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by Rabbi Israel Rubin
Years ago, when life was simpler and times were quieter, people relaxed to the natural sounds of birds chirping, leaves rustling and sheep bleating.
Today the myriad bells and whistles of high technology disturb our peace and quiet. The din of computers, modems and faxes grate hoarsely on their way into cyberspace. The cacophony of hi-tech pops, pings, chimes and jingles permeate our homes and offices, as muzak pervades our halls and malls.
Newfangled keyboards with multi-sound programs grind out electronic noises that boggle the mind. Synthesizers, stimulators and simulators dub, mix, blend and digitalize all that noise to the utmost in surround-sound amplifiers, considered by some to be music to their ears.
A shofar is certainly no match for all these highly touted musical instruments. Plain and simple, a shofar is really just bare bones.
Lacking the array of metallic buttons, mouthpieces, slides and valves that help adjust the pitch and volume on the more sophisticated wind instruments, the shofar can hardly carry a tune.
Yet, the shofar makes the strongest statement, loud and clear for all to hear. The shofar's sighs and groans provide little in the way of entertainment, but it is truly a command performance. Blowing the shofar is a most important mitzva, the very focus of Rosh Hashana and it deserves our full attention.
The shofar is the world's oldest instrument that still remains in use to this day, but it has not changed in 4,000 years. The shofar's effect depends solely on our own personal input, effort and direction. A personal expression from within our heart, its deep emotional outcry is a prayer beyond words.
The shofar reminds us of our early beginnings, to the devotion of Abraham at the binding of Isaac, and all of its ramifications.
The sound of the shofar resonates with the thunder that accompanied the Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai.
Joshua's shofar blowing brought down the walls of Jericho, and its quaking sound echoes the voices of our prophets calling to repentance. It eventually builds up to a mighty crescendo that heralds the arrival of Moshiach and the Redemption.
As we prepare for Rosh Hashana, the shofar rises above the din and pandemonium. Let us listen carefully to the shofar's sound advice, as it exclaims: "Awaken, O you sleepers, and arise from your deep slumber! Examine your deeds, repent, and remember your Creator... Search your souls, improve your ways and actions." (Maimonides)
Like a faithful alarm clock, the shofar tries to rouse us from our deep sleep and slumber, but is anyone listening? Unfortunately, there is so much distracting noise in the background, that many of us just don't give a hoot.
Now is the time to wake up, tune in and strain to hear the shofar's call, so that its urgent meaning and message doesn't fall on deaf ears.
Starting off on an upbeat, confident note, the shofar recital opens. The shofar's three stanzas come in sets of three, with brief interludes. Instead of a constant flow, the shofar keeps b-r-e-a-k-i-n-g down in the middle. Its series of lines, dashes and dots serve as a Save Our Soul distress signal, as an expression of repentance.
Ending its grand finale on a high majestic note, the shofar ushers in a good, happy and healthy New Year to all.
From the Jewish Holiday Consumer, NY
The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana.
It begins: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d, your heads, your tribes, your elders... all the men of Israel, your children and your wives ... that you should enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d."
With these words, Moses brought the Jewish people into a state of collective and mutual surety. Indeed, our Sages declared, "All Jews are guarantors for one another."
Let us examine the concept of surety more closely.
What exactly is a guarantor, and who is eligible to act as one? According to logic, only a person who is superior to another in a certain respect can provide a guarantee. Consider the example of the poor man who has requested a loan. The lender cannot rely on the poor man's ability to pay him back, so he asks for a wealthy guarantor as collateral. This way, the lender is assured that he will be repaid.
Conversely, it would be illogical to expect a poor man to act as guarantor for a rich man's loan. This would not make sense, as the poor man has less money to begin with.
What, then, are we to make of the fact that "All Jews are guarantors for one another"? How is it possible that even the lowliest individual can act as guarantor for the greatest?
Commenting on the verse "You are standing this day, all of you," Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained that Jews comprise a single entity. Metaphorically speaking, the Jewish people form one body, with each individual Jew being an integral part of the whole.
