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Devarim Deutronomy

   638: Rosh Hashana

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Devarim Deutronomy

September 29, 2000 - 29 Elul, 5760

638: Rosh Hashana

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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 639: Ha'Azinu  

The Secret of the Shofar  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Secret of the Shofar

by Simon Jacobson

With elections a mere six weeks away, it will become apparent that U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman is not campaigning 24-seven during the month of October. With the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah dotting the calendar, the media may inquire - "Where does Mr. Lieberman go during these holidays and what does he do there?"

It is easy to describe Rosh Hashana with the usual generalizations - it's the Jewish New Year, a time for introspection. But under the glare of the campaign media, we may be pressed with more probing questions. For example: What is this ritual of hearing the shofar, a ram's horn, blown? Is there a universal message in this ritual?

How would you like the opportunity to hear the voice of your soul? The unique inner voice that transcends the personality we superimpose at work, the masks we wear as we navigate our social circles and the defense mechanisms we employ as we protect our vulnerability.

On Rosh Hashana we have exactly that extraordinary opportunity. On the New Year, the anniversary of the day on which humankind was created, we blow the shofar which mirrors the cry of the soul. The Bible tells us that on this day G-d breathed the soul of life into the first person. Every Rosh Hashana man blows his breath, the breath that G-d breathed into him, through a ram's horn in order to hear the sound of his soul reverberate. Through the cry of the shofar we renew our connection to our essential being, to our soul, and carry that strength into the year ahead.

But why a ram's horn? The sheep or ram is known to be the most gentle and innocent of creatures, void of the aggressive nature of other animals. The ram reminds us that our soul is that part of ourselves that is gentle and innocent, untainted by the aggressive manipulative world we inhabit. Our soul is not seasoned by experience nor is it the result of our connections, accumulated wealth, social status or ability to dominate others. The voice of our soul comes from the most subtle innocence within.

We cannot use something man-made to express this voice because the human being is affected by his circumstances, his experiences and his ego. We therefore take something outside of ourselves - the ram's horn, the simplest instrument - that produces the haunting, piercing cry most closely approximating the pure sound of the soul.

The prayer that we recite before the blowing of the shofar further unlocks the secret of the sound: "From my narrow place, from my depths and constraints, I call to You and You respond to me from Your expansive place." The challenges of life that force us into a "narrow place" - a place of difficulty, pain, frustration, regret or sorrow - are meant to be catalysts that compel us to cry out to G-d for something more than our materialistic reality. The prayer assures us that when we cry from the "narrow place" the response is not proportional to the request but flows from G-d's most expansive generosity. In fact, the shape of the shofar - narrow at one end and wide at the other - mirrors this experience. The purest cry that is emitted from the constraints of our lives reaches the purest place in heaven and opens up the channel of all blessings.

Recognizing that we live in a world that entangles us in the mundane struggles of life, the High Holidays provide an oasis in time during which we renew our connection to the essence of all life. In so doing we connect to the flow of G-d's blessing which imbues our lives with physical and spiritual blessing for the year to come.

As the media watches Joseph Lieberman attending synagogue during this period, the shofar's message is clear: The United States - and every nation - has a soul, each of its people has a soul - and this connection gives us our true freedoms. The words "In G-d we trust" emblazoned on the U.S. currency (the very symbol of materialism) enable us to transcend our material straits as we reach for that which is above and beyond, for eternity. The declaration on the Great Seal of the United States, "E Pluribus Unum" - "From many, one" is possible because we have a unifying soul that transcends our differences.

On Rosh Hashana may we all be blessed with a meaningful New Year - a renewed vitality and commitment to the transcendent and unifying soul that lies at the heart of our own lives, the lives of our families and the lives of our communities.

Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of "Toward a Meaningful Life" published by William Morrow and is director of The Meaningful Life Center.

Living with the Rebbe

The haftora of the first day of Rosh Hashana relates the story of Chana. Chana, who was childless, came to the Sanctuary to pray. In the merit of her prayers she was blessed with a son, the prophet Shmuel (Samuel).

When Eli the priest saw Chana so immersed in her prayers that she seemed to be oblivious to her surroundings, he suspected her of being drunk. The Midrash explains that Eli suspected her of being "drunk" in the act of praying.

"I am pouring out my soul before G-d," Chana replied. I am not praying simply for the sake of praying; my soul is uniting with G-d.

On Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment, we appeal to G-d to fulfill our spiritual and material needs. We ask Him for healthy children, long lives, and an abundant livelihood.

