21 Sep SHOFAR TALES
There is a hushed silence in the shul as the Baal Tokeah rises to sound the blasts of the shofar. The congregation listens attentively to the brachah “Lishmoah kol shofar – Who has commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar.” Together, everyone responds, “Amein!”
“Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah”, the shofar cries out to all of us, reaching the depths of our neshamos.
Some of us close their eyes, others bury their faces in their machzorim, but all are in deep concentration and prayer, reflecting on the past year, and praying for a better year ahead. Even young children stand in place, their little faces filled with wonder and awe.
The shofar speaks to all of us, no matter our age, no matter our life standing. Upon hearing the shofar, our heart trembles, our neshamah is awakened. A piercing sound that shocks us into spiritual elevation.
The shofar’s cry is like that of a child to his father, “Tatty, Daddy…HELP!”
The word shofar is related to shipur, to improve, to beautify. We blow a ram’s horn to signify man’s mission to take the “animal”, the physical component within us, and raise it to greater spiritual heights. As we recite in the Shacharis of Rosh HaShanah, “Shapru ma’aseichem…, Beautify your deeds and let the covenant (between man and HaShem) not be annulled.”
The Torah tells us “Yom Teruah yihiyeh lachem, It shall be for you a day of shofar sounding. (Bamidbar 29:1) The shofar has three distinct sounds, Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah. So why is “Teruah” singled out as one of the names of the holiday?
Rashi and other Torah commentators teach us that the root of the word Teruah is rei’us, meaning friendship. Rosh HaShanah is a time for us strengthen our commitment and connection to HaShem, and to our fellow man.
The Talmud tells us that the shofar must have a bent shape. This signifies an important lesson in relationships. At times, for the sake of shalom, we have to bend, to compromise, to give a little. To show understanding and compassion and let it go.
The shofar also relates to our connection to HaShem. How important it is to bend our will and live a Torah life.
This week’s parshah opens with Moshe sharing a message with all of B’nei Yisroel. “Atem nitzavim hayom…, You are standing here today…” (Devarim 29:9). The more commonly used word for standing is “omdim”. Why the term “nitzavim”? What is the message?
There are many explanations by Torah commentators as to why the term nitzavim is used. The word nitzavim is related to the word matzeivah, a monument, a stone that stands strong. A stone that lives on, that weathers the storms of generations. Perhaps we can understand this to symbolize that even in the most trying of times, we are nitzavim. We stand strong, armed with our Torah.
My mother, the Rebbetzin a”h, often spoke about her Holocaust experiences. She was just a young girl, but remembered her Rosh HaShanah in Bergen-Belsen.
A shofar and machzor were miraculously smuggled into the camp. My Zeide, HaRav Avraham HaLevi zt”l was chosen to blow the shofar. As Zeide blew, a group of young boys gathered. It didn’t take long for the German Nazi guards to come running and beat them mercilessly. But even then, the boys cried out “lishmoah kol shofar, to hear the sound of the shofar.”
The strength of a people; the power of a shofar.
Years later, my mother was speaking in the town of Neve Aliza, in the Shomron. Being that it was close to Rosh HaShanah, she shared the story of the shofar of Bergen-Belsen.
After the lecture, a woman in the audience jumped up and excitedly said that she had a postscript to share. She too, was in Bergen-Belsen. After my Zeide blew the shofar for one group, it was passed on to the neighboring camp where her father blew the shofar. The miracle continued, and her father was able to hide the shofar until they were liberated, when he blew it once again.
Today, the shofar remains in Neve Aliza. No matter the circumstances, a yiddishe neshamah longs to hear the cry of the shofar.
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Meisels, zt”l, who was the Chief Rabbi of Veitzen, Hungary, miraculously obtained a shofar in the Auschwitz concentration camp. At the risk of his life, he went from block to block to sound the shofar for the prisoners.
In his memoirs, Rabbi Meisels writes:
“The voices and cries that broke out from the men upon hearing the shofar still ring in my ears. Especially the quivering voice of the makreh (the person who calls out the various sounds), R’ Yehoshua Fleischman of Debrecen, as he cried out, “Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah”. I then experienced the Holy Sheloh’s interpretation of the shofar sounds. Tekiah – long and straight, that which was once straight became Shevarim – a broken sound. So many of our community became broken. And then, the final Tekiah – a straight, smooth sound, our hopes and prayers that we merit a speedy redemption.”
As we listen to the shofar this Rosh Hashanah, we should internalize the words of Rabbi Meisels. The shofar is also a cry of hope.
I have my Rosh HaShanah memories. Every year, my father, HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi zt”l, would look around the shul to see who was missing. After davening, he would visit the “absentees” and blow shofar for them. After my father’s passing, we received a beautiful note from Mindy, a college student. She wrote how one Rosh HaShanah she was sick at home with pneumonia. The Rabbi surprised her with a visit and blew shofar. A memory that stayed with her. The memory of a rabbi who cared enough about a sick ten-year-old girl. A memory that kept her close to her Judaism during her college years.
The power of rei’us, of friendship and kindness. The power of the shofar’s call.
In just a few days it will be Rosh HaShanah. Let’s prepare our neshamos for the Day of Judgment. As Moshe said “Atem nitzavim hayom…”, let’s be cognizant that we all stand before HaShem hayom, today and every day. Make a commitment, as our ancestors did before us, a commitment to HaShem, to our Torah, to our people. A commitment to ourselves that the coming year will be one of spiritual growth.
May we all merit to soon hear the shofar of redemption. As we recite on Rosh HaShanah in the Musaf prayer. “Bayom hahu, yitokah b’shofar gadol, On that day a great shofar will be blown.” The shofar heralding the arrival of Moshiach. (Isaiah 27:13)
To all my dear readers, my very best wishes for a year of good health and happiness. May the sound of the shofar this Rosh HaShanah herald in a year tranquility, a year of shalom in the world around us, shalom for Am Yisroel, and shalom – inner peace for each and every one of us.