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THE ART OF BLOWING SHOFAR
The reason we blow the Shofar is so that G-d will remember for us the cries of Sarah, when she heard the news that her son Yitzhak had been sacrificed, and let it be an atonement for us. The sound of the shofar’s blast, is teaching us how to pray, with a broken heart, and how to wail over our sins. (Midrash brought in Kaf Hachaim 590;5) The way we blow the shofar is learnt from the mother of the wicked General, Sisra, as she waited, looking out the window, for her son to come back from war. He never returned, because Yael had put him to death. Sisra’s mother cried 100 cries, and we blow 100 blasts from the Shofar to parallel that. (Rosh Hashana 33b. See Tosafot)
There is no greater yearning, in human relationships, as that of a mother waiting for her only son to return, knowing that he may never come home again. The Shofar is an expression of yearning, of wishing were back home, close to G-d. The word שופר is the same numerical value as ירושלים ; as we yearn for Jerusalem, the sacrifices of the Bet Hamikdash, the relationship with G-d we once had.
How ironic that the headlines of the present world news talk about President Sleepy Joe, falling asleep on the Prime Minister of Israel speaking about the loyalty of the Jewish people to America, just a week before Rosh Hashana. It reminds me of the sleepy Achashverosh in Shushan. בַּלַּ֣יְלָה הַה֔וּא נָדְדָ֖ה שְׁנַ֣ת הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לְהָבִ֞יא אֶת־סֵ֤פֶר הַזִּכְרֹנוֹת֙ דִּבְרֵ֣י הַיָּמִ֔ים וַיִּהְי֥וּ נִקְרָאִ֖ים לִפְנֵ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ On that night, Achashverosh’s sleep was disturbed, and he said that the book of memories, the chronicles, should be brought and be read before the king. The Talmud tells us that it was not just the King Achashverosh’s sleep that was disturbed that night. It was also the “slumber of the King of the World” that was disturbed on that night. (Megillah 15b) G-d doesn’t sleep, but when we sleep in our relationship with Him, He makes it as if He is sleeping in His relationship with us, allowing everything we rely on to crumble in front of us, putting us in danger. We wake ourselves up, spiritually, with the Shofar, and this “wakes up” our Father, as well.
And what does the King of the World do, when He wakes up? He opens the books of Zichronot, and has the “Chronicles” read in front of Him. He remembers everything, especially the things that everyone else forgot, as we say on Mussaf Rosh Hashana, the part of the prayers that scare me, personally, the most. כי זוכר כל הנשכחות אתה. Because You remember all forgotten things. When a person sins and remembers it, and is always trying to repent וְחַטָּאתִ֖י נֶגְדִּ֣י תָמִֽיד , then G-d “forgets” the sin. (see Yerushalmi Peah 1, 1) But if a person “deletes” the sins from his memory, G-d does not forget those sins. And the opposite is true, as well. When a person remembers the good thing that he did, and feels “Wow! Look at how much I have done! I have done enough in my relationship with You, G-d! I remember how much Tzeddaka I gave, how I once prayed with my whole heart, and I was once a good Jew, I must be a real Tzaddik …” G-d makes it as if He forgets those good deeds. But if a person busies himself with new Mitzvoth, with new Torah learning and is so busy running after new Mitzvoth that he “forgets” how many good things he has done, G-d remembers those forgotten things, forever and ever.
It is just a matter of hours before you are invited to come to court, to be judged. To come to G-d with some sort of improvement, no matter how small, that He will judge your future with. The blowing of the Shofar has in it the power to rip up all the evil decrees, and to silence the Satan. ש- שטן ו-ואין פ-פגע ר-רע . (Abudraham) We are lucky we have the Shofar, but how does it do what it is supposed to do?