Rosh Hashana is also the day of G-d's coronation as King. We accept His sovereignty by nullifying ourselves before Him. When we are completely nullified, we are not aware of our personal wants and desires. Our sense of self is superseded by the awareness of being in G-d's Presence.

This presents us with a seeming contradiction. If Rosh Hashana is characterized by a nullification of self, how can we simultaneously pray for the fulfillment of our personal requests?

To explain:

When a Jew prays to G-d on Rosh Hashana, his prayer is an extension of the process of coronation. While he may be asking G-d for material blessings, his true intention - whether consciously or unconsciously - is the desire to spread awareness of G-d's kingship in the world. On the deepest level, the physical body is a medium through which we establish a dwelling place for G-d in this world. By praying for material blessing, the Jew is asking for Divine assistance in fulfilling his G-dly mission.

It was this concept that was misunderstood by Eli. His contention was that when a Jew prays, his awareness of being in G-d's Presence should preclude him from making personal requests. When he saw Chana praying for a son, he mistakenly concluded that she had forgotten G-d's Presence in the Sanctuary.

Not so, was Chana's reply. My desire for a son is not a personal desire, but a wish to be able to fulfill my greater mission in life. Without a son, my soul cannot serve G-d properly. Indeed, this is evident in the vow Chana made, that if G-d blessed her with a child, she would give him over to the priest for a life of total dedication to Divine service. Chana wasn't asking G-d to fulfill her personal request; she was praying for G-d to fulfill His own needs!

So too is it with us on Rosh Hashana. Our petitions may be personal in focus, but their true essence is the soul's communication with G-d.

In the same way that G-d answered Chana's prayer, so too may He accede to our requests and grant the entire Jewish people a good and sweet year to come.

Adapted from Volume 19 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life


From the Memoirs of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, mother of the Rebbe, whose yartzeit is on the sixth day of Tishrei.

Tishrei 5695 (1934)

By this year only two shuls remained in our city. One of these had been founded and was being attended by a group of workingmen. The gabbai [manager] was a tailor, the treasurer a shoemaker. Precisely for this reason, that it housed a congregation of manual laborers - proletariat - it had not been seized by the Communists. It was in this shul that my husband, the Rav prayed.

Once the Rav affiliated himself with this congregation, many other people joined as well. As most of these newcomers were from higher levels of society, it became somewhat difficult for the administrators of the shul to carry out their functions. Even so, they had to remain in their positions to ensure that it would be exclusively a "rule by the proletariat." (Indeed, I could relate many amusing incidents from their term of office, but it would be out of place here.)

The administrators and trustees of the shul asserted that they felt small and insignificant in the presence of the Rav, and they accorded him great respect. Although they had not been acquainted with him previously, once they came to know him they recognized that he was a person of noble character who was not at all part of the bourgeoisie, a man whom they could trust completely.

By this time there were very few professional cantors in Russia. Those men who had a strong and pleasant voice, were able to carry a tune aand knew well the mode of the prayers would hire themselves out to lead the prayer-services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Most of these men worked at government positions and were therefore entitled to a month's vacation each year which they would strive to have coincide with the month of festivals, Tishrei. Then they would leave their homes to be employed in cities other than their own.

In their prayers they would give vent to all the emotions that had built up in their hearts over the course of the year. These cantors were paid very well, but in secret; to avoid the exorbitant tax levied on religious functionaries, their salaries were officially recorded as the bare minimum.

One day, two such gentlemen came to Yekatrinoslav. The first, Mr. Lieber, was a highly-regarded opera singer. His clothes resembled those of a theater performer. However, he was a Jew of illustrious ancestry, a descendant of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor of the Baal Shem Tov. He occasionally related stories that he had heard for his grandfather and other Chassidic stories too, but he would tell them in a halting awkward manner.

The second, whose appearance was closer to that of a typical cantor, was employed as an accountant for a government company. He was knowledgeable in the study of Torah and an offspring of the well-known rabbinical family Shapiro of Slavitta.

These two candidates declared that a proper Jewish atmosphere for prayer was of the utmost importance to them. Therefore, when the reputation of Rabbi Schneerson reached them, they decided to travel to Yekatrinoslav. Upon arrival, they immediately went to see the Rav and requested his advice on how to do well in this profession, as well as how to best utilize their talents to inspire people and strengthen their Jewish consciousness, an identity that the government was determined to eradicate.

