This year some of us will live, and some…; some will prosper financially, some will struggle; some will have health issues, some will not; some will get married and some will get divorced; some will have children, some will not; some will triumph, some will fail. It’s most difficult to make light and be humorous at this time of the year, considering the responsibility that the heavens weigh upon us. It’s a crucial time and, frankly, we can make a difference. How, one may ask? Regardless of what the outcome will be, we follow the guidance of our religious leaders, they lead us with special prayers and tools to accomplish the optimal results for a good sweet year. These methods have been closely taken from the Torah and from the elder generations which followed. We then incorporate the methods and are proactive during the prayer services whether through singing along, listening or praying silently with the utmost devotion and sincerity.
One of the main tools and weapons is the shofar. The Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 29:3) teach us that the Shofar is able to accomplish an almost magical task of enticing G-d to stand up from the throne of Strict Justice and move to the throne of Mercy. How is this accomplished?
Furthermore, the Sages, based on the words of the Prophets, describe the sound of the shofar as a call to repentance. If so, why is the shofar sounded at night at the close of Yom Kippur when there is as yet no need for a new call to repentance? Clearly, the sound of the shofar also signals an outburst of joyous confidence that our Yom Kippur prayers were accepted favorably. But this is in itself puzzling. How does one sound: serve both as a call to repentance and a cry of joy? What is the power of this phenomenon?
There is yet another powerful method that we rely on, which, happens to be, a main theme of Rosh Hashana, and that is recitation of the “Akeidat Yitzchak”. It’s the story of G-d testing the faith of our patriarch – Avraham. He was commanded to sacrifice his dearest son -Yitzchak, which he dutifully attempted. Avraham’s attempt epitomized the highest level of faith by man. As a matter of fact, we sing a poem OKED V’HANEKAD regarding the emotional state of mind of the parents Avraham and Sarah as well as the son, Yitzchak, as he is awaiting to be slaughtered, before the blowing of the shofar. (Singing a poem regarding the subject like this is the best way to get us inspired to connect to G-d)
Intriguing, though, if one would translate “Akeidat Yitzchak” “the binding of Yitzchak” it doesn’t seem to define the incredible test!!! G-d commanded to slaughter Yitzchak, not bind him. Of course, one has to bind the hands of his prey in order to receive the best result. However, it should have been titled the “slaughter” or “potential slaughter of Yitzchak”. Perhaps the emphasis should have been on the knife. But certainly, many would agree, the emphasis should not be on the binding. It’s anti-climatic!! Why then do we single out the binding?
If there ever was a dramatic pause in Synagogue, it’s right before the shofar blowing. It’s one of the most crowded times of the year. Everyone is quiet as the congregation anticipates the blowing of the shofar. Interestingly, we read a psalm, “Lamenatzeach b’nai Korach” seven times right before the blowing of the shofar. Why do we read about Korach’ sons before one of the most important times of the year?
The holy Torah has always taught us if one wants to understand something he has to go to the root. Well, the root of a mankind is Adam, the first man. We will have clarity about the Akeida and shofar after probing into the environment Adam was placed before and after the sin. The Ramban writes, and I paraphrase, “that Adam did according to his nature which was pure good. In essence there was no right and wrong. There was no confusion on what to do. Adam only seeked the truth, G-d. However,
after Adam ate from the eitz hada’at – the tree of knowledge, the freedom of choice was placed upon him. Da’at in Hebrew can mean choice.”
Many commentaries find this Ramban a bit difficult. Wasn’t man designed to make decisions from the get go? Isn’t that the essence of man? In deed, the fact that he had an evil inclination on his back his whole life placed him higher than even the angels. After all, if he prevails, he prevails with the heavy load on his shoulder of tough choices to make. No pain – no gain; that’s a tremendous accomplishment. Angels don’t have that choice.
There is an astonishing Gemara in Tractate Yuma(77) that mentions the angel Gavriel received lashes for disobeying a command from the heavens. How can that be, Angels can’t sin? How is that possible? They’re G-d’s obedient and trusted soldiers. Malach Gavriel rebelled?! WOW!!
