Latest update: November 20th, 2013
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.
Why is it, then, that it was specifically the shofar blasts that made the people tremble at Mt. Sinai? Moreover, why were shofar blasts even necessary after the nation had already experienced the thunder and lightening?
A Blast of Unity
Perhaps we can resolve these questions with the following concept: A shofar naturally inspires fear; as we noted above, the pasuk states (Amos 3:6), “Is it possible that a shofar will be blown in a city and the residents will not become frightened?” The shofar blasts sounded at Har Sinai, however, may have had another purpose, for the blast of the shofar has the ability to unite Klal Yisrael.
Where do we find that the blast of the shofar unites the people? When Moshe Rabbeinu wished to gather the nation, he instructed Aharon’s sons to blow the silver trumpets (chatzotzeros), as the Torah teaches in Bamidbar 10:1-10. Likewise, on Yom Kippur of the Yovel year, the shofar was blown to signal that the avadim Ivrim, the Jewish slaves, were freed to return to their families and to become equal in status to the rest of Klal Yisrael. This too alludes to the shofar’s power to unite the people.
In fact, the Olelos Efrayim (essays 211-213) explains that the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah allude to the unification of the nation of Yisrael. The very design of a shofar alludes to unity. In Maseches Rosh Hashanah (26a), Abayei explains that a cow’s horn cannot be used as a shofar since it is composed of segments, and the Torah tells us to blow one shofar, not several shofars connected together. Likewise, Chazal (Rosh Hashanah 27a, and Rashi ad loc.) taught that if a shofar has cracked in two and is glued together, it may no longer be used for the mitzvah of shofar. These halachos seem to point to the need for absolute unity of the shofar.
Not only on Rosh Hashanah and on Yovel does the shofar blast signify unity but in the future as well. The Navi teaches us that at the time of the arrival of Mashiach, the scattered remnants of the Jewish people will be gathered back to their homeland through the blast of a shofar, as the prophet proclaimed (Yeshayahu 27:13), “On that day a great shofar will be sounded; the people who have been lost in the land of Ashur and those abandoned in the land of Egypt will come and prostrate themselves before Hashem on the holy mountain, in Yerushalayim.”
The power to gather Bnei Yisrael from wherever they have been exiled throughout the world and reunite them is an integral function of the shofar. As we say in our prayers: “Sound a great shofar for our freedom, and raise a banner to gather our exiles.”
Fear of Hashem Brings Unity
The question now is if the shofar on the one hand promotes fear and on the other hand promotes unity, how do we reconcile these two seemingly disparate concepts?
We suggest that these two facets of the shofar blast are in fact one and the same, rooted in the same concept. Once the shofar removes the obstacles to genuine fear of Hashem, each individual comes to realize that he is not an independent being, that he is an essential component in that great machine that is Klal Yisrael, that he is complete and unified only in conjunction with the klal.
To become worthy of receiving the Torah, Klal Yisrael was required to have absolute unity. Chazal teach (Mechilta to Yisro, Bachodesh #1), “Throughout the Torah, in reference to Klal Yisrael’s wandering about in the wilderness, the plural term ‘they traveled’ or ‘they camped’ is used, signifying strife and divisiveness among the people. Only when they arrived at Har Sinai does the Torah use the singular form in the term vayichan – he camped – because in this instance they were all united, “of one heart.”
Regarding this, Chazal teach (Derech Eretz Zuta, chapter Hashalom): Hashem said, “Since the people of Yisrael have demonstrated that they detest strife and they love peace, they have camped as one soul. Now I can give them My Torah.”
Explaining this passage, Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz (Sichos Mussar 5731, #7) teaches that the Torah was not given to any lone individual but was, rather, given to the entire nation. The nation of Yisrael is not considered a collective nation unless it has achieved the level of unity that is called “as one man, with one heart.” Thus, the purpose of the shofar blasts at Har Sinai was to reinforce the nation’s unity as it approached the mountain to receive the Torah.
