Achdus, unity, is a term that warms the heart. It is an ideal we all aspire to achieve but often find so elusive.
In particular, at the time of Rosh Hashanah, the idea and ideal of achdus plays a prominent role. When children are being judged by their father, the fact that they are united, that they live in peace and harmony with one another, certainly invokes the father’s mercy.
After all, it is every father’s fervent wish that his children should get along, love one another, help one another. Thus, when our Father in heaven sees His children living in peace and with achdus it is certainly something that will invoke Divine Mercy and help us be judged favorably on the Yom HaDin, The Day of Judgment.
We find the theme of achdus features prominently in the hallowed tefillah of Nesaneh Tokef, possibly the highlight of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, where we say, “All mankind pass before you like young sheep.” The pasuk cited in the first Mishnah in Maseches Rosh Hashanah to illustrate this concept is, “He who fashions their hearts ‘together’ comprehends their deeds.”
Hashem, who fashioned the hearts of the Jewish nation together as one, passes judgment on them on Rosh Hashanah in this way too.
In addition, an integral part of the Amidah on Rosh Hashanah is devoted to the theme of achdus. When we pray for the ultimate day when Hashem will “Grant his awe upon all that He has created…and all of Your creations will fear You,” the climax of that tefillah is, “And may they all form a single bond to do your will with a perfect heart.”
From that passage in the Amidah we see that the purpose of the ultimate revelation of Hashem’s glory in the times of Mashiach is that all Jews will serve Him in unity.
In our time, however, it seems so difficult to achieve that sort of unity. We find a lack of unity between communities and within individual communities. We find not only disagreement but often acrimonious and even humiliating discourse among Jews. How can we draw inspiration from lessons of Rosh Hashanah? Can we find in the teachings of our sages about Rosh Hashanah the recipe for true Jewish unity?
So often we see well-meaning Jews, in the pursuit of unity, hailing the “beautiful achdus” of different types of Jews getting together and joining hands. It is indeed beautiful – provided the achdus is one that enhances Yiddishkeit and not, chalilah, the opposite. Frequently, however we see a certain childish understanding of achdus that somehow finds favor in any “togetherness” regardless of who is being “united.”
Let us analyze the mitzvah of blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah as well as the other instances where the Torah mentions the blowing of the shofar and find contemporary lessons that apply to this difficult day and age in which we live.
Shofars of Rosh Hashanah, Mattan Torah
Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4), after emphasizing that blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, like all other dictates, is ultimately unfathomable and that we must fulfill it simply because Hashem commanded us to, offers a reason for the mitzvah. He interprets the shofar’s blast as saying, “You sleeping ones, wake up! You slumbering ones, rouse yourselves to attention! Examine your deeds, repent, and remember your Creator….”
Someone who hears the shofar being blown cannot remain indifferent, as the pasuk states (Amos 3:6), “Is it possible for a shofar to be blown in the city and the residents not to become frightened?”
We see from the Rambam that the shofar on Rosh Hashanah was meant to instill fear of Hashem in people.
Another instance when the shofar was blown was at Mattan Torah, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The pasuk relates, “There were thunderclaps and lightning bolts and a heavy cloud on the mountain and a very mighty shofar blast. All the people in the camp trembled” (Shemos 19:16).
The Ibn Ezra explains that the trembling came from the sound of the shofar. Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bachyei (comment to Shemos 19:16) writes that the shofar blasts at Har Sinai were much louder than even the thunderclaps.
One would assume the people trembled in fear because of the awesome thunder roaring in their ears and the brilliant, blinding flashes of lightning that struck repeatedly in the sky above them. As Chazal taught (Berachos 59a), the purpose of thunderclaps is to “straighten out the crookedness in the heart” – apparently because they strike fear in the hearts of those who hear them.