Shabbat Shalom: Rosh Hashana 5764
Efrat, Israel - Once again this year, the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat and the shofar will remain silent. There is one positive result of this relatively rare Rosh Hashanah experience: it gives everyone an opportunity to concentrate much more carefully upon the actual words of the Mussaf Amidah. After all, when the shofar sounds punctuate the unique blessings of Malkhuyot (kingship), Zikhronot (remembrances) and Shofarot, most of the drama of the day revolves around the piercing cries of the ram's horn. In the absence of the shofar, the words and concepts of these blessings will naturally assume center stage. And it is the content of these three special blessings which are the essence of Judaism - according to both the early medieval theologian Rav Yosef Albo (in The Ikkarim, Essential Judaism) as well as the more contemporary Franz Rosenzweig (in his Star of Redemption) - and which likewise contain a critical message for humanity especially today.
The first of these blessings, Malkhuyot, tells us of the basic theological message of our faith: our optimistic belief that eventually the wicked of the earth will return to the G-d of creation, that world society will eventually be perfected so that peace will reign throughout the world (Alenu, Al Ken NeKava). This axiom of our religion, this prophecy of the ultimate end game, is especially comforting in the face of the dangerous global village in which we presently live, a global village in which the specter of nuclear proliferation threatens every freedom loving citizen; if the sacred G-d is not “sanctified by righteousness”, then we are tragically left with a Satanic God who is sated only by the sword, a tainted totalitarian trinity of Nazi fascism, Stalinist Communism and Islamic Fundamentalism.
The second sacred blessing, Zikhronot, opens, “You remember the activities from the beginning of the world, and you provide a function (the Hebrew poked is the root form of the tafkid, function) for every creature from earliest times.” There is here a ringing declaration of faith in the process of history , the clear sense that historical time is on the side of humanity, and that individuals and nations have a unique role to play in the cumulative march of history towards redemption. Israel alone of the nations of the world enjoys a special relationship with G-d, a covenant which ensures it eternity and defines its mission as the messenger of ethical monotheism to all of humanity.
And if Israel has been divinely chosen to be the medium of universal blessing (“through you shall all the families of the world be blessed,” charges the Almighty to Abraham at the dawn of his election), it is difficult to imagine that America, the arch super power who has experience, does not carry the torch of responsibility to ensure freedom and democracy throughout the world.
The third brachah Shofarot, reminds us of the revelation at Sinai, the 613 commandments which G-d presented to Israel and the seven commandments of morality-centering around “thou shalt not murder” - which G-d presented to the world. Maimonides, the great codifier of Jewish law insists that just as G-d commanded Moses to bequeath 613 commandments to Israel, “similarly did He command Moses to coerce the nations of the world to accept the seven laws of morality” (Laws of Kings 8,10). This is an immensely significant message especially in our post-modern, relativistic, “everything goes” society, which denies any absolute law of concept of morality; “situation ethics” dominates our conventional wisdom, and the most heinous crime can become transformed into a sacred act “when seen from the perpetrators point of view”. (Hence a homicidal suicide bomber who murders innocent children is called a 'freedom fighter').
Shofarot tells us that the seven laws of morality which must be accepted by the nations are not possibilities or options; they are absolutes, since -especially in our global village- the lives of all free humanity hang in the balance of their acceptance. Hence the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf Amidah teaches that the nation of Israel must and will teach fundamental morality, or ethical monotheism, to all the nations of the world. Only when this message is accepted, when “this Torah comes forth from Zion and the word of G-d from Jerusalem”, only then will nation not lift up sword against nation and humanity not learn war anymore”, and “everyone will sit under his/her vineyard and fig tree and no one will have reason to fear” (Micah 4).
On Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the piercing sounds of the shofar will be added to these vital concepts of the Amidah. We will hear the truah-shevarim sounds, the three sighs and nine sobs, which symbolize the world as it is, a world not yet perfected, a world which is often a tragic vale of tears. This broken truah sound was also trumpeted in times of war (Numbers 10:9), so that the staccato sound of the shofar symbolizes military battle. The additional firm and exultant tekiyah sounds of the shofar are taken from the fiftieth year of the Jubilee, precursor of the ultimate period of redemption and harbinger of festive joy and universal peace (Leviticus 25:9), Numbers 10:10).
Perhaps the message here is that when the world is divided between those who believe in a compassionate G-d of peace and those who believe in a terrorizing Satan of the sword - and there is an imminent danger of the sword gaining ascendancy - then there is no recourse than to wage war in order to secure a free world for humanity. The ultimate promise of Rosh Hashanah is that the tekiyah of redemption will overcome!
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tova!