A New Year – A New Challenge
My two strongest childhood memories of Rosh Hashanah are the amazing food at family meals and going to synagogue with my father to hear the Shofar. What are yours?
For some of us, eating certain foods during the Jewish festivals evokes early memories that formed part of our Jewish identity. My Russian-born diminutive aunt would sequester all the women in the family in her home for 3 days of cooking in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah. The meals themselves remain in my memory as times of great family togetherness and much fun for the children.
On Rosh Hashanah, Jews are obliged according to the Torah to mark the New Year as Yom Teruah (A Day of Sounding Out) and Yom Zikhron Teruah (A Day of Remembering to Sound Out). Our Mahzors list 10 things we should contemplate when listening to the Shofar – among them are G-d’s Majesty, the Creation of the World, the Binding of Isaac, the 10 Commandments and more. The big stuff!
Rabbi David Fohrman from Aleph Beta looks in the Torah for references to Shofar and finds a connection with our national collective experience at Mt Sinai. He suggests that the verse ‘and the sound of the Shofar grew louder’ (Ex. 19:19) shouldn’t be taken literally – that there wasn’t anyone physically blowing a Shofar.
Instead, he believes, the initial sound of G-d’s revelation to Moses began as a Teruah and eventually coalesced into the words that formed the 10 Commandments. So, in listening to Shofar, we’re reminding ourselves of Sinai and of the spiritual sound of being in the Almighty’s presence.
Another Torah reference to hearing a Heavenly Voice goes back even further, to the Garden of Eden, when after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, Adam and Eve hear the primordial voice of G-d ‘strolling in the Garden’ (Gen. 3:8). Rather than rejoicing with the Almighty, the first couple are said to have hidden, leading G-d to ask the question ‘Where are you?’
The rabbis of the Talmud write that by blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah we ‘confuse the Satan’ who is waiting to accuse us before G-d for our shortcomings. We might ask, ‘Is the Satan so foolish to fall for the same trick every year or do we simply not understand the deeper meaning of this text?’
One approach is to recognise that the confusion is inside of us. Throughout the year some of us go about our lives thinking little about our souls and much more about our mortal existence. The sound of the Shofar confuses that little unhelpful voice inside each of us that always ‘finds excuses why not to do something in our best interest’.
Waking early in the morning to spend a few moments in meditation and prayer or being generous to others who are in need of the things we already have an abundance of, seems relatively simple, but so often just doesn’t happen. We’re trained to be self-centred from a young age.
The Shofar in the Book of Joshua was also used as a clarion call to gather troops together before going to battle, especially outside the walls of Jericho. This year’s Mitzvah Day theme calls our attention to the challenge for each of us to do better in looking after the ecology of our planet.
In case you haven’t chosen yet, please have another look at our available projects website for some amazing opportunities; including Gratitude’s gardening project in Hertfordshire, the JVS gardening project in Golders Green or helping at the Spitalfields City Farm. There are numerous crafts (Jewish Care, Haven House), cooking (Feast) and collection (Camp Simcha, Lord’s Taveners, Bike Project) opportunities as well as projects in hospices, for the homeless and with refugees. Now is a good time to decide.
Fortunately, my wife learned some of our family recipes from my aunt before she passed away and has added some delicious ones of her own. And, for the last decade I’ve been privileged to take our children to hear the Shofar at synagogue.
The Shofar blast stirs us to check our complacencies, to examine the year that’s gone by and to ask ourselves in relation to G-d’s presence ‘Where am I?’
What answer will we give this year?
Wishing you Shanah Tovah & Tizku LeShanim Rabot,
Rabbi Jeff Berger