Shofar, Rosh Hashannah, and the New Year's Hopes


Shofar, Rosh Hashannah, and the New Year's Hopes


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Opinion & Society

Rosh Hashannah - New Choices, New Hope

By Hannia S. Moore

The High Holidays are the most sacred days for millions of Jews everywhere. It's easy to see why this should be so. Our deepest dread is the fear of extinction, of ceasing to be. But starting with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we feel a mighty surge of hope in our hearts and are comforted.

All of us have special Days of Owe to look back on. I recall our crowded little synagogue, where the men's section was full of moving, black striped, white prayer shawls. They often reminded me of out-stretched wings. On the days when I was particularly attentive to the services, I would leave with a strange exhilarating sense of having been part of something invisibly powerful. I remember mentioning that to a friend of mine whose response stayed with me to this day. He said, "Bear in mind that synagogues through the ages contained the tears, the love, the yearning, the wonder, the prayers and the gratitude of countless hearts and minds. If walls could speak," he went on to say, "they would have so much to tell." I guess, these things have their own permanence, that's the hidden something that I must have been feeling.

This is a time of year when we do teshuva - repentence – when we turn to God in prayer, fasting and ask for forgiveness. As long as we are alive it is never too late to change, to improve and to atone. Therefore we take stock and make amends for what we have done, repair shortcomings as well as omissions. What we haven't done often weighs more heavily than what we have done. I believe this to be true in the public sphere as well. Flawed decision making on the part of leaders has been costly in defeats against insurgent enemies.

Interestingly, the Shofar blowing during the High Holidays is there to wake us up. In the 12th century Maimonides wrote that this shofar call is to:

    "Awake from your slumbers, ye who have fallen asleep in life, and reflect on your deeds. Remember your Creator. Be not of those who miss reality in pursuit of shadows, and waste their years in seeking after vain things which don't profit. Look well to your soul..."

More than anything else, we shape ourselves through our beliefs and our deeds. Especially now, the world needs action, because our enemies draw encouragement from our self doubt.

One of today's central challenges is to persuade the Western "society of plenty" not to lose its resolve or weaken its identity and patriotism. Our security depends not only on the number of missiles and planes, but on the strength of our "civic resilience", and its ability to face these threats. I take comfort from the thought that Rosh Hashanah is not only the beginning of a new year, but according to tradition, it is the day on which the world is created anew. Moreover, on each Rosh Hashanah Divine Sovereignty is renewed, as it is written in the Daily Prayer, "They willingly accepted the yoke of His Kingship."

The High Holidays come to a close on Yom Kippur night when we hear the triumphant cry of the Shofar. That's when deep inside we know that we are not only our bodies, we are something more. We feel joy and pain, fear and tears. Through life's challenges, dreams and demands, confusion and mistakes, we have found new hope, strength and courage and a determination to prevail.


from the September-October 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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