The Rav discussed with them their concerns and invited them to Yekatrinoslav for the month of Tishrei to lead the prayers in his shul during the Days of Awe and the festival of Sukkot. Words are inadequate to describe the special mood and the overwhelming spiritual out-pouring which pervaded the congregation during the Days of Awe that year, a result of the influence of the Rav and those two cantors.

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur a considerable number of the members had to be present at their places of employment. The Rav arranged a special service for them that began very early in the morning, in order that by eight o'clock they would have completed the morning prayers and be on their way.

On Yom Kippur all of these people returned to the shul immediately after work and arrived just in time for the closing prayer, Neilah. By then the synagogue was so packed with people that many of them were forced to pray outside in the street. Weak from the twenty-four hour fast, weary from having walked great distances, and full of distress and sorrow from having had to work on these holiest of days, these Jews stood, crushed in spirit, and prayed from the depths of their broken hearts.

All of these congregants were grateful to the Rav for having made the special efforts which enabled them to pray communally. For his part, he would cry bitterly whenever he discussed the situation with them. On the other hand, he was pleased by their tremendous spiritual arousal. With joy and amazement he would exclaim, "See, this is a Jew!"

When Yom Kippur ended, it was always difficult for him to return to a regular week-day existence. Instead, he would break his fast with a glass of tea and would sit and talk until late at night with the many people who came to be with him and hear his words during those hours. His discussions would deal primarily with the exalted nature of the Jewish soul and the extraordinary power of self-sacrifice that is hidden in every Jew.

The same scene would be repeated on Simchat Torah. Anyone who wished to truly enjoy the festival would make sure to pass by our house as soon as darkness fell, young people-with whom the government was even stricter in religious matters-would also arrive, each person trying his best to not be seen entering the building. When they entered, the Rav would speak with each one personally; after a short time, they would forget about which country they were living in and the lives that they led there.

What's New


High Holiday services filled with insights and illuminating Chasidic stories will be conducted by Chabad Lubavitch of the Upper East Side in New York City. Open to all Jews regardless of affiliation, the services will include stirring, soulful melodies, the shofar blowing ceremony and Torah reading. For more about the services call (212) 717-4613. To find out about services near you call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.


With the click of a mouse, the facts about Moshiach spring up on the screen to allow the uninitiated, the unaware and the simply curious to learn about the subject. One of the most fascinating features of is a virtual-reality tour of the Second Holy Temple. A most popular feature is "Ask a Question" where participants can type in any question they have on the subject of Moshiach and receive an answer from a qualified scholar within 24 hours.

Every part of the site has been thoroughly researched by Rabbinical scholars. is a feast for the spiritual senses.

The Rebbe Writes


In the Days of Selichoth 5725 [1965]
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel,
Everywhere, G-d bless you all!

We are at the threshold of a Shemittah Year (the seventh and sanctified "Sabbatical" year in the cycle of years); may it be a good one for all of us, amidst our people Israel.

One of the central teachings of Shemit-tah is conveyed in the order of the verses and words by which the Torah defines the institution of Shemitta, namely: "When you will come into the land... the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d. Six years shalt thou plant they field," etc. (Lev. 25:2-3)

The order in the text seems to be reversed, for the six work years precede the Sabbatical rest year, and not vice versa. Hence, the text should have first mentioned the six years of planting, and then decree the resting.

However, order in Torah is also Torah ("instruction"). The arrangement in the text mentioned above, relating to Shemittah, is significant and instructive in that it teaches the proper approach to life. It is expressed as follows:

When one "comes into the land" and desires to establish his way of life, which involves "working the soil," it is necessary to bear in mind that first and foremost, as an idea and as a goal, is "Sabbath unto G-d"; not the "earthly" and material, but the spiritual and sacred. This approach will ensure one against being submerged by the material and mundane aspects of life. Moreover, bearing constantly in mind the above idea and goal will transform the six drab working years; they will lose much of their drabness and become more refined and meaningful. Furthermore, the change and elevation of the six years will raise to a higher plane also the seventh year: from a "Shabbos unto G-d" to a "Sabbath of Sabbaths" unto G-d (v. 4), with a dedication and solemnity of a higher order.