A physical body is composed of many organs and limbs, each one of which serves its own unique function. That the head is superior to the foot is obvious, but without the foot, the body is incomplete. A defect in the foot affects the entire person; the head suffers if any of the body's limbs are flawed. In order to exist as a healthy entity, the body requires all of its organs to be in prime condition and to work in consonance.
So too is it in regard to the Jewish people. There are many different types and categories of Jews. Some are on the level of "head," while others may be said to be the "feet." Nonetheless, each and every Jew is of inestimable value, an essential part of the Jewish people without whom the "body" of Jews would be incomplete. For this reason, all Jews are "guarantors for one another," as each individual possesses unique qualities which are necessary for the health and integrity of the whole .
True unity is only possible when all Jews stand together as one. Not only does this require the participation of our "heads," "tribes" and "elders," but the "hewers of our wood" and "drawers of our water" are no less important.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4
by Harriet Schranz
David, my oldest, announced one hot day, "Ma, we have to make Rosh Hashana."
I was, to say the least, mystified. "What do you mean 'make Rosh Hashana'?" I gasped. "Look, it's already scheduled up on the calendar! Just give it time, and it's going to come on the right day all by itself. What can we do for it? Besides, it's just August now!"
Little did I know that the kid had an agenda longer than some shul presidents.
"You don't understand, Ma. We have to get into the mood and prepare ourselves. It takes 30 days," he explained.
Well, the only mood I was in recently was crabby. It had been a hot August preceded by a hot July. Camp had ended, and school hadn't begun. It was one hassle after another: do the laundry, do the dishes, chauffeur children to friends with pools, the cook-shop-clean routine and mediate those endless sibling squabbles!
Just try and talk me into any kind of mood. Besides, I was also preoccupied, for just at that moment a fierce yellowjacket was circling the head of my youngest with what I imagined to be malice in its eye! So I, good Mom to the rescue, removed a shoe, took aim, and promptly broke a window.
Glass shattered and fell haphazardly to a thundering ovation of "Mazel Tov!" by all the kids except for David who was frowning.
Where else but in a Jewish home do you say mazel tov when you break something? Just think about it: one therapeutic mazel tov takes the guilt out of being a klutz. Think of the savings in analyst fees, I reflected.
Klutziness runs in my family. I am Hapless Harriet in my generation, the daughter of Calamity Clara in her generation. One day the poor woman bent down to retrieve a nickel in the grass, and the diamond of her engagement ring fell out of its setting, never to be seen again!
Did this woman, my role model, cry? Did she scream? Wail? Beat her breast in anguish? None of the above! With a mere "a-bi gezunt" she went on with her life. This was a lesson she had learned from her mother, of blessed memory. Of course, her mother wasn't always coming up with serene maxims for all occasions.
I vividly remember the time my mother helped out in Grandma's kitchen. My well-intentioned mom was reaching for a piece of paper from the towel holder, and the whole rack fell off the wall, knocking the toaster off its shelf and into the sink which was full of dirty dishes and dishwater. The toaster had been plugged in and promptly shorted out. The largest dinner plate cracked in two, the entire roll of paper towels got wet and all had to be thrown out.
All this time my grandma had been following the action closely. Not one "Oy vey!" escaped from her lips. She merely directed her eyes heavenward and muttered something cute in Yiddish which (roughly translated) meant, "Where you walk, grass doesn't grow anymore."
Where was I? Yes. David, my dutiful son, was picking up glass and interrupted my reverie. "Ma," he said, "this is a time for gentleness and reflection. The month before Rosh Hashana should be devoted to personal stock-taking and gestures of friendliness. You have just killed a bee."
"So I'll repent!" I flippantly replied with an unrepentant heart.
"Ah," said David. "Good, that is one of the three pillars of Rosh Hashana preparation. Once the Elul month begins, we must repent, increase our prayer, and triple our charity."
"I know that !" I replied with irritation. "What does it have to with gentleness, reflection and, bee killing?" I failed to see the kid's point here, let alone the connection.
