Parshios Netzavim & Vayeilech
Rosh Hashana and the Kiss of Life
The Torah calls the day of Rosh Hashana "a day of blowing" which signifies
the pivotal importance of the shofar to the Day of Judgment. The shofar is
the seminal mitzvah around which everything else evolves. This is somewhat
baffling. Against the awesomeness of the Day of Judgment, the shofar would
seem to be a minor ritual. Why then the special status and fanfare attached
The commentaries tell us that the shofar calls to mind the story of the
akeida in which our patriarch Avraham, after attempting to fulfill Hashem's
request to offer up his beloved Isaac as a sacrifice, found an alternate way
to give expression to his overflowing love of his Creator.
Avraham noticed a ram caught in the bushes and offered it up as a sacrifice
in place of Yitzchok. [Far from being a 'chance' occurrence, the ram had
been placed in that very spot by Hashem. One of its horns will one day be
used to announce the arrival of Moshiach, our sages tell us.] With the
blowing of a ram's horn on Rosh Hashana, we recall the historic event of the
akeida in which Avraham rose to unparalleled spiritual heights.
Yet, the precise connection between the mitzvah of shofar-blowing on Rosh
Hashana and the gripping story about Abraham's devotion and self-sacrifice
remains elusive. What does this story have to do with the awesome Day of
The Torah tells us that G-d created mortal physical man from earth and dust
collected from four corners of the earth, and invested within him a living
spirit by blowing into his nostrils "a breath of life" (Genesis 2). As a
result of the blend of the physical and spiritual components of his makeup,
man is a hybrid; part physical matter and part G-dly.
We struggle with the innate conflict of our bodily desires and yearnings
with our spiritual strivings throughout our earthly sojourn. Each person
must decide for himself which force he will make the predominant one in his
own life. Are we material creatures seeking to better our physical standard
of living, climbing the ladder of financial success, and ensuring that we
have more glitter than our neighbors? Or, is our primary drive focused on
giving expression to the neshama within us, the vibrations of our conscience
that direct us heavenwards towards an eternal bond with our Creator?
Our neshama yearns to connect to its creator while assigning the body to a
secondary role in our time here in this world. On Rosh Hashana, as we commit
ourselves to a new year, we reinforce our determination to allow the needs
of our neshama to take center stage. We reconnect our soul-implanted in man
with the 'breath of life' from the Creator-with its heavenly source.
How can one translate these spiritual impulses into a medium that speaks to
the concrete and physical part of our existence? How can we "kiss" the
Divine, so to speak, and find Him in both the oppressive monotony and the
churning maelstrom of day-to-day existence?
The shofar is the ideal expression of the soaring impulses that overtake us
on the Day of Judgment. Avraham was willing to sacrifice his closest and
most beloved son with unflinching devotion. When he was restrained from
doing so, he expressed his love with the sacrifice of the ram. Part of that
ram-the symbol of fierce love of G-d-remains with us: the horn we blow each
Rosh Hashana. The shofar is the conduit through which we lovingly
demonstrate our willingness to transform the breath of life with which
Hashem animated us-our souls-into our predominant life force, while the body
assumes an accessory role.
The shofar is thus the perfect instrument through which we can "pour back"
our essence to its heavenly source. Like our forefather Avraham, we use this
instrument to demonstrate that for the coming years, our goals and ideals
will align with spiritual imperatives, rather than physical ones.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos and a happy & healthy New Year
Rabbi Naftali Reich
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.