Rosh Hashanah

The last volume of Ohel Yaakov, the collection of the Maggid’s commentaries on the parashios of the Torah, contains a series of essays about the Yamim Noraim. These essays were composed by Rav Avraham Beirush Flamm, the redactor of Ohel Yaakov, and they consist of Torah insights of Rav Flamm interlaced with Torah insights of the Maggid. I present here a selection from one of these essays, which is labeled as a drashah (sermon) for erev Rosh Hashanah.
1. It is written (Amos 3:1-6):
Hear this word that Hashem has spoken regarding you, O Children of Yisrael …, saying: “You alone have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will take account of you regarding all your iniquities. Do two people walk together, if they have not met? … Does a trap lift off the ground without making a catch? Can a shofar be blown in a city, and the people not tremble?”
This passage gives insight into the effect that the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah has.
Every Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar. In Vayikra Rabbah 29:3, our Sages teach that in the merit of our shofar blowing Hashem rises from the Throne of Justice and sits on the Throne of Mercy and Compassion. Yet we see that every year people suffer misfortunes; some suffer health problems, others suffer monetary losses, and so on. Now, each year, one member of the congregation blows the shofar for everyone. We might think, therefore, that everyone should have the same kind of year; if Hashem was pleased with the shofar blowing, everyone should have a good year, and if not, everyone should have a hard year. And we might wonder why this is not so.
The reason is as follows. Hashem put into the shofar the power to shock the Adversarial Angel and neutralize him in all the areas in which he operates, both in luring people into sinning and in indicting them in the heavenly court. But the power that the shofar has to benefit a specific person in this way depends on how the person chooses to relate to the shofar blowing. A person can choose to focus on the shofar blasts and make an effort to instill fear of Hashem in his heart, or he can choose to let the shofar blasts pass him by. And, as our Sages teach in Bamidbar Rabbah 9:24, a person’s portion is measured out in the same way that he himself measures. If a person lets the shofar blasts penetrate his heart and make him feel humble and broken in spirit, the shofar blasts will also break the Adversarial Angel’s power to harm him. And if person is unaffected by the shofar blasts, the Adversarial Angel power will also be unaffected.
This idea is reflected in the last two verses in the passage from Amos: “Does a trap lift off the ground without making a catch? Can a shofar be blown in a city, and the people not tremble?” The first verse reflects our perspective. The shofar is supposed to eliminate evil like a trap is supposed to catch game, and we wonder why it doesn’t work. The second verse gives the answer: The shofar is supposed to cause us to tremble, but we do not allow it to do so.
In the second to last sentence in the Shofaros section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf Amidah, we say: “For You hear the sound of the shofar and give ear to the staccato blasts, and there is none like You.” There is none like Hashem who can see into the hearts of the people who hear the shofar blasts and discern how the blasts affect them.
Consider trying to light something. In lighting a candle, for example, if the wick has been previous lit and has been charred, it is easy to light again; a slight touch of the flame will cause the wick to catch the flame and burn steadily. But if the wick has not yet been charred, it will be hard to light. And if you try to light something that is not flammable, you can hold the flame there all day and nothing will happen. It is similar with a person’s heart.  Some people are like David HaMelech, who said (Tehillim 55:5): “My heart trembles within me.” Such a person’s heart is filled with fear all year long. Whenever he sees any misfortune come upon anyone, he is taken aback. So when he hears a frightening sound, he trembles seven times over and his heart melts. Others are like those of whom it is written (ibid. 73:4): “There are no fetters to their death, and their robustness is sound.” They are unperturbed by the most horrible tragedy. Certainly they are not stirred by the shofar blasts, which are just the sounds of a horn.   
Thus, earlier in the passage in Amos, it is written: “Do two people walk together, if they have not met?” Suppose two people come across each other on the street. If they are strangers, they will not join up. But if they had dealings with each other previously, they will join up and walk together. So it is with the shofar. If a person has a sensitive heart and an attentive ear, the shofar blasts will arouse within him a feeling of fear and he will be stirred to repentance, and the shofar will protect him from the Adversarial Angel. But if a person has never felt fear before, the shofar blasts may very well have no effect on him, and then they will not protect him.
2. In many communities it is the custom during the Ten Days of Repentance to recite Tehillim 130 in the Shacharis service after the Pesukei D’Zimrah section. The psalm begins as follows (verses 1-2): “A Song of Ascents: Out of the depths have I called to You, Hashem. Hashem, My Lord, hearken to my voice; let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. We can bring out the idea behind these verses with a parable. A rich man came to a certain town, and found there many members of his family, all of them poor and downtrodden. He sent out word to them that they should come to him, and he would grant them what they ask. Each of the relatives consulted with the members of his household about what would be most pressing to ask for. One of the relatives was utterly destitute; he had nothing in his house, no food and no clothing. In addition, he was sickly and depressed. He couldn’t figure out how to decide what he should ask for. So he just went to the rich visitor and cried, without saying anything. The rich man said: “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll give it to you.” The hapless fellow answered: “It won’t help me to make a specific request; that will just make you think that that’s the only thing I need.” Similarly, we are so beset with troubles that turning to Hashem with specific requests will not lead us to a state of peace. The only choice we have is approach Hashem and let out a general cry for help.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.