"Ma, gentleness and reflection would lead you to find a better way," he solemnly intoned.
Now I was really crabby. "A better way to kill bees?" I screamed. "Ridiculous! I'd take off my shoe and do it again if I had to do it over," I thundered. "I admit it would have been nice to not hit the window, but some things are inevitable. Besides, you were standing there holding a paper cup when I took aim. While you were busy doing gentleness and reflection, I saved your brother from a potentially painful sting." I felt self-righteous and heroic here. A real super mom, if you will! "Ma," said the patient David, "I was holding the paper cup to trap the bee and escort it gently outside. But you struck it in haste. My plan did not include killing or broken glass, simply a better way."
He had me there.
The rest of his agenda had intrinsic beauty in keeping with the spirit of Rosh Hashana. For who isn't familiar with those wonderful round challahs we enjoy this time of year? Round to symbolize the crown of the Divine kingdom. Round to symbolize the unity of all Israel in their holy purpose. Round as the coming full-circle of the solemn celebration of a new year, not with drunkenness and noise making, but with loving kindness and good deeds, Not to mention good food.
David reminds me as I write: Although a bee has a stinger, it also helps us put honey on the table. So as we dip the apple in the honey, let us reflect on our deeds, and try to find a better way.
A mitzva or mitzvot selected from the daily study of Maimonides' Sefer HaMitzvot for : 2 Tishrei, 5759
Positive mitzva 49: The service of the Day of Atonement
By this injunction we are commanded to perform the service of the Day - all the sacrifices and the confessions ordained by Scripture for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), to atone for all our sins. The service is described in Lev. 16:1-34.
Excerpted from a free translation
18th of Elul, 5733 
...I wish to dwell on one particular teaching that has to do with the central place that man occupies as the "crown" of Creation, and the one on whom depends the fulfillment of the entire Creation, as indicated above.
Rosh Hashanah teaches and reminds every individual about the tremendous powers which have been vested in him; powers which enable him not only to attain personal fulfillment in the fullest measure, but also to influence and direct-and transform, if need be-the whole world around him.
Together with this comes also the tremendous responsibility not to underestimate the powers with which he has been endowed, and to utilize them in the fullest measure for his benefit and for the benefit of the world around him.
The very fact that Rosh Hashanah, which is also the Day of Judgement of the entire world, has been set, not on the day when everything was created yesh me-ayin (ex nihilo), but on the day when man was created, clearly indicates that the outcome of the judgement of the entire creation depends on him.
From which it follows that he has been given the capacity to influence and direct the whole of Creation.
All this is explicitly brought out and emphasized by our Sages of blessed memory in their narration (which is also Torah, "instruction") about the first man, Adam, on the first day of his Creation: No sooner was Adam created than he looked around and pondered on the Created world and recognized that it was all "Thy works, O G-d"-everything is G-d's Creation. Thereupon, he called (and called forth in all creatures): "Come, I and you, let us go... and accept upon us the kingship of Him who created us!" This means that right at the time of his creation, man was given the extraordinary power to raise himself and all Creation with him to the highest level of perfection, through the fullest recognition that finds immediate expression in a basic and concrete manner.
And as explained in many places in our Torah, the manner of creation of the first man, Adam, and the details thereof, are duplicated in many respects in every Jew.
From what has been said above follows a crucial point, which though really self-evident, needs to be emphasized nevertheless, especially in the present day and age: The above mentioned conception in general, and the conclusions that follow from it as to the extraordinary Zechus (privilege) and responsibility-all of this is not a "private" matter which concerns the individual alone. For, as has been stated, it is the duty of every individual to elevate not only himself to the expected height, but to elevate also the whole of the created order, for which purpose he was created and endowed with tremendous powers.
As for the claim that the task of elevating the environment can be accomplished by others, leaving the utilization of his capacities as his private affair - the Torah tells us that the first man was created single in order to impress upon everyone of us that each individual is (like Adam at creation, an only one, hence) - the entire world.
Consequently, just as Adam had no one to shift to the G-d-given task of bringing the whole world to the realization of "Come, let us accept the kingship of Him Who created us," so it is also with every individual regarding his responsibility; it is not transferable.
