Fifty years ago, Yom Kippur and the Yamim Noraim took on new meaning.
The term “Yamim Noraim” connotes the awesomeness of the High Holiday period and the fear that our lives hang in the balance. This feeling was especially palpable on Yom Kippur fifty years ago – both individually and nationally.
In just its third decade of existence, Israel and its citizens faced an existential threat. The surprise Yom Kippur morning attack caught Israel off guard. The Egyptian and Syrian armies made significant headway in both the north and south. People feared the worst. Though Israel rebounded, almost three thousand soldiers lost their lives, and nearly 10,000 were wounded. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan feared what he called “Churban Bayit Shlishi.”
The miraculous Six-Day War had given Israelis a false sense of security. They felt that the victory would deter future attacks and that expanding their borders created a safe buffer zone. The Yom Kippur War shattered these illusions.
The Fear and Vulnerability of War
During a time of war, people feel incredibly vulnerable. No one knows which side will win and who may be killed, wounded, or captured in the process.
The wars of the State of Israel are even more terrifying. Israel’s enemies threaten to obliterate the State and kill or drive out its populace. In addition, the state’s army is a “citizen’s army.” Everyone has a son, brother, parent, or cousin at the front, making the war and the accompanying fear deeply personal.
The wail of sirens in Israeli cities expresses and reinforces the terror. In the words of Amos (3:6), “Does the shofar sound in the city without the people trembling?”
The Torah teaches us to direct these feelings of fear toward prayer. We should realize that war and other suffering emanate from Hashem, who orchestrates them behind the scenes, and we should respond by blowing chatzotzrot (horns) to “remind” us of Hashem and ask Him to “remember” (and save) us.
The Rosh Hashana Connection
The shofar we blow on Rosh Hashana is also connected to the emotions of war. Because the shofar was blown at times of war, hearing it conjures up the associated feelings of fear and vulnerability (Pesikta Rabati 40).
The sounds we blow also connect to the emotions of war. The teru’ot resemble the cries of Sisrah’s mother, who waited by the window for her son to return from war (Rosh Hashana 33b). Expressing and identifying with these feelings of fear and distress should remind us that on Rosh Hashana, our lives hang in the balance (Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, He’arot L’Masechet Rosh Hashana (33b)).
Like the chatzotzrot blown at a time of war, Rosh Hashana’s shofar calls upon us to respond to distressing circumstances by remembering Hashem and doing teshuva (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 3:4). If we respond to the shofar by remembering, returning, and committing ourselves to Him, we merit His “remembering” us and judging us favorably.
A Year-Round Reflection
Though the Yamim Noraim should also be a time when we draw close to and strengthen our love of Hashem, they begin with recognizing that He is judging us and determining our fate for the upcoming year.
May the memory of the trauma of the Yom Kippur War help us feel the vulnerability we are meant to feel during this period and throughout the year.