Table Of Contents:
Why the Shofar? An Introduction to Rosh Hashana: Nathan Lopez Cordozo, David Cardozo Academy, Sept. 5, 2019
The Jews Are a Nation of Storytellers: Jonathan Sacks, Algemeiner, Sept. 24, 2019
The Shofar’s Call: Rosh Hashanah 5773: Baruch Cohen, Isranet.org, Sept. 16, 2012
______________________________________________________Rosh Hashanah (New Year) Guide for the Perplexed, 2019
The Ettinger Report, Sept. 24, 2019
Based on ancient Jewish Sages
The conventional meaning of the two Hebrew words Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is: the beginning (Rosh in Hebrew) of the year (Shanah in Hebrew). The evening of September 29, 2019 will launch the 5780th Jewish New Year.
An innovative meaning of the two Hebrew words, Rosh Hashanah, is provided by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the iconic Talmud scholar, who highlights another meaning of the Hebrew word Rosh: head. Rabbi Steinsaltz compares the calendar year to a human body, featuring the head/brain (the epicenter of the thought process), the heart (the intersection of blood supply) and the liver (the crux of the digestion process). Thus, the head/brain (Rosh Hashanah) contemplates the vision, strategy, tactics and norms/values of the coming year. The other parts of the body (the rest of the year) facilitate the implementation of the plan. Proper coordination between the head/brain (מח in Hebrew), heart (לב) and liver (כבד) produces the acronym מלכ – the Hebrew word for royal/king, suggesting that one is in-charge and secure.
The root of the Hebrew word, Shanah (year), is both “repeat” and “change,” which underlines the purpose of Rosh Hashana’s prayers and soul-searching: repeat the practice while learning from experience, in order to enhance one’s behavior.
The Hebrew letters of Rosh (ראש) constitute the root of the Hebrew word for Genesis, pronounced “Be’re’sheet” (בראשית), which is the first/lead word in the Bible (Book of Genesis). Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which means beginning/Genesis in ancient Acadian. The Hebrew letters of Tishrei (תשרי) are also included in the spelling of Genesis (בראשית). The Hebrew spelling of Genesis (בראשית) consists of the first two letters in the Hebrew alphabet (אב), the middle letter (י) and the last three letters (רשת) – representing the complete/wholesome undertaking of the Creation.
Rosh (ראש) is the Hebrew acronym of “the will of our Heavenly Father” (רצון אבינו שבשמים).
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the 6th day of Creation, when the first human-being (Adam) was created, highlighting the centrality of the soil – a metaphor for humility – in human life. Thus, the Hebrew word for a human-being is Adam (אדמ), which is the root of the Hebrew word for “soil” (אדמה), while the Hebrew letter ה is an abbreviation of God, the Creator.
The Hebrew word Adam (אדמ) contains the Hebrew word for blood (דמ), the liquid of life, and is the acronym of Biblical Abraham (אברהם), David (דוד) and Moses (משה), the three role models of humility. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
When thinking of Rosh Hashana which we will celebrate in a few weeks, we are confronted with a major question. On this holy day, we spend hours declaring God’s majesty, using poetic and unique phrases. We refer to Him as the Ultimate King and Mover of this world. We ask Him to strengthen and reinforce His relationship with us and show us His omnipotence.
But the ultimate prayer of this day is a sound that carries no words, and it is the only biblical commandment of the day: the blowing of the shofar.
What is there in a sound that words cannot express? And why do we have this sound only once a year, on Rosh Hashana, when we remind ourselves of the Creation and of the radical new beginning in our lives; when we repent, turn over a new leaf, and recreate ourselves?
The blowing of the shofar proves that we can surpass ourselves. On our own, using our vocal cords, we are unable to produce this sound – a terrifying penetrating resonance. People can scream, howl, and wail, but nothing more than that. Their reach is limited. Alone, they cannot produce a sound that comes close to the piercing and penetrating heavenly voice of the shofar, which can cause human beings to break down, pick themselves up again, and transform into new individuals.
Not even a chazan’s liturgical solo, or an opera singer’s aria can touch us where the shofar’s vibrations do. The shofar carries us to places unreachable by the human word. It ignores walls and other obstacles, simply forging ahead, long after the human sound has come to an end.
The shofar and the human voice are completely different from each other. The shofar, like a knife, tears our hearts open – just as when the Children of Israel encountered the original shofar sound at Sinai, before God introduced the Torah to them. An experience beyond.
No voice can produce this sound or deliver such a powerful resonance. The only way a person can do it is by blowing a not-too-strong puff of breath into a small hole at one end of the shofar, which widens to a larger opening at the other end. This produces a sound of overwhelming power that pierces the heavens. Suddenly, we are able to reach unreachable heights, when we are humble enough to admit that we cannot do it alone and we need help. But it is we who must activate this help. The shofar will not blow on its own. It needs the human’s puff – our participation and our effort – before it can move mountains. Whether or not the shofar will blow is up to us, but whether we can reach our own potential will be up to the shofar. Our humility, combined with our capacity to move beyond ourselves, is what makes us exceptional.