And when one comes to recognize this responsibility and privilege, all hindrances and difficulties encountered in the way become negligible. For, considering the far-reaching implication of every action of each individual, not only for himself, but for everyone else, reaching to the very end-purpose of creation-surely all difficulties must be trivial by comparison.
...This...is one of the basic teachings of Rosh Hashanah as the "head" of the year, in the sense of directing all the days of the year as the head directs the functions of all the organs of the body: That a Jew must every day be permeated with the awareness that his every deed, and even word, and even thought affects not only himself and the immediate environment, but also the totality of the world, and into the highest worlds. At the same time he must remember that being "A branch of My planting, the work of My hands," he is given the fullest capacity to carry out his task as it was given to the first man, Adam, "formed by G-d's own hands"-the task of advancing himself and the world around him to the acme of their perfection...
With blessing for a good and sweet year,
SHOFARS AND MORE
Calendars at local Chabad-Lubavitch Centers around the world are packed with Rosh Hashana events. Many Chabad Houses are sponsoring the fun-filled, hands-on "Shofar Factory" where children (and the young at heart) can make their very own shofars from rams horns. Also on the schedule are Rosh Hashana services, special Shofar Blowing services for those who want to be sure not to miss the main mitzva of Rosh Hashana, and the Tashlich Ceremony when we symbolically cast our sins into the water. Many Centers offer holiday meals. For more info call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
ROSH HASHANA IN PRISON
The Lubavitch Youth Organization, headquartered in New York, sends volunteers to state and federal prisons in the New York area for holiday programs. Volunteers stay within walking distance of the Federal facility in Allenwood, Pennsylvania on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and conduct services there for the High Holidays. For the festival of Sukkot, LYO sends volunteers to over a dozen facilities in New York State to bring the joy of the holiday to our incarcerated brethren.
The printed version has a listing of blessings for a sweet new year in Hebrew. Unfortunately, the charachters are not compatible in English, so the text here is missing.
A Happy and Healthy, Sweet and Successful New Year.
That you should enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 29:11)
As Rashi explains, in ancient times a covenant or pact was made between two parties by taking an object, cutting it in two, and walking between the two halves. But isn't cutting an object into two pieces the opposite of unity and cohesion? How does this express the bond between two people? By rending an object in half, each party wishes to show that without the other he is incomplete, a fraction of the new entity they have formed. A covenant of this nature, expressing the essential connection that can never be sundered, was made between G-d and the Jewish people. (Likutei Torah)
It will come to pass, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse...and you shall return to the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 30:1-2)
It is obvious that punishment and suffering can open a man's heart to G-d, but how can blessing bring him to repentance? The Baal Shem Tov offered an analogy: It happened once that a simple man rebelled against the king. But instead of punishing him, the king took him into his palace and appointed him to an important position. The more favor and privilege that was lavished on him, the worse the man felt about having rebelled. Thus we see that mercy and kindness can sometimes prompt a person to repentance even more effectively than punishment.
"For You remember all that is forgotten" (from our Rosh Hashana prayers)
A famous Chasid once commented: G-d remembers only those things that man has forgotten, but ignores things that he remembers. How? A person commits a sin but later forgets about it. The sin doesn't truly bother him, and he is able to push it from his mind. G-d, however, has not forgotten about the incident. On the other hand, if a person commits a sin but repents afterward, learning from his mistake and resolving not to repeat it, G-d "forgets" the matter completely.
The Baal Shem Tov once asked his disciple, Rabbi Zev Kitzis, to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Eager to do a good job, he studied all the proper meditations and wrote them down on a slip of paper. This displeased the Baal Shem Tov, and G-d caused the paper to fall out of Rabbi's Zev's pocket. On Rosh Hashana, when he realized that it was gone, he was broken-hearted and burst into tears. Having no choice, he blew the shofar without referring to his notes. The Baal Shem Tov later explained: There are many different chambers and rooms in the King's palace; each meditation is the key to opening a particular door. But a broken heart is the "axe" with which all doors can be broken down and entry gained...