Similarly, in the daily life there are those aspects which have to do with material preoccupation (to earn a livelihood, etc.) and "common" necessities, such as eating and drinking, etc. - all those aspects wherein there is "no preeminence in man over animal." But there is also the area of "earthly rest" - of breaking away from the mundane living. Here, too, the teaching of Shemittah is that it is necessary to begin the day with the idea and approach that, although it may be necessary later in the day to engage in "mundane" activities, the essence and purpose of these things are - to attain a "Sabbath unto G-d." In this way, even the mundane aspects will attain refinement and real content, while the aspects of holiness and G-dliness will be intensified and elevated to a higher order. This is the way to attain a complete and harmonious life.

Standing on the threshold of the Shemittah Year, we pray that the Alm-ghty help each and everyone, man and woman, to begin the year with the above-mentioned approach: That not the material, but the spiritual is the essence and goal in life; that "the earthly," the material has a raison d'etre only if it is permeated with the idea of "the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d"- which is when the material serves and fulfills the higher aspirations of holiness and G-dliness. It is only then that all the days in the year, and all the activiities of each day, will reflect "the preeminence of man over animal" and give evidence that man was created in the Divine "image and likeness," living accordingly; while those moments and periods which are characterized as "Shabbos" will in turn rise to the sublime heights of "Sabbath of Sabbaths."

Then will surely also be fulfilled the Divine blessing that goes with Shemittah - "And I will command My blessing upon you" (v. 21) - in a supernatural way.

Rosh Hashana is the day to make the firm and lasting resolution to implement the above appoach. It is the day when the first man was created in the Divine image and likeness; the day when he gained mastery over all of Nature and elevated all Creation to the recognition of the Sovereignty of the Creator with the call, "Come, let us worship, and bow down, and kneel before G-d our Maker" (Ps. 95.6);The day when we pray for the realization of G-d's Kingdom on earth, "reign, in Thy Glory, upon all the world... and let everyone who has a breath in his nostrils declare, 'G-d, the G-d of Israel, is King, and His Kingdom rules everything!'"

With the blessing of Kesivo Vachasimo Toivo [to be inscribed and sealed for good]

For a happy and pleasant year blessed with the joy of children, life and ample sustenance

Rambam this week

3 Tishrei 5761

Positive mitzva 109: immersing in a ritual bath (mikva)

By this injunction we are commanded to immerse ourselves in the waters of a ritual bath, and thus be cleansed from any of the kinds of [spiritual] impurity with which we may have been affected. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 15:16): "Then he shall bathe all his flesh in water."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We would like to wish the entire Jewish people our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka - to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew alef-beit.

May this year be:

A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion,"... uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption... faith in G-d and Moses His servant... traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple... trust; Great wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders... victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption; "Those who rest in the dust will arise and sing and he will lead them"... Moshiach is coming and he has already come... the revelation of Moshiach; "He will redeem us"... "The nations shall walk in Your guiding light"; "This one will comfort us"; the wonders of true freedom... a new song; an abundance of good (Rambam); the king shall live; inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshiach; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; revealed miracles... a double portion; the completion and end of exile...the revelation of the Infinite Divine Light; "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived"; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space"; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe - Rosh B'nei Yisrael; peace... a new song... Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead... "A new Torah will come from Me"

Thoughts that Count

A cry from the heart

An analogy is given to explain the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana: There was once a king who sent his only son to a distant land to learn about its peoples and customs. As time passed, the prince's royal garb became faded and torn, and he even forgot how to speak his native tongue. One day the prince heard that his father, the king, would be visiting the region. "How will I be able to approach him?" he thought to himself. "My clothes are torn, and I cannot speak the language." The son decided that he would simply call out to his father in a cry without words, emanating from the heart, which the king would surely recognize. This is the call of the shofar, which appeals to the King's very Essence.

(The Baal Shem Tov)

The shofar as a wake-up call

The shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashana because it is an explicit commandment in the Torah. Nonetheless, it seems to convey a hidden message: "Wake up from your slumber!" it arouses us. "Return to G-d and remember your Creator! To those who forget the truth and waste most of the year in frivolity and foolishness, look into your souls, improve your behavior, and correct your negative ways."


"For You remember everything that is forgotten..."

A Chasidic sage once noted: G-d only remembers those things that man forgets. If a person has sinned and "remembers" it - i.e., is conscious of his misdeed and regrets his actions - G-d "forgets" about the transgression. But if a person sins and is not even bothered by his offense, G-d does not "forget" so easily...

"...Who forgives transgressions by law"

G-d is bound by His own statute, as it were, to forgive the Jewish people their sins. It is a law that cannot be abrogated.

