Rabbi Aryeh A. Frimer
The hallmark of Rosh Hashanah is the mitzva of blowing the shofar. Jewish tradition dictates that there are two sets of blasts: one, known as the “sitting blasts” (tekiot de-meyushav), which are blown before the silent amida. The second set of blasts is known as the “standing blasts” (tekiot de-me’umad) and are blown at the close of each section (Malkhiyyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot), during the repetition of the amida, when we pray as a community. Why do we blow the shofar blasts in two separate contexts? What is one set of blasts termed “sitting blasts” when in actuality we stand for all the shofar sounds?
Rabbi Kenneth Brander (http://ots.org.il/ten-days-ten-thoughts-day-one/) insightfully suggests that the requirement to hear the shofar blasts, both as “sitting blasts” and as “standing blasts”, emanates from two different paradigms vis-a-vis our relationship with God. The former are called tekiot de-meyushav not because we sit during those blasts. Rather, the name connotes the lens through which we must integrate these blasts into our lives. They are a clarion call to each and every one of us “sitting alone”, to be involved in the self-evaluation process we call repentance – teshuva. The shofar is sounded immediately prior to the personal amida, because these blasts call upon each of us to re-evaluate our own personal relationship with God:
Have I, as an individual, succeeded in establishing a personal relationship with God?
What have I done as an individual to get closer to God?
Do I know God this year better than last year?
Have I integrated God into the various aspects of my personal and familial being?
In what ways have I triumphed and in what ways have I failed?
The answer to the tekiot de-meyushav these sitting blasts, cannot be, “Yes, I have succeeded by helping the Jewish people.” We cannot answer these tekiot in the context of what we have done for the community. These blasts ask us to focus on how, we as individuals, have grown spiritually during this year.
The second message of the shofar is hidden in the tekiot de-me’umad, the shofar blasts which are sounded while we stand together as a community. These blasts, posits Rabbi Brander, require us, together, to ask in all candor:
Has the community lived up to its responsibilities - in its unique relationship with God?
Does our community speak truth to power on issues which affect the moral fiber of society?
Do we, as a community, support the international causes so vital to the Jewish people, in particular the security and vitality of the State of Israel?
Does the community empower people to engage in a spiritual journey?
Does our community recognize that Judaism requires an engagement with society, as well as with God?
And for all of these questions, what role have I played in contributing to the creation of this climate within the community?
May the High Holiday season allow us the clarity of vision, to reflect upon Rabbi Brander’s challenge. Let us evaluate the ways we focus on our personal and familial development, recognizing that personal growth is necessary to be effective communal leaders. At the same time, let us reflect upon our community initiatives and be strategic in the way that we serve the Jewish people and society at large. Let us begin analyzing what initiatives need to be developed in order to allow our communities to flourish and achieve their fullest potential.
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick
Professor Emeritus of Active Oxygen Chemistry
at Bar Ilan University.
Email – Aryeh.Frimer@biu.ac.il.