evil forces and the prosecuting angels who are making a case against us!
Other well-known associations accompany the horn of the ram which appears in the story of Isaac’s near sacrifice. According to some traditions, it was during the days of Teshuva and around the time of the autumn equinox that this test for Abraham took place. It was the horn of the ram stuck in the thicket and its bleeting that indicated to Abraham that God could not want the sacrifice of his son. Isaac was saved in the nick of time. Some say the sight and sound of the shofar blasting in every Jewish community at once makes a powerful petition heavenward. God, in hearing the shofar and in seeing the horn, will remember the ram and will remember the time that our ancestor Isaac (our very first-born Jew) was spared and given a new lease on life. On Rosh Hashanah, we, like Isaac, are on the altar. The prayer book in the Netane Tokef prayer says it well: “Who shall live and who shall die? who by fire and who by sword?" Each of us, a little Isaac, shall be "let off the hook" too, when God, through the sight and sound of the shofar, remembers his mercy to the first Isaac.
Of course much of this imagery, in a sense, argues that we can influence God in a ritual manner, and this is the reason we sound the blast. But it’s Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon's (Rambam's) view of the shofar that resonates with us the most: The shofar is an alarm clock. It tells us it’s time to wake up spiritually. It tells us to dust off the lethargy and the apathy. It tells us it’s time to forgive and empathize more, love more, and observe Torah more. That, for many of us, is the shofar’s most important association.
Each year, at home in my morning prayer, I sound the shofar, beginning the month of Elul (30 days before Rosh Hashanah). I take my time and playfully sound long Tekiot. After all, I have to be ready for my big-time gig on the first day of Rosh Hashanah!
My dog, Charlie, thinking himself a fire house mascot, immediately begins to howl. The shofar should spur us to howl as well–to howl for those who are in distress and are hungry. It calls for us to convene, to repent, to do battle with our destructive inclination, to be mindful of the precariousness of our lives and God’s effort for leniency, and to pray for the welfare of all of Israel and all of mankind. It incites us to bend our wills and our inclinations to do even better as Jews and as menschen this coming year, and let us say, Amen. Read More
B'EZRAT HASHEM–WITH G-D'S HELP
As the High Holiday season quickly approaches, the ENJC is extremely active preparing for this holy and meaningful time in the year as we welcome Rosh Hashanah and our Jewish New Year.
Many Jewish people, especially those who are somewhat more traditional, will often use the two Hebrew words above in the course of a conversation. For example, if one is making dinner arrangements with a friend, arranging the time and place, they will say, "I will meet you, B'ezrat Hashem at..." Thus, these arrangements will be fine "with G-d's help." The obvious intent of mentioning these words is the fact that our lives do actually revolve and evolve based upon G-d's wishes. This is most certainly reiterated in our High Holiday lithurgy and prayers as well. We, as G-d's chosen people, beg and ask G-d for a New Year filled with only s'machot–celebration, good health and prosperity for all.
Rabbi David Goldwasser, a very traditional and modern halachik commentator, offers an understanding of these words. In good and unfortunately challenging times in our lives, we always have to remember that it is imperative to keep in mind that we must remain steadfast in our Jewish beliefs, customs, the Torah and Jewish traditions, and that by so doing, our lives will be enriched and we will have the capacity to meet all challenges along the way, and certainly enjoy all of our celebrations as well.
With this idea in mind, let me extend to the entire congregation the following High Holiday greeting this year–
B'EZRAT HASHEM, LET'S ALL HOPE AND PRAY FOR A NEW YEAR FILLED WITH SWEETNESS, HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND PROSPERITY!
SHANA TOVA OOK'TOOKA TO ALL! Read More
The High Holidays represent a special time to connect with the Jewish community. We share in observing the beginning of the Jewish year with Jews worldwide. And at the ENJC, as the seats fill in our sanctuary, we are thrilled to see those we meet with at synagogue meetings and social events, members of our shul that perhaps we haven't seen since this time last year, extended family members, and we welcome our newest members as well.
While this is a time of merriment, it is a time of reflection as well. We look at our actions of the past year and formulate resolutions for the year to come. This is a time to connect with our Jewish identity, to celebrate changes and plan ahead. So why not resolve to become more involved with your Jewish community in the coming year?
If you have pre-school or school-aged children, bring them to Tot Shabbats, Junior Congregation and Youth Group events. While you’re at it, have a say in what they’re learning and doing in Religious School and come to our Education meetings.
If you’re interested in how our Jewish history, customs and beliefs affect our daily lives, participate in our Adult Education programs. You can also come to Ritual meetings and take part in the decisions that affect how we, at the ENJC, follow the traditions of our faith.
Do you follow Israeli politics, or are you interested in Israeli culture? Come hear speakers, do some Israeli dancing, enjoy Israeli foods, and while you’re at it, get involved with the Israeli Advocacy and Cultural Affairs committee.
If you enjoy our programming– our holiday celebrations, Chavurah Dinners, golf outings, fantasy sport leagues, Paid-Up Membership Dinners and Casino Nights–join Men’s Club or Sisterhood, where you are also welcomed to join their boards and committees. And of course you can be a part of the Community Relations and Fundraising committees of the ENJC as well.
If you are proficient with computer graphic software, our communications outlets would welcome your involvement with the Bulletin, Weekly Update and ENJC.org website.
And if you are concerned about the welfare of our congregants, please consider joining the Chesed Committee.
These and many more opportunities await you at the ENJC. You can choose to simply participate, or you can be involved behind the scenes. But please resolve to be more involved in all that the ENJC has to offer in the year ahead. We’re so happy to see you in shul for the High Holidays, and look forward to seeing you, your families, and all our new members throughout the year.
On behalf of my family, I would like to wish all L’Shannah Tovah, a healthy and happy New Year! Read More