(Nahar Shalom)

It Once Happened

The shofar blowing, "tekiyot," of Reb Yoel Chaim Weissfinger were legendary among the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem. Every year on Rosh Hashana, hundreds of people would flock to his synagogue for the unique experience of hearing him sound the shofar. It was also rumored that the ancient ram's horn had a long and colorful history.

When Reb Yoel Chaim passed away a few days after Yom Kippur in 5674 (1913) he left behind two sons, Shimon and Leibel. But which one should inherit their father's shofar, and along with it, the honor of blowing it in shul? In the end a compromise was reached: Shimon, the eldest son, inherited the small grocery store his father had owned, while Leibel, the younger brother who was also a Torah scholar, inherited the prized shofar.

Several years later Shimon sold the grocery store and emigrated to America, where he started his own business. The business flourished, and soon Shimon was a wealthy man.

In the meantime, a war broke out between the English and the Ottoman Turks in the Holy Land. One day Leibel, who was an English citizen, was walking when he was captured by Turkish soldiers, thrown into jail, and deported to Egypt. The only possession he took along was his father's shofar.

Not long afterward, a ship arrived in the Holy Land with a cargo of food donated by American Jews for their less fortunate brethren. Among the passengers was a Mr. Sam White, one of the directors of the aid committee. Before he anglicized his name, Mr. White had been known as Shimon Weissfinger.

When Sam learned what had happened to his brother he immediately set sail for Egypt and, with G-d's help, he managed to locate him. Sam gave Leibel a large sum of money, which enabled him to return home and get back on his feet.

On the day Sam was to leave for America, Leibel, overcome by emotion, presented his older brother with their father's shofar as a token of his gratitude. Sam was very touched, and the whole way home kept the treasured object in full sight. Indeed, the shofar was the only thing he talked about upon his arrival. But when he went to show it to his friends and family he almost fainted: it was nowhere to be found! The ancient shofar had somehow disappeared.

Years passed, and the financial circumstances of the Jews of Jerusalem deteriorated even further. Leibel and his family emigrated to Poland, where he found a position as Rabbi in a small village. Perhaps, he hoped and prayed, his worries were over.

But such was not to be, as the Second World War soon erupted. The Germans, may their names be erased, invaded Poland. Over the next few years Leibel endured the tortures of the Holocaust, but miraculously survived. When the War ended he spent several years wandering from one D.P. camp to the next, hoping to eventually return to Israel.

One Rosh Hashana eve the group of Jewish refugees with whom he was traveling arrived at the home of a kindly Italian farmer who agreed to let the group stay over Yom Tov. The refugees were saddened by the fact that they had no shofar, but grateful for the opportunity to pray together.

Rosh Hashana came and went. Leibel and his friends were about to depart when the Italian farmer asked them to sit down for a minute. "I have something on my conscience that has been bothering me for years," he told them. "I'd like to get it off my chest once and for all...

"Many years ago I was a seaman on a ship that sailed from Palestine to America. One of the passengers was a wealthy American Jew, who held on to a small package the whole time as if guarding a great treasure. When the ship docked in America it was a tumultuous scene, and I'm ashamed to say that I seized the opportunity to steal it. But I was very disappointed when I opened it up, because all it contained was this strange-looking thing..." The farmer then withdrew a very old shofar from its case.

"I know that this is some kind of Jewish object, and for years I've been hoping to meet some Jews so I could give it back. Please take it."

Dismayed that the farmer hadn't mentioned it before Rosh Hashana, no one noticed that Leibel Weissfinger had paled. Indeed, he was white as a ghost - for it was none other than his father's shofar!

When he had recovered enough to speak, Leibel told everyone the amazing story of the shofar, whereupon it was their turn to be speechless...

Leibel eventually returned to Jerusalem, where he was reunited with his brother. (In the wake of the Holocaust, Sam had sold his business in America and returned to the Holy Land; he had also reverted to the name of Shimon Weissfinger.)

The reunion was particularly emotional, especially when Leibel showed his elder brother the long-lost shofar and told him how it had come to him. And everyone marveled over the mysterious ways of Divine Providence.

Moshiach Matters

We sound the shofar to recall our faith in the future resurrection of the dead. As it is said (Isaiah 18): "All you inhabitants of the world,, and you who dwell it the earth; when an ensign is lifted on the mountains you shall see, and when the shofar is sounded you shall hear"

(The tenth of Rav Saadia Gaon's symbolic meanings in the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana)

 639: Ha'Azinu  
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