Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah, one of the close students of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, edited a beautiful work called Moadei HaRe'iya, which is a collection of essays and stories, from the life and work of Rav Kook, specifically regarding each of the Jewish Holidays. There is a particularly powerful story, which occurred one Rosh Hashana in the late 1920s, that really sums up the multi-tiered inspirational messages contained within the shofar's sounds.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, speaking in Yerushalayim
A group of workers was pressured to complete a building in one of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem and they continued working during the Rosh Hashana holiday. When the neighbors realized what was happening, they immediately sent word to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook. Obviously saddened by this news, Rav Kook decided upon a strategy as to how he must address this situation.
The Wake-Up Call
The next morning, Rav Kook sent one of his gabbaim (ritual assistants) to visit the workers, and to bring a shofar with him. Rav Kook gave the gabbai careful instructions not to speak any harsh words, rather to merely go to the construction site, and to simply sound the shofar.
The gabbai arrived at the construction site, with a shofar in his hand. When he approached the workers, they were surprised to see him. After a New Year's greeting, he announced that Rav Kook had sent him to blow the shofar for them. He politely asked them to cease their work and listen. He began to blow.
The words from the Rav and the sound of the shofar achieved their goal. Every note touched the delicate chords of the soul and awakened the Jewish spark in the hearts of the young workers. They dropped their tools and gathered around the man blowing the shofar. Some began to cry. The ancient sound of the shofar echoing in the unfinished rooms of the building transported them back to their fathers' houses, to images of grandfather, the village and the shul, to a world of Jews standing in prayer.
Questions began to pour out, one after another. What has happened to us? Where are we? What have we come to? The young men stood around the gabbai, engrossed and confused in their thoughts. When the blowing was completed, there was no need for words. They all decided to cease their work. Some requested to return with the gabbai. They hurriedly changed clothes and accompanied him to join the holiday prayers in Rav Kook's beis midrash (house of study).
When the gabbai returned to the synagogue, he asked Rav Kook how come he did not simply go and address these workers himself; surely a visit from the esteemed Chief Rabbi would have encouraged all of the laborers to join the many who had decided to return to the synagogue with the gabbai.
Rav Kook's answer is perhaps the most powerful point of this entire story. Rav Kook explained that had he arrived at the site, surely he would have caused great embarrassment, even shame to the many workers! Although the public desecration of this holiest of days certainly pained him deeply, the pain he felt when the Torah's honor was tarnished in such a public manner enveloped his entire being; but what pained him most was to know that there were Jews who might go through an entire Roth Hashana and not hear the beautiful sweet sounds of the shofar.
In an open letter written in those days, Rav Kook wrote: "A friendly word is effective; a brotherly expression of respect will bring others close. Let us not abandon the good and straight path that is illuminated with love and goodwill, peace and friendship. ...We must destroy the wall that divides brothers, and speak heart to heart, soul to soul. Then our words are certain to be heard."
[Adapted from Celebration of the Soul, pp. 41, 42; Moadei Re'iya pp. 65-6]
Shiur Times continues:
The shofar's sweet sounds remind us of the beauty that is a Jewish way of life, the enrichment, fulfillment and contentment that Torah can bring to each of our lives. The shofar's sounds reach that pure spark within each of us, and softly remind us that we can indeed leave behind all those issues and confusing circumstances that cloud our vision our vision of ourselves, our vision of the world, and our vision of each other.
When we hear the shofar this Rosh Hashana, may it inspire within us a new found desire for true freedom; freedom to leave behind the many challenging events of this past year, freedom to leave behind whatever lingering grudges and preconceived notions we may hold toward family, friends, and neighbors. May the sounds of the shofar this Rosh Hashana, soon be echoed with the sounds of Great Shofar of Freedom, that we have been longing for, for so, so long,..
And with that, I wish you all a Shana Tova U’mesuka, a Good and Sweet New Year, full of Hashem’s blessings, full of the joy and elevation of authentic Negina and the warmth of Torah-true Judaism as we try to convey here.