13 Sep The Call of the Shofar
Every morning in Elul, we hear the piercing sound of the shofar. It is a reminder to get cracking in preparation for the Day of Judgment. For many of us, with, just coming home from summer vacation and reorienting ourselves to the daily grind, we already have our hands full without the enormous job of getting ready for the annual Judgment Day. (On a personal note, through the kindness of Hashem, our family just married off a daughter and my head has been preoccupied with seating plans and sheva brachos.) We must realize the yeitzer hara will do whatever it takes to block us from spending any time on spiritual reflections. Since we certainly want to have a sweet new year, we must dig in our heels and find the time to figure out how we are going to be better during the upcoming year of 5778.
As the Ksav Sofer teaches us, shofar reminds us, shapru maaseichem, make your deeds more beautiful, for if we want to have a better year we need to come up with a plan of how we are going to become better people. For this is the Divine recipe of judgement known as midah k’neged midah, measure for measure. When we have a To-Do Better List in our Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur machzor, we are sure to see an upgrade in our quality of life for the coming year. Here are some thoughts for some possible improvements to accept upon ourselves for the new year.
When we wake up in the morning, we say modeh ani lifonecha which means, “I say thank You in front of You.” We carefully omit saying the word ‘Hashem,’ the Lord’s Name, because we haven’t washed our hands yet and still have a ruach hatuma, a spirit of defilement hovering upon us. So we say lifonecha, in front of You. Why don’t we simply say lecha, to You? I believe that it’s because we want to emphasize as soon as we open our eyes that Hashem is lifonecha, in front of us throughout the day. This affirmation is a fulfillment of the directive “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi somid – I place Hashem before me at all times.” It’s an acknowledgment of “B’chol drachecha da’eihu – in all your ways you should know Him.” It is the purpose of why we have mitzvahs such as tefillin and tzitzis, mezuzah and Shabbos. To remind us that Hashem is always around us, in every room that we enter, in our hearts and in our minds, and He is our Boss Who can tell what we can do and what we can’t do. It’s the reason why we wear a yarmulke, which stands for yarei malka, to fear the King. For we portray while wearing the kipah that He is always above us. So, by saying lifonecha, we start off the day right in the presence of Hashem.
Here’s another idea. When we say modim d’rabonum when the chazzan repeats the Shemone Esrei, we thank Hashem “Al sheheche’yisonu v’kiyamtonu – For giving us life and vitality.” The ArtScroll renders the word kiyum to sustain us. According to this definition we are thanking Hashem for not only our life but for supporting us, with food, air, with beverages etc. But the word kiyum has at its root kam, to stand on one’s own two feet, so I believe we are thanking Hashem for not simply being alive but being healthy, able to take care of ourselves, not weighed down with sickness and pain, and having our full wits about us. Tragically, there are many people, rachmana litzlon, who get stricken with blank moments, and even at an early age start suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. We are thanking Hashem that we are not only alive but we exist fully functional and whole.
And then we show that we don’t take a moment for granted and we petition him, “Kein techaiyeinu us’kaiymeinu – So you should continue to give us life and happy existence.” One of the gifts that Hashem gives us that we so much take for granted is our ability to think, to enjoy, to reason. We need to show Hashem that we really appreciate this gift. Its importance can be seen in the fact that the very first blessing of birchas hashachar is, “Hanosein la’sechvi vinah l’havchin bein yom u’vein laila – He gives the rooster understanding to differentiate between day and night.” This bracha was constructed because the farmer used to get up at the crowing of the rooster and therefore he used this as a springboard to thank Hashem, that just as the rooster does, we are able to make all kinds of distinctions; between day and night, good and bad, proper and improper, and so on.
The word sechvi has an alternate meaning. It means the mind. So in the very first blessing we that Hashem that our minds can reason, for in a vegetative state none of the other blessings have much meaning. In exactly the same way, we start off the middle blessings of the Shemone Esrei with the same sentiment of appreciation: Attah chonein l’adom daas – You graciously gift mankind with understanding,” for without cognitive abilities, all the rest is meaningless. What good is peace and parnassa, or even good health if a person is, G-d forbid, unaware of what’s going on around him. Showing Hashem that we realize this great gift is a good insurance that He should continue giving it to us and is a capital improvement in our daily relationship with Hashem.
May we merit having a full To-Do Better List to present to Hashem this Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur and be rewarded acccordingly with a year of good health, happiness and everything wonderful.
Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar cholei Yisroel.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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