What should we think of as we hear the shofar blasts? What messages does the shofar convey to each of us?
Pekelach in hand to keep the kids quiet, we rush to shul to make sure we hear at least 30 blasts of the shofar. It’s a moment of great anticipation and intensity. The highlight of Rosh Hashanah, the moment of coronation of the King, of accepting the yoke of His Kingship upon us. What should we think of as we hear the shofar blasts? What messages does the shofar convey to each of us?
Facades Stripped Away
The blowing of the shofar is akin to entering into the holy of holies, explains the Gemara Rosh Hashanah. Rav Chayim Friedlander suggests that we imagine ourselves as the Kohein Gadol who is entering into the Kodesh Hakodoshim in a time of intense intimacy with Hashem.
At the moment of tekias shofar, we are being judged. The raw sound of the shofar strips away all the facades, the pretenses; we are unable to cloak ourselves with our roles as wife, mother, daughter. Our neshamos unveiled, we stand completely alone with Hashem. In this sense, we enter into the holy of holies of our soul; the part of us that knows the truth about who we really are, not who we pretend to be.
This moment of total honesty allows us to access the essence of teshuvah. At the broken sound of the teruah, we realize how broken we really are, how much we have to improve — and then we can become who we know we are capable of being.
Rabbi Yehudah Leib Chasman offers a wonderful parable about a villager who heard that in the big city there was something called a cinema, where he could see tall buildings, cars, and people moving on a screen. He saved up his money so he could afford this incredible experience — but when he finally entered the theater, he was shocked to see that the room was pitch dark. Instinctively, he turned on the light, only to hear the rest of the audience shout at him, “Fool! Don’t you know that the picture only appears in the dark!”
Rosh Hashanah is the time of “Hashem Ori” — the light is turned on, the illusions we have lived with all year disappear. The shofar wakes us up from the slumber of our existence so we can access the true meaning and purpose of life.
Who We Really Are
The Gemara teaches that on Rosh Hashanah we are judged ba’asher hu sham — based upon where we are holding right then. At this moment, Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains, we need to focus not on who we were — there is no Vidui on Rosh Hashanah — but on where we are now, and who we want to be.
When hearing the shofar, we must commit to elevating our thoughts, speech, and deeds to serve as a conduit to bringing Hashem’s Presence into the world. Where we really desire to be shows where and who we really are.
However, Rav Wolbe notes, to show our true sincerity, we need to live with this conviction during the entire 48 hours of Rosh Hashanah; not only should we eat apples and honey, we should act with sweetness and goodness over the whole Yom Tov.
The Satan, knowing that this is our plan, will test us over and over again to see if we can maintain this determination. It may very well begin with your six-year-old insisting on pouring the grape juice. When he misses the cup, but has perfect aim on his new clothes, pick him up and dance! Don’t let the Satan get you angry over something so small.
In Sichos His’chazkus, Rabbi Tzvi Meir Zilberberg teaches that everything that happens over the Yom Tov should be viewed as a tailor-made gift from Hashem. The person with a terrible cold sitting next to you, the child who comes in and out of your row, all the small and large difficulties that you encounter over the chag — they are all there to test your middos and resolve.
By maintaining this determination throughout Rosh Hashanah, we are in effect signing our own decree for the upcoming year. Rabbi Avraham Kuger in My Sole Desire notes that our deeds are not weighed on a physical scale on Rosh Hashanah; the weighing is conceptual. We attribute different levels of importance to various things in our lives, deciding what is significant and what is secondary. We don’t have to wait to see which book we were written in; we decide with our mindset, our priorities, and our actions which book we have an affinity toward.
Crowning Him with Our Greatness
The yetzer hara is very good at trapping us and convincing us that we are inadequate, that we have far to go before we can succeed. In L’fanav Navod, Rabbi Ephraim Fordsham emphasizes that we must focus on how many mitzvos we do, and how many positive acts we accomplish to bring Hashem’s Presence into our lives.
He quotes Rav Dessler, who encourages us to see our greatness and realize that every word of Torah and tefillah is eternal. Seeing all that we have accomplished buoys us to continue with greater fervor and desire. The Sokatchaver Rebbe in Sheim MiShmuel states that our lack of recognition of our inherent greatness is a major deficit. If we were honestly aware of who we are, we would never be drawn to sin.
The tefillah of Aleinu reminds us of our greatness. We are not like the other nations of the world; we have a special portion that Hashem has granted us in being able to serve Him. Giving “greatness” to Hashem, notes Rav Wolbe, is about giving our greatness to Him. We must take the greatness He instilled within each one of us and dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to Him.
On Rosh Hashanah we access our greatness, as well as our true desire to coronate Hashem with joy. By doing so, we bring the world one step closer to the time we refer to in Aleinu — when all nations will bow down to Him, and recognize His total sovereignty in the world.
After we are reminded of our greatness, tekias shofar wakes us up to meet our real selves. We connect with our core desires and are inspired to live accordingly. The sound of the shofar reverberates throughout the day as we are challenged to live the lives we envision for ourselves.
Further, the very blowing of the shofar enables us to create a fresh start on life. Rabbi Elimelech Beiderman, in Be’er Hachayim, describes what transpires mystically when the shofar is blown. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam Harishon, who was created when Hashem blew into his nostrils a breath of life (Bereishis 2:7).
Every year, when the shofar is blown, we should imagine, “Hashem b’kol shofar”— that Hashem is kiveyachol the baal tokeia, Who is breathing into each of us a new breath of life. Each one of us then becomes like a newborn person; our past erased, we are given a new lease on life. We can move beyond the areas where we are stuck, and build in the areas that are truly precious to us.
Crowning the King is about accepting the yoke of Hashem’s Kingship in our lives. It is the recognition that there is none other aside from Him — and once we realize this, we can be ruthlessly honest about who we are and who we want to be.
On this day of new beginnings, we establish our goals and vision and then ask Hashem to help us live up to them. Feeling this infusion of newness, as Hashem breathes new life into us will buoy us in the right direction.
May we all be inspired to write ourselves into the book of life, the book of bringing Hashem into every aspect of our lives.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 661)