Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
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Who among us has not indulged in wishful thinking? Who among us has no regrets? Have we all not daydreamed, “If only I could do it all over again…. If only I could have another chance…. If only I could undo the mistakes of the past….”
To most of us, those words remain wishful thinking. The shofar, however, comes to tell us that we can reinvent ourselves, that we can undo our past, that we can convert our mistakes into learning experiences and start anew.
Our holidays are not merely commemorations of historical events. They are also celebrations of the special energies those days represent. For example, Passover is not only the remembrance of our Exodus from bondage, it is also a reminder that those days were created for redemption and liberation from every form of bondage and addiction – material, spiritual, or emotional. We need only will it and we, too, can free ourselves.
Similarly, all our holidays have their own cosmic energy. On Rosh Hashanah, G-d created man. Therefore it follows that, if we so desire, on Rosh Hashanah G-d can recreate us. The shofar comes to remind us of that awesome opportunity.
Let’s go back to the beginning of time and ask, “How did G-d create us?”
G-d shaped a clump of earth into the image of man, and then breathed into it. That breath of G-d became man’s neshamah – his soul – transforming that clump of earth into a living being. Man can corrupt his mind; he can taint his heart, but he can never destroy his neshamah, for the neshamah is a Divine spark. Every morning upon arising, we declare in our prayers, “Almighty G-d, The soul You gave me is pure. You created it. You breathed it into me…”
Thanks to that Divine spark within us, we can be made whole again no matter how broken we feel, and the shofar is testimony to it. We begin by blowing Tekiah, a long, unbroken sound, reminding us that within ourselves we carry the pure breath of G-d.
Tekiah is followed by Shevarim – broken sounds that tell us we’ve strayed from our path, lost our way, and forgotten our purpose. Once that realization hits us, we are overcome by contrition and cry out to G-d with broken hearts, symbolized by the third sound of the shofar – Teruah: Tu -Tu – Tu – Tu – the sound of weeping.
Our Sages teach that there is nothing as whole in G-d’s eyes as a broken heart, for G-d is not only our G-d and our King, He is our Father of compassion and love. And no compassionate father shuts the door on his contrite, weeping children. No father punishes for the sake of punishing. A compassionate father only takes disciplinary measures to bring about correction and change.
And so we merit the final sound – Tekiah Gedolah – the great, long, unbroken blast that signals our rebirth. Our pure, G-d-given neshamos have the power to triumph over our sullied minds and hearts. Once we absorb that truth, G-d can recreate us.
But can it be as simple as that? Can the sound of the shofar have such power?
The shofar goes back to the time our father Abraham and his son Isaac were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of G-d. It goes back to that moment at Sinai when the shofar was sounded and we declared in one voice: We will do it. We will fulfill Your Commandments and study Your sacred Torah. And thus we crowned G-d as our King for all time.
But can merely listening to the shofar really bring about an all-encompassing transformation? To be sure, there is a method to it. When we use our computers, a program is of no avail unless we know how to access it; similarly, we need to know how to access the energy of the shofar.
There is a threefold formula we must follow: Repentance, Prayer, and Charity. That formula activates our souls, enabling the sound of the shofar to enter its innermost crevices and recreate us.
In the limited space we have I will confine myself to just one part of the formula – prayer.
Ostensibly, we enter the synagogue to pray, but most of us never experience the wondrous healing balm of prayer. Oh, we go through the motions – we open the Machzor, mouth some words, and repeat some prayers with the rabbi or cantor. But that’s where it ends. Our words fall flat; they never take wing. We spend time chatting with our fellow congregants, wish everyone a Happy New Year, make our way home for our holiday dinners – and completely miss the real magic of Rosh Hashanah.
Imagine that you’ve received an invitation from the White House. The president would like to meet you. The designated day arrives. You’re at the White House – but somehow you become sidetracked conversing with the other guests. When it’s your turn to speak to the president, you can’t recall what you wanted to say – your focus has been on the other guests and the festive dinner that was prepared for the occasion.
Think about this scenario and multiply it a thousand times over and you will have a glimmer of the tragedy of our modern Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, Tragedy? Isn’t that rather extreme?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t even begin to convey the lost opportunity of today’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
We live in a turbulent, menacing world. Terrorism, devastating diseases, and natural disasters hover over us like a sinister shadow. We are in desperate need of the intervention of our Heavenly Father, the King of Kings.
But instead of seeking Him out, we consult those who are equally helpless. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come and go, and the opportunity presented by those awesome days is sadly lost.
Rosh Hashanah is here again. How will you pray this time? Will you reunite with your Heavenly Father this year? Will your visit with Him have meaning, or will it be “same old, same old”?
Take your cue from the shofar. Your life, the life of your family, the lives of your people are on the line.