Similarly, the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah signify national unity. They are a call for collective introspection and remind us not only to do teshuvah but also that Hashem judges us all collectively as one. Hashem looks at us as individuals but at the same time as his collective children. The sound of the shofar is a powerful blast and a cry that should spur us to bring our hearts closer to Hashem, for the only true unity, the only true achdus, is doing Hashem’s bidding and fulfilling His desire.
Indeed, HaRav Yehudah Assad (Divrei Mahariya to Parashas Mikeitz) writes at length about the concept of national unity through the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah, and in the course of his essay he mentions that this was the purpose of the shofar blasts at Har Sinai as well.
Our Value Is Only in Unity
So how can we achieve this unity?
Unity can only be achieved as it was at Har Sinai. At the foot of the mountain the Jewish nation unquestioningly accepted upon itself the yoke of Torah and fear of Heaven. This complete and total acceptance of Torah as given at Har Sinai is the only way to attain achdus. All other ways of “fixing the world,” whether through cultural events or social gatherings, will not endure. The only enduring message is the message of Sinai.
Likewise, true unity was achieved in the Beis HaMikdash. All Jews, no matter what they looked like or in what profession they were engaged, came to the Beis HaMikdash and engaged in its service as one.
The function of the Beis HaMikdash was to provide a means for the Shechinah to reside within the entire Jewish people. This is clear from Hashem’s initial commandment to build the Mishkan (Shemos 25:8) – “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them” – and from the Torah’s later statement (ibid. 29:44-45), “I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting…and I will dwell in the midst of Bnei Yisrael.”
The Vilna Gaon teaches in his commentary on Mishlei (6:19) that the Shechinah rests on the Jewish people only when total unity exists among them: “When Bnei Yisrael are united, then the Shechinah rests on Yisrael…but when there are ‘conflicts among brothers,’ then ‘My Soul is revolted’ ” (Vayikra 26:30).
Thus, if we remove the divisive barriers surrounding our hearts; if we recognize that true unity – not the empty slogans calling for unity but true unity – can only be achieved by Klal Yisrael coming together as they did at Har Sinai and in the Beis HaMikdash, we will have indeed absorbed an integral lesson of Mattan Torah.
This unity will not be achieved if we conduct ourselves as millions of individuals but only if we act as one collective unit striving to fulfill the dictates of the Torah and trying to achieve shleimus.
Many people claim to wish for unity among Klal Yisrael but the unity they envision is often superficial, a veneer and a slogan that conceals the divisiveness in their hearts. To achieve genuine unity it is necessary to eliminate the acrimony that surrounds people’s hearts. The shofar blasts have the potential to help us reach the necessary level of unity, as they help us realize that each of us as an individual has so much less value. Our ultimate worth and our true value is only as collective components in the larger unified unit called Klal Yisrael.
The shofar blasts have the potential to help us achieve the requisite level of unity by empowering us to realize that each of us individually has such minimal value. Our ultimate worth, our true value, is only as collective components in the larger, unified unit called Klal Yisrael.
Only as part of the Klal, joined together to fulfill Hashem’s will, do we have the divinely-endowed ability to receive the Torah as “one nation in the Land.” By collectively coming together b’achdus to fulfill Hashem’s Will, we will be one step closer to that exalted day when “The great shofar will be sounded; the people who have been lost in the land of Ashur and those abandoned in the land of Egypt will come and prostrate themselves before Hashem on the holy mountain, in Yerushalayim.”
Amen, Kein Yehi Ratzon.Rav Dovid Hofstedter
About the Author: Rav Dovid Hofstedter is the author of the Dorash Dovid sefarim on the Torah and Moadim and the founder and nasi of Dirshu, a worldwide Torah movement whose raison d’être is accountability in Torah learning among all segments of Klal Yisrael, impacting more than 100,000 participants since its inception 18 years ago.
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