The Chatam Sofer would explain the “prayer” of the Shofar with a Mashal. There was once a king whose children got lost on the road, because they did not follow the map that their father had given them. They went very far, and for a long time, they couldn’t find their way back home. As much as they would cry and call out, the king did not hear them, because they were so far from him. Until they said to themselves, maybe WE forgot how to reach out to our father? How can we let him know that we want to come back to him, if we forget the way he wants to hear us talk to him, in the language that he understands? All we have to communicate with him is just our voice, without words! Maybe he will recognize it is us, when he hears our voice alone, without a language that he does not want to hear!
In my travels fundraising for Sefardic Yeshiva students from low-income families, I have learnt, the hard way, that each person has his way of preferred communication. Reuven will only respond to you in Whatsapp. Shimon will only notice you, if you SMS him. You can only talk to Levi, if you call him by phone. Yehuda, on the other hand, can be reached only in person. Yissachar will respond only by a letter from the post office. What is the way to reach G-d?
The language that G-d relates to and wants to hear is the prayers that are Shofar-like. It is a prayer in which words come from the heart, not from the mouth, alone. The Shofar is that cry, one of no words, a cry of closeness, or yearning, of awakening. It is a type of prayer that comes from a bent over, humbled heart, like the bent-over shape of the Shofar. It is the language that G-d wants to hear, because He is שומע קול שופר ומאזין תרועה ואין דומה לך … שומע תרועת עמו ישראל ברחמים He hears the sound of the Shofar, and He listens to the Teruah, and there is no one else who is like G-d (in His ability to hear this). He hears the Teruah of His nation Yisrael with mercy.
Two questions. What is the difference between “hearing the sound of the Shofar” and “listening to the sound of Teruah”? And what does it mean that “no one is like Him”? How does He hear the Shofar differently from the way that anyone else hears it? Any simple person can hear the Shofar sound!
A prayer of a צבור, of a group of people, is the most powerful prayer. צבור is the acronym of צדיקים בינונים רשעים. There are prayers of the Tzaddikim, who are compared to the Shofar, that come across, loud and clear, to Heaven. But then, there are the prayers of those who are trying to improve, the ones who have a lot of ups and downs, and sometimes more downs than ups. The prayers that come from a broken heart, from a real cry of the heart, a ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה דַקָּֽה. And even though this person is very far from G-d, and his prayer is just a faint sound in Heaven, G-d listens very closely to his prayer, too. And no one is like G-d, in His ability to hear that cry, that Teruah, from the Benoni and Rasha. Because no one can understand the sinner who has repented, like G-d can. No one can value the teeny, tiny, genuine improvements, like G-d can. He, like a father, can see past all your shortcomings and know that you actually, finally, are beginning to return to Him. (Pri Megadim)
The prayers of the Rosh Hashana are brought up to the highest place in Heaven, by the Shofar. The prayers of Rosh Hashana bring up, with them, the prayers of the whole year. There have been a lot of prayers, but too many prayers without soul. Shofar gives all the prayers, of the whole year, a soul. The Talmud tells us,מחשבה טובה מצרפה למעשה . When someone has good intentions, but isn’t actually able to do a good deed, G-d considers it as if the person has done the good deed. (Kiddushin 40a) The interesting thing is, the Hebrew word for considers is מחשיב, not מצרפה. Why do we use the word מצרפה, which means, joins, fuses, combines?
The answer is that there are a lot of times when people do Mitzvoth, or when people pray, but they have no intent, no Kavana. They perform by route, mindlessly, going through the motions, just an empty body without a soul. G-d does not want heartless, mindless Mitzvoth and prayers. So what does He do? He takes the good intentions of the one who did not merit to carry out his intentions, and He combines, fuses and joins them to the one who actually did the good deed, but with no heart. This is why it is so important to be part of a Tzibbur.
This is what happens on these days, regarding our prayers, as well. G-d is going to take all of our heart, all of our kavana, all of our intentions, and connect it to all the prayers and services that we did, throughout the year.
Make sure you are ready to come to shul with your whole heart, at least on Rosh Hashana.