It was Rosh Hashana in the shul of the Baal Shem Tov. In the middle of the prayers, a snuffbox accidentally dropped from the pocket of one of the Chasidim. He bent down to pick it up, and unthinking, he took a pinch of snuff and inhaled it. The man who was sitting next to him saw the little episode and an accusatory thought passed through his mind: "How could he have done such a mundane thing here in the Baal Shem Tov's shul and on this, such a holy day!?"
Through his holy intuition, the Baal Shem Tov perceived this thought, and he understood the repercussions this thought would have Above for the man who had taken the snuff. Throughout the remainder of Rosh Hashana the Baal Shem Tov tried his best to annul the effects of the thought, but to no avail. The man stood accused before the Heavenly Court all through the holy month of Tishrei.
Finally, during the evening prayers of the last day of Sukkot-Hoshana Rabbah - the Baal Shem Tov managed to strike a deal for the accused. If the accuser would himself, find some merit in the snuff-taker, the snuff-taker would be forgiven. The only catch was this was not to be disclosed to either man.
When the Baal Shem Tov entered the shul that night he noticed that the Chasid who had had the critical thought was preparing to pray, but he seemed unable to concentrate his thoughts and he paced back and forth. He was thinking, "I wonder why tobacco, which is something people like to smoke and inhale, was introduced to the world. I suppose it is because there is some benefit to be had from it." As soon as that rationale entered his mind, he felt a rush of guilt and sadness at having judged his friend's actions so critically on Rosh Hashana.
On Hoshana Rabba it was customary for the Baal Shem Tov to make himself available to answer the questions of his Chasidim, which they would prepare in advance. That night, the accusing Chasid came to him with the question, "Is there any benefit to be had from tobacco and snuff?"
The Baal Shem Tov responded with his own question: "What are your thoughts on the matter?" The Chasid proceeded to tell the Rebbe his thoughts of the previous night, that there must be some benefit in these substances.
"I have a feeling there is more than you are telling me," replied the Baal Shem Tov. "Tell me what else you are thinking."
At the Baal Shem Tov's prompting the Chasid related the entire incident of the snuff which had occurred on Rosh Hashana. "When I saw my friend take so much enjoyment from the pinch of snuff on such a holy day, I immediately condemned him, thinking he must be a very coarse individual. But then, last night, I started thinking there was probably some redeeming quality about snuff, and I began to regret my negative thoughts."
The Baal Shem Tov was then free to tell him what reaction his judgmental thoughts had caused in the Heavens. "Your thoughts aroused quite a stir Above, and a serious charge was lodged against your companion. Fortunately, your change of heart has reversed that ruling, but you must resolve to guard your thoughts carefully in the future."
Even when Reb Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin of Volozhin (known as the Netziv) was already quite old, he had never sat down to eat before making sure that his animals had been fed, in keeping with the explanation of the order of the Torah verses in Deuteronomy, "and I shall give grass in your fields for your animals," which precedes the verse, "and you shall eat and be satisfied."
And so, on one Rosh Hashana, when the family returned from shul, the Netziv would not sit down to the table, for the chickens had not yet been fed. To everyone's dismay, the key to the lock on the chicken coop could not be found. The elderly rabbi was weak and thirsty, but he insisted on upholding this mitzva. It was decided to ask a non-Jew to break open the coop.
Someone was dispatched to search for a likely person, but time passed and no one appeared to do the job. Finally, a man was brought to the house, and he broke the lock. Only when the chickens had been given food and water did the Netziv sit down at the table, make the blessings over the wine and bread, and partake of the festive holiday meal.
Rav Saadia Gaon recounts as the ninth of his ten symbolic meanings in the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana: To recall our faith in the future ingathering of Israel's dispersed, and to awaken our yearning for it. As it says in Isaiah (ch. 72): " And it shall be on that day - a great shofar will be sounded, and those who have perished in the land of Assyria, and those who were dispersed in the land of Egypt will come..."
(The Book of Our Heritage)