Rosh Hashanah 5779

Rabbi Alexandra Wright – 9 September 2018

The house is usually quiet at night; the only sounds the water gurgling its way through the pipes, the rain on the windows, the wind rustling through the leaves on the trees. Lulled into that late night, other-worldly pace as I sit at my desk, the neighbours sleep and the earth beds down for a night of windless peace, I am disturbed by high-pitched screeches, punctuating the night silence from the end of the garden. Is it a fox staking out its territory or locked in an autumn fight? Or has it perhaps mistaken the seasonal night temperature for its winter mating season?

Painful and continuous, the animal sounds as though it is in distress. And yet, I discover that these ‘screams’ convey neither pain nor anguish, but are the fox’s ‘love song’, the cry of mating. Later on, I think of another raw, unmediated sound that comes from the Shofar at Rosh Hashanah and ask myself – is this the cry of humanity’s aching pain at the condition of the world or a love song to God?

Maimonides hears the Shofar as an alarm, awaking sleepers from their slumberous indifference to the world. ‘Do not be like those who miss reality in the pursuit of shadows and waste their years in seeking after vain things which cannot profit or help. Look well into your souls and consider your acts; forsake each of you their evil ways and thoughts, and return to God, so that the Eternal One may have mercy upon you.’

Sa’adiah Gaon offers ten reasons why we are commanded to sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, among them that it is a cry of self-reproach for our wrongdoing, a reminder of Sinai and the covenant, of the prophets and their warnings of destruction. He hears it as an echo from the past – the battle-cries of enemies and the weeping over lives lost, of our fearfulness and humility before God and of the great day of judgement still to come.

But the sound of the Shofar as a love-song? Is the sound of the Shofar our people’s once-upon-a-time love-song for God – the God who courted them in the wilderness and took them as His own people? Is it a love-song for our Jewish heritage, for its highest teachings of loving kindness and compassion? Or is it the sound of love we have for our families and friends; the tenderness we feel when we see those hurting and suffering because of their circumstances – the old and the young, the lonely and the unfriended.

Perhaps it is a love-song for the universe – a yearning for a world in which beauty is unspoiled, where humanity is hospitable, where cities and their inhabitants grow and flourish and are not flattened by war and conflict.

Even if the many words we speak in prayer may not address our own concerns and yearnings, perhaps simply by listening to the sound of the Shofar as we come together on Rosh Hashanah, we will hear something of that aching love-song for a world of lightness, hope and peace.

May you and your dear ones be blessed and inscribed for a year of health and peace.

Share this Thought for the High Holy Days