Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County

A New Year

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 1:40pm -- Rabbi Cosnowsky

Tonight we turn the page to a New Year. We begin the eve of the New Year 5775 and are commanded to hear the sound of the shofar on the first of Tishrei. It is a mitzvah to do so because the sound of the shofar reminds us that we must wake up! We must awaken to the idea that our days are temporary. The sound of the shofar acts as a reminder to review our lives, examine our deeds, make amends for any wrongs we have committed, repent for the things we have failed at doing. Only then can we ask forgiveness- from one another and then from God. The blasts of the shofar ask us to recognize that we cannot change unless we examine and acknowledge our deeds, both the positive and negative, which have patterned our days. We also should not dwell on our failures, but rather use them as a stepping stone to better paths.

Moses Maimonides, also known as the Rambam, points out the two levels of the mitzvah of hearing the shofar. In Numbers, Rosh Hashanah is referred to as “Yom Teruah” (Numbers 29:1) - a day to hear the sounds of the shofar blasts. We are commanded to hear the shofar even if it was not our intention to do so. In Leviticus, however, Rosh Hashanah is referred to as “Zichron Teruah” (Leviticus 23:24) - a day to remember the shofar, or, as Rambam said, to cognitively respond to the blast with great intention to change. One who approaches the New Year with intention has a deeper understanding of the majesty of the day and the awe engendered by the sound. Only then, according to Rambam, is the mitzvah of hearing the shofar truly achieved.

This theme of the difference between hearing the shofar and actively participating in the change that the shofar blast inspires is picked up by Raavyah, a rabbi from the Talmudic period. He wrote that the sound of the shofar is not only the mitzvah to hear it, but rather to hear “into the sound” and, from its inspiration, act accordingly.  

At this time of Rosh Hashanah, we are to remember that we are made both “little lower than the angels” and “of dust and ashes.” This means that we are not so small that nothing we do matters nor do we have any control. Of course we have control over some parts of our lives; it is up to us to live up to our potential. We were created in the image of God, which makes us both holy and human, and means we are prone to human folly. We should not stay stuck in our failure, but rather strive to come back from it.  

During this season, we are asked to undertake the task of “Chesbon Ha Nefesh,” the searching of our souls, which can only be done on an individual level. As we search out ourselves and do this work, we renew our covenant with God, with ourselves and with our community and, in this way, connect more deeply to the world around us.

L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukhah- May you and your family be blessed with goodness and sweetness in the coming year.