There is a misconception about these extra terrestrial creatures. Angels can’t sin not because they’re programed that way, it’s not the result of that they’re robots, it’s, for the reason that they are so close to G-d – it’s obvious. Similarly, if one asks another to jump into the fire, his reaction will be “I can’t”. He actually can, however, he is smart enough to know the consequences and therefore will not do it.
Another example, if one will ask another to walk stark naked on Queens Boulevard during morning rush hour. It’s not that he can’t; he won’t.
The same is with the angels they’re so close to G-d that they form a binding with G-d. It’s a no-brainer!! They know better not to sin. That was man’s holy state before the sin. Adam was meant to bind to G-d from the get go.
Avraham and Yitzchak reached a very high level of belief in G-d to an extent that it was truly AKEIDAT YITZCHAK, a bind similar to Angelic state.
As we all know, life is difficult. Living in the high powered New York is truly very demanding. There is so much pressure on us through our daily schedule, it’s hard to think of spiritual matters. Plus, there is our negative side that for whatever reason doesn’t let us accomplish or reach that bind with G-d. So was the case with Korach’s sons. Korach was an evil man who pursued honor at the expense what was the right path. He rebelled and at the end paid the consequences. It was most difficult on his sons who were pressured to follow their father’s ways. Actually, it was both their parents who were instrumental in the evil rebellion. The negative energy was pulling and squeezing them towards the wrong decision. Going against the grain is tough. However, at the last moments with their backs against the wall, at the buzzer, before G-d killed the rebels, they stood up and said “No!!! We have to pursue the truth. We cannot let the pressures and pleasures of the negative energy overcome us. We have to change and improve our lives”
The time before mussaf, when the chazzan is moments from blowing the shofar, is an opportunity to change the decree. It’s the time to capitalize on the moment because our backs are against the wall similar to Korach’s sons. As we read the Mizmor, we should realize how they persevered and changed their lot at the last moment and therefore binding themselves to G-d similarly to Avraham and Yitzchak.
The power of the shofar!
The life force within man came when G-d “blew into his nostrils the soul of life and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). This is why the nose, used for breathing and smell, is the organ through which the neshama, soul enters and leaves” (See Rabbeinu Bachya, ibid). Of the three parts of the soul, the highest, unsullied component is the neshama (as in the Eloykei Neshama prayer: “My G-d, the neshama that You implanted in me is pure”. This soul can never be contaminated. Why not? This is because it has no association to sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Chava defiled four out of their five senses. They heard the serpent’s alluring words, the fruit was “a delight to the eyes”, they touched it by taking from it’s fruit and they tasted it. But the sense of “smell” remained untarnished. Accordingly, this sense denotes inner purity and deep attachment to G-d and the fulfilment of His Will. From this we see the power of the ketoret-the incense that was burned for a sacrifice in the holy Temple. Aharon the priest was able to stop a plague and prevent the nation from dying by performing the incence sacrifice. The reason for its potency is the fact its pure essence of smell – breathing. Today, we don’t realize, the importance of reading of the korbanot before mincha and shacharit.
Furthermore, the breath of life, free of the artificial manipulations of speech, as well as it not corrupted by evil gossip throughout the year, is the most expressive form of communication. A gasp, a sigh, a scream are more eloquent than pages of prose, because they don’t tell about what is inside us, they actually are what is inside us. Therefore, the voice itself, the exhalation of the breath, is more expressive than the spoken words it transports. When Hashem wanted Abraham to heed the advice of his wife Sarah, He told him to “listen to her voice.” The voice is the key, not the words.The shofar is a tool that is untainted, its prayers comes from the innermost soul, through the breath, the nostrils and therefore has a tremendous impact. It has the power, with its purity, to bind the individual to his maker. It has the power to breakthrough barriers. We say in our prayers that G-d hears the sound of the shofar. This is the KEY to our high holidays prayers. The power of the shofar has the ability to change negative decree to positive and allow us to have a happy sweet new year and be written in the book of life. Amein!