Rosh Hashanna 5778 begins this Wednesday evening at sunset and lasts
for two full days. "Rosh Hashanna" is only one of four names
that the Torah and the Rabbis have for Rosh Hashanna. First, "Rosh
Hashanna," which means "the head of the year," because
just as the head leads the body, so a person's spiritual condition
during this holiday has an effect on the person's spiritual condition
for the coming year. Second is "Yom HaDin" meaning "Day
of Judgement," because on this day all the people of the world
are judged according to their actions of the previous year. The third
name is "Yom HaZikaron," "Day of Remembrance,"
because on Rosh Hashanna all the people of the world are remembered
and mustered together under G-d's command. Finally, it is called "Yom
HaTeruah" because the main commandment of Rosh Hashanha is to
hear the blowing of the shofar.
It is explained in the discourses of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch that
the reason the shofar is narrow on one side and wide on the other
is in connection with the verse read before shofar blowing (Psalms
118/5): "In a state of stress and narrowness I called to G-d,
and He answered me expansively." Just as the call of the shofar
starts from the narrow side and resounds through the wide side of
the horn, so similarly in the spiritual realms, it is through our
calling out to G-d in our times of distress and difficulty, that G-d
will answer us in a way of broadness and abundance.
Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber wrote that the spiritual intention behind the
commandment of shofar is teshuvah, returning to G-d. We see this in
the first long blast of the shofar which is like the long cry or wail
that comes from the awakening and arousal of the person's inner soul,
and the anguish of realizing that we have distanced ourselves from
G-d, the true spiritual source. There is also an aspect of teshuva
that is more quiet, that is so deep that there is no strength to call
out. This is the shouting of the heart that is beyond and above the
call of a voice. This is expressed in the shorter and broken blasts
of the shofar, the level referred to as "the inner voice that
cannot be heard."
The Baal Shem Tov once told his student, Rabbi Zeev Kitzes, who would
be blowing the shofar that year, to study the kabbalistic intentions
of blowing the shofar. Rabbi Zeev did as he was instructed and even
wrote the intentions down on a paper and put it in his pocket so he
could refer to it when blowing the shofar. The Baal Shem Tov did not
like this and miraculously, the note was lost. When Rabbi Zeev was
about to blow the shofar he could not find the note. And because he
had relied on it, he did not know the proper intentions by heart.
This course of events pained him very much and made his heart sad.
He cried bitterly and felt totally broken and dejected. With no other
option, he blew the shofar without any special intentions. After the
prayers the Besht told him the following: In the King's heavenly realm
there are many rooms and chambers and each one has a different key.
However, there is only one instrument with which you can open all
the doors without exception, and that is an axe! The Besht continued
with a glowing face: The kabbalistic intentions are the keys to the
supernal gates. But a broken heart can open up any gate or chamber
This year Rosh Hashanna is followed immediately by Shabbos when we
read Parshas Ha'azinu. This is a special shabbos for a few reasons.
Firstly, it is the first of the seven days between Rosh Hashanna and
Yom Kippur, seven days of time when we are given the opportunity to
repair any damage done during the corresponding seven days of the
weeks of the previous year and draw blessing down into the coming
year. Further, on Shabbos we are commanded to eat fancier foods, sleep
a little extra and relax, to take pleasure for G-d's sake. For this
reason many mundane weekday activities become mitzvahs on Shabbos.
Part of the service of Rosh Hashanna is accepting G-d as our King.
A true king demands total obedience. On the Shabbos that follows Rosh
Hashanna, when mundane activities like taking a walk or eating and
sleeping become a mitzvah, the efforts we made to accept G-d as our
king on Rosh Hashanna are even more pleasing in His eyes.
One of the special verses in Parshas Haazinu is: "His nation
(the Jewish people) are a part of G-d, Yaacov is a rope of His legacy/portion."
(32/9) It says in the book of Tanya that every Jewish person (referred
to in the verse as "Yaacov") is tied to the source of life
and holiness with a rope whose head is in heaven and whose end is
here below. Of what is this rope woven? Of 613 threads, which are
the 248 positive commandments and the 365 negative commandments.
In a different vein, Rabbi Moshe of Kurvin would say that a thick
rope is woven together from many many strands. Even if there are strands
that are damaged you often cannot see them. Even more, they still
add to the strength of the rope. So it is with the Jewish people.
When we are woven and joined together, even those of us who are in
less than perfect condition are part of a greater purposeful connection.
Shana Tova, Shabbat shalom and ketivah vchatimah
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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this
week's Reading, see the archive.