Yes, I am aware that I was in the middle of giving my opinion about a recent controversy in our town. However, when I was informed by the powers that be that this column was not going to be the penultimate one (I love that word — it sounds like it really doesn’t mean anything at all!) but rather the very last one before Rosh Hashanah, I decided I must shift gears and leave the reader with something more uplifting than my take on something divisive that everyone already seems to have an opinion about. Whoever is interested in what I have to say, please write to the e-mail address at the end of this article, and I will bli neder answer you in a timely fashion.
Rashi in this week’s parsha tells us a puzzling Chazal: Why is the opening statement in our parsha, “You are all standing today before Hashem your G-d…” juxtaposed with the terrible tochacha of last week’s reading? Because when Israel heard the many curses of parshas Ki Savo, besides those in parshas Bechukosai, their faces paled in fright, and they asked, “Who can survive these curses?” Moshe began to console them, saying, “You are all standing today…” Although you have in the past caused much anger to the A-mighty, nevertheless He has not destroyed you, and behold, you are all standing here today.
What is Moshe Rabbeinu saying, doing? Imagine a principal speaking to a classroom of children, warning that if they misbehave they will be expelled. The principal leaves the room, and the teacher tells the class, “Oh, don’t mind him. He’s just blowing off steam. Remember how you misbehaved yesterday, and the day before? And you see nothing really happened to you, so probably nothing will happen now, either.” Pretty nervy, and downright chutzpahdik, no? So what was Moshe Rabbeinu saying that is different from that teacher?
The Medrash in parshas Emor questions the meaning of the possuk, “Joyful is the nation who knows how to blow a teruah…” Don’t the Nations of the world know how to blow any number of instruments? When Bnei Yisroel blow the shofar, they coax Hashem to change His Seat of Judgment to a Seat of Mercy…” What in the world does this mean? What is this secret, how do we get Hashem to do that, and why can’t the non-Jews do it?
Rav Yiroel Salanter is cited as asking the following: Wouldn’t it have been “better” to arrange matters so that Yom Kippur comes first, with days of repentance, and only then the day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, to determine the course of the coming year?
His answer: We do not appreciate which is the means, and which is the end, the goal. We don’t have Yom Kippur in order to have a “better” psak din! The goal, the purpose, the tachlis, is Yom Hakippurim! To get Bnei Yisroel to cleanse themselves, to do teshuvah, and start fresh at least once a year. That is the point! And Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and kindness, “arranged” matters so that we precede that with a Yom Hadin, to spur us on, to provoke us, yes, to frighten us, so that we wake up from our inertia, our apathy, our lethargy, and react to the ultimate Court case the way a person would react if he or she believed that a court case was coming up that would determine one’s life, health, family’s life and health, hatzlachah, children’s hatzlachah…. Rosh Hashanah is the way to get us to achieve a Yom Kippur!
And the focus, the centerpiece? Let us look at the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah, 3:4 (maybe take notes and have these points in front of you as you listen to the shofar this year).“Even though blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah seems like an inexplicable chok (a seemingly irrational decree), there is a definite implication and allusion involved”:
Wake up from your sleep, arise from your slumber, you who are involved in the otherwise pointless pursuits of life….
Search your ways. Make a cheshbon of how much you have spiritually grown this past year and how you spend your time.
Remember the Creator, instead of losing Him in the pettiness of everyday matters day after day after day.
Care about your soul! After all, that is what remains of you after a few short years.
Change your ways from the habits you have fallen into ….
(Go ahead, don’t be embarrassed, make the list!)
The value of the shofar is, “Will a shofar blow in a city and its inhabitants not get frightened?” (Think of those who live in Ashkelon and Sderot when the siren sounds; do you think you should feel differently form them when the shofar sounds in Elul, on Rosh Hashanah? The Rambam doesn’t! Yet, do we feel as vulnerable and frightened as they do?)
The posuk says in this week’s sedra, “And if upon hearing the words of these curses, he will bless himself in his heart, and say ‘I will have peace (or as we would put it, “hey, I’m good!”) … though I do as I see fit…’ then Hashem will not be willing to forgive him…”
If you are unmoved, if you hear the shofar, make your way through the whole Elul, say the selichos, and just sail through it all and stay the same year after year after year – that Hashem cannot forgive!
But if you listen to the shofar, and you glance down at that paper you’ve written (remember?), and you are moved, you are frightened, you think about your life… then Hashem will IMMEDIATELY arise from the mode of din, and go into rachamim mode — that’s the meaning of the Chazal quoted above. We can be joyful if we know how to be moved by the shofar sound!
When Bnei Yisroel come to Moshe Rabbeinu upon hearing the tochachah, and their faces are pale, then Moshe is able to say to them, “Ahh, if you are so moved, if you are actually frightened, if you are NOT saying ‘shalom yiheyeh li’ — then I am able to turn to you and say, if that is the case, you need not worry, I see that you already are ready for change, that there is no need to resort to the actualization of the tochachah…” THAT is the deeper meaning of the Chazal. Listen — but really listen! — to the meaning of the shofar blasts, and through that you will already be inscribed im yirtzeh Hashem in the Book of Life and all good in the coming year. A kesivah v’chasimah tovah to all!