Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life


The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish Core Emerges

Submitted by on September 10, 2023 – 12:15 amNo Comment | 614 views

The Jewish core is meant to emerge on Rosh Hashanah when we sound the shofar. It is not just a musical sound intended to evoke deep emotions. It is the wordless cry of the quintessential Jew bursting forth from our inner core. It is an experience that cannot be conveyed in words; inarticulate, it can only burst forth in sound—a wordless sound from the core of our Jewish soul.

Rabbi Chaim Avraham was a venerated Chasid, the brother of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Iliad, the founder of the Chabad movement. He merited to live a long life and witnessed his great nephew, Rabbi Henchmen Mendel, become the third Rebbe of Chabad. In his last years, he was too weak to attend services at the synagogue, so he organized a service in his home. Yet, after the service, he went to the Rebbe’s synagogue to hear the shofar.

People asked him why he did this when (a) it was difficult for him and (b) he already heard the shofar at home. He replied that the Torah doesn’t say, “Praiseworthy is the nation that sounds the shofar,” but “that knows the shofar.”[1] I can sound the shofar; my great-nephew knows the shofar.

Knowing the shofar means knowing how to access the Jewish core and bring it to the fore. When the person who sounds the shofar communicates his soul, passion, essence, and quintessential bond with G-d, you are uplifted.

I remember attending the shofar service at the synagogue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn, New York. The crowds were overwhelming, the air was thick with emotion, and the temperature was through the roof, but the shofar sounds pierced the Heavens and my soul. Thousands attended, and each felt that the shofar talked to them personally. Each felt that their fate and the world’s fate were transported through that shofar. That shofar was not just sounded; it was known. So long as I live, I will never forget that shofar. It resonates within me every time I blow the shofar. It has never faded, and I hope it never will.

The Jewish Core
Our Jewish core is part of us all year long. But it is in hiding. We are busy and often overwhelmed by so many distractions that the core remains in place—in the deepest chambers of our souls. We know that we are G-d’s only child and that He loves us as an elderly parent loves an only child. We know that “my eternal portion is G-d” and “G-d’s portion is His nation.”[2]

But knowing it and getting it are two different things. On Rosh Hashanah, this essential truth fills our consciousness. The sound of the shofar conveys a hard-core reality. G-d is my rock, and I never want to be without Him.  G-d is my life, and I can’t stand to have distance between me and Him. I beg Him to remember me because I want to be with Him. Without Him, there is no me.

Liberation of Joseph
Our sages taught that Joseph was released from prison on Rosh Hashanah. We all know the story. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, and his mistress had him arrested on a rape libel. Twelve years later, Pharaoh had a dream he could not interpret, and Joseph, who had established a reputation for interpreting dreams, was brought before Pharaoh.[3]

Joseph famously interpreted the dream, and Pharaoh, taken by Joseph, appointed him viceroy of Egypt. That day was the first of Tishrei—Rosh Hashanah.

Everything happens for a reason. Joseph was liberated on Rosh Hashanah because that day is conducive to our inner Joseph’s liberation. You see, on the surface, Joseph looked like the consummate Egyptian. So much so that years later, when his brothers came to Egypt, they did not recognize him. Yet, within Joseph beat a thriving Jewish heart, pulsed a dynamic Jewish soul. It was unknown to anyone, but Joseph knew his inner truth.

We are just like Joseph. On the surface, we seem interested in all the mundane things that comprise our daily lives. We appear to have no time for our souls’ rhythms, desires, and yearnings. The only difference between Joseph and us is that Joseph fooled others, and we managed to fool even ourselves.

On Rosh Hashanah, our intrinsic truth emerges. Our Jewish core is awakened and suffuses our consciousness. It captures our imagination. It kindles our hearts. It fills our brains. It inspires our soul. We hear the shofar, and we are entranced. “Can the shofar be sounded in the city and the people not tremble?[4] Of course, we tremble. With excitement, with anticipation, with passion, with inspiration. It is who we are. We love G-d. We are part of G-d. We want to be with G-d. “You had me at hello.”

Rosh Hashanah is the day that Joseph was liberated, and it is the day that our inner Joseph is liberated. All year long, the intrinsic me is in captivity—buried under layers of distractions, mundane activities, and enjoyable materialistic pursuits. On Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is sounded, and my inner Joseph goes free. The inner me becomes the outer me. It becomes the holistic me. I am with G-d. I know the shofar.

From the Land of Ashur
Isaiah taught that the coming of Mashiach—the ultimate liberation—will also be heralded by the shofar. “And it will come to pass on that day that a great shofar will be sounded, and those lost in Assyria and those exiled in Egypt will come and bow before G-d on the holy mount in Jerusalem.”[5] Why does Isaiah specify Assyria and Egypt? And why are those in Assyria lost and those in Egypt exiled?

Ashur, Assyria in Hebrew also means bliss. Egypt connotes suffering for Jews. Assyria and Egypt are opposites; they represent the two poles of our exile. Two reasons the Jewish core might fall into captivity.

One pole is that Jews are prosperous and free; their hearts grow arrogant, and they become immersed in blissful, enjoyable, pleasurable pursuits that cause them to forget G-d. The other pole is when Jews live under harsh duress, persecuted and prosecuted, in suffering and in pain. In the morning, we wish for the evening, and in the evening, we wish for the morning. We fear for our lives and don’t know what tomorrow might bring. “I raise my eyes to the mountains; from where will my salvation come?[6]

We can get lost in Assyria—the bliss and pleasures of life. We can be exiled in Egypt—the pain and suffering of exile. Both result in the captivity of our soul, the neglect of our Jewish core. Then comes the great shofar and the great day of liberation. The shofar is sounded, and the inner Joseph is liberated. The lost ones of Assyria and the exilees from Egypt return home and bow to G-d on the holy mount.

May our shofar this Rosh Hashanah be inspiring and liberating. May it lift us and shower us with blessing. May it herald the blessing of the great liberation, the coming of Mashiach. Amen.

Shanah Tovah.[7]

[1] Psalms 89:16.

[2] Lamentations 3:24; Deuteronomy 32:9.

[3] Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 11a.

[4] Amos 3:6.

[5] Isaiah 12:23.

[6] Psalms 121:1.

[7] This essay is based on Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur, Sefas Emes, Rosh Hashanah 5634; Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Letoarh Ulemoadim, Rosh Hashanah.

Tags: ,