This is our great challenge. Will we remain complacent and stagnant, letting the shofar sit in the cupboard, and never daring to go beyond ourselves? Or, will we have the nerve to blow the shofar and produce something more that will move us and the world forward? Will we leave Judaism where it is, or will we constantly blow new life into it, impelling it to surpass itself and open new horizons?
On Rosh Hashana, when we recall the greatness of God and the Creation, the shofar challenges us to dare and go beyond, creating ourselves and Judaism anew. If we don’t respond to the challenge at this crucial hour, the sound will fall flat and die before it reaches its destination.
Howard Gardner, professor of education and psychology at Harvard University, is one of the great minds of our time. He is best known for his theory of “multiple intelligences,” the idea that there is not one thing that can be measured and defined as intelligence but many different things — one dimension of the dignity of difference. He has also written many books on leadership and creativity, including one in particular, Leading Minds, that is important in understanding this week’s parsha.
Gardner’s argument is that what makes a leader is the ability to tell a particular kind of story — one that explains ourselves to ourselves and gives power and resonance to a collective vision. So Churchill told the story of Britain’s indomitable courage in the fight for freedom. Gandhi spoke about the dignity of India and non-violent protest. Margaret Thatcher talked about the importance of the individual against an ever-encroaching State. Martin Luther King told of how a great nation is color-blind. Stories give the group a shared identity and sense of purpose.
Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has also emphasized the importance of narrative to the moral life. “Man,” he writes, “is in his actions and practice as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal.” It is through narratives that we begin to learn who we are and how we are called on to behave. “Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.” To know who we are is in large part to understand of which story or stories we are a part.
The great questions — “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “What is our task?” — are best answered by telling a story. As Barbara Hardy put it: “We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative.” This is fundamental to understanding why Torah is the kind of book it is: not a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of interlinked stories extended over time, from Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Mesopotamia to Moses’ and the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Judaism is less about truth as system than about truth as story. And we are part of that story. That is what it is to be a Jew.
A large part of what Moses is doing in the book of Devarim is retelling that story to the next generation, reminding them of what God had done for their parents and of some of the mistakes their parents had made. Moses, as well as being the great liberator, is the supreme storyteller. Yet what he does in parshat Ki Tavo extends way beyond this.
He tells the people that when they enter, conquer, and settle the land, they must bring the first ripened fruits to the central sanctuary, the Temple, as a way of giving thanks to God. A Mishnah in Bikkurim describes the joyous scene as people converged on Jerusalem from across the country, bringing their first-fruits to the accompaniment of music and celebration. Merely bringing the fruits, though, was not enough. Each person had to make a declaration. That declaration become one of the best known passages in the Torah because, though it was originally said on Shavuot, the festival of first-fruits, in post-Biblical times it became a central element of the Haggadah on seder night: … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
On New Year’s Day, Rosh Hashanah, we remember. The People of Israel remembers its unique function to make the world a better place, and recalls its successes and its failures. The central theme of New Year’s Day, the beginning of the world, is the power of memory itself. Memory establishes the continuity of the generations. For Judaism New Year’s Day is not only the anniversary of Creation, but also–and more importantly–the renewal of Creation.
On Rosh Hashanah, the shofar’s blast reminds the Jewish people to renew their commitments as Jews, inspiring us to overcome the menace of global anti-Semitism, the Iranian hatred against the Jewish people, and the unending regional terrorist threats against the Jewish State of Israel.
The sounding of the shofar reminds us of our mighty and proud Israel Defence Forces, of their acts of heroism and the just and ethical values which the IDF proudly stands for, despite continuing assaults and genocidal threats against the State of Israel and the Jewish people by terrorist gangs and states.
Our world is in deep crisis. We are facing hatred and horror, and with the failed “Arab Spring”, increasingly intensified anti-Israel attitudes. The orchestration of hate against the State of Israel, the outrageous claim the Zionism equals racism and fascism, and the stigmatization of Israel remind us today of the ugly climate, the anguish and the fear of the 1930’s.
But the shofar’s sounding also reminds us of the just, ethical values of Judaism. Judaism regards the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) as the days of celebration of creation and of renewal, of a new beginning for individuals and for Am Yisrael, the people of Israel.
The sound of the shofar is a call for peace and the harmonious gathering of all people.
Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof: Justice, Justice you shall follow! (Deuteronomy 16:20)
Happy New Year of all our CIJR family and friends. May 5773 be a year of peace for Am Yisrael, for the State of Israel, and for the entire world.
Baruch Cohen was CIJR Research Chair
For Further Reference:
Sacred Time Ep 2: Rosh Hashanah – Creation and Parenthood: Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik, YouTube, Sept. 7, 2018 — Drawing upon wide ranging sources—from the history of British royalty to the poetry and prayers of Rosh Hashanah—Rabbi Soloveichik invites us to explore the connection between the New Year and the Jewish family, Creation and procreation, divine love and human love from one Jewish generation to the next.
Redeeming Relevance: Rosh Hashanah: What was Avraham Supposed to do for an Encore?: Rabbi Francis Nataf, Jewish Press, Sept. 6, 2018 — One of the things that I find most delightful about Midrash is its unpredictability.