By Rabbi Aron Tendler
It's about time we stopped making excuses and took responsibility for who and
what we are. It's long overdue. Here we are at the threshold of a new-year
and it's all about being honest with ourselves. The degree of our commitment
to Torah and Mitzvos will be in direct proportion to how many excuses we make
for ourselves in avoiding commitment. The more the excuses, the less the
commitment. As Moshe continued his final discourse, he confronted the primary
excuses we all use in avoiding commitment and responsibility.
1st & 2nd Aliyot: Moshe presented the entire nation with the basis for our
covenant with G-d. Starting with the promise to the forefathers and
stretching across 500 years of history, our relationship with G-d had been
substantiated through miracle after miracle. Yet, future generations might
deny their personal obligation to continue the relationship and its attendant
responsibilities. Therefore; Moshe made it absolutely clear that each
generation is obligated to educate their children and train them to accept the
covenant with G-d. Subsequent generation should not be able to excuse their
responsibilities for Torah and Mitzvos due to ignorance.
3rd Aliya: The next excuse Moshe confronted was the modernization of Torah.
In every generation there are those who see Torah as archaic and outdated.
"Only by grafting new ideas and practices to the stale practices of Torah will
Judaism continue to exist and flourish." This excuse for changing Torah's
eternal truths will result in the compromise of Torah observance, our land,
and our people.
4th & 5th Aliyot: As history will tragically prove, Moshe's warnings would be
ignored. Subsequent generations would wonder about the destruction and
desolation and, in their search for answers, return to the uncompromised
truths and practices of their forefathers.
6th Aliya: As a generation of Baalei Teshuva find their way back, many will be
overwhelmed by the seemingly inaccessibility of Torah knowledge. Moshe
reassures us that Torah is accessible to all those who truly desire it.
Ignorance and a lack of opportunity for learning should never be an excuse.
7th Aliya: Finally, Moshe presented the bottom line. Endowed with free will
we must choose properly. In the end, we are responsible for what happens.
The 7th and final Haftorah of Consolation is from Yishaya 61:10 - 63:9.
Coming before Rosh Hashana, this selection perfectly focuses us on the
intended purpose of the High Holy Days.
We are dependent upon Hashem. He is the source of our protection, well
being, and purpose. His constant love and attention is evident in the miracle
of our survival and the strength of our limited numbers. As the Navi prepared
the hope which allows us to place tragedy in perspective, we prepare ourselves
to acknowledge Hashem's providence through Tefilah and justice. There will
soon come a time when we, as the Chosen People, will embrace the gift of G-d's
special attention. At that time the "...nations will see your righteousness
and all the kings your glory..."
Glory and honor are the byproducts of devotion and commitment. Our
responsibility in the coming days is to "...recount G-d's mercies and
praises..." Our goal is to acknowledge G-d and for G-d to proclaim "...Surely
they are my people... (63:8)
Tefilah Changes for the Ten Days of Repentance
Starting with Maariv this coming Sunday evening, the first Tefilah of Rosh
Hashana, there are some basic changes in the Shemone Esreh, that must be
noted. These changes will stay in affect through Neilah at the conclusion of
Yom Kippur. The purpose of these changes is to focus us on the unique nature
of our relationship with G-d during the 10 Days of Repentance.
We are told that during these 10 days, starting with Rosh Hashana and
ending with Yom Kippur, Hashem is avilable to hear our pleas for
understanding, forgiveness, and mercy. Although G-d is always available to
listen to our prayers and concerns, during the next 10 days He will "clear His
calendar" so that He is even more available. The philisophical and
mathematical difficulties in explaining "more or less available" when
describing an all powerfull and timeless entity such as G-d are obvious.
However; we, as time bound and mortal beings have no other choice but to
describe G-d in familiar and understandable terms.
G-d is the Creator; G-d is King; G-d is Judge. It is true that the
judicious and kingly responsibilities of the Creator are constant and never
ending. It is true that His unlimited love and compassion allows us 24 hour a
day access to His attention and concern. Yet, we need to couch G-d in imagery
and terms that are more human and less awesome.
"The Torah speaks in the language of mortals".
Even more so is our need to schedule G-d into our busy lives. Very few of
us are actively aware of our ever present and most intimate relationship with
G-d. We are content to manage our relationship with Him at given times in
specified places. Certainly, when looking to evaluate and renegotiate the
terms of that relationship, we need to schedule an appointment. Certainly, if
we are to be judged and sentenced for the weighty issues of health and
prosperity, we need to have a specified time to focus our total attention and
energy. This is what the coming 10-day period is all about. All
relationships need periodic tune-ups. The 10 Days of Repentance is our
spiritual tune-up with the Mechanic. The changes in the Tefilah capture this
concept and focus us on the immediate needs of our relationship with G-d.
The Actual Changes
There are four additions and two changes in the Shmoneh Esreh. The four
additions are in the first three brachos and the concluding three brachos of
the Shmoneh Esreh. It's best to pay attention to the siddur and follow the
The idea is to include in the first three standard blessings, that begin
every Shmoneh Esreh, the focus of the Yomim Noraim. The first blessing brings
to the forefront that we assume the right of speaking directly to the Creator
because we are the grandchildren of Avrohom, Yitzchak, and Yakov. We use
"proteksia" to get in the front door. At the same time we accept that our
"Yichus - lineage" is the best argument in support of our requests for
"life". Therefore; we include this understanding in the 1st blessing with the
words, "Zachreynu L'Chayim - Remember us for life." The underlying theme is
humility on our part, and dependency upon others and Hashem for the future.
The second blessing describes the might of the Creator, Whom we are
addressing, and we include a second addition praising the uniqueness of G-d's
mercy. The verse "Mee Chamocha - Who is like You" describes the G-dliness of
a Creator who will do almost anything to insure life for His children.
The first of the changes takes place in the 3rd blessing, that is also
standard for every Shmoneh Esreh. This bracha describes the sanctity and
uniqueness of G-d. Therefore; we exchange the description of the Creator as
" G-d who is holy" to the "King who is holy". During this time G-d is first
and foremost the King / Judge, and it is imperative that we refer to Him by
the proper designation. Because this is a change in the actual bracha, if we
forget to make the change we must repeat the Shmoneh Esreh. If we forget the
other change or any or all of the four additions we do not repeat the Shmoneh
The 2nd change is in the 11th blessing and applies to the weekday prayers
only. The change focuses us on the concept of justice by eliminating the
adjectives of "love and righteousness". The theme of justice is included even
without the change, and therefore doesn't necessitate repeating the Shmoneh
Esreh, if we should forget.
The final two additions are placed in the last three Brachos of the
Shmoneh Esreh. The underlying theme of those blessings is appreciation and
acknowledgment of the constancy of Hashem's benevolence, and the opportunity
to speak directly to Hashem. We are grateful for being the Chosen People with
the permission to address the Creator directly and regularly, and we express
this understanding as the standard closing to our audience with the Creator.
Therefore, we include in this closing our plea for good life and happiness for
ourselves, our families, and all of the Jewish people. This we recognize as
an extension of G-d's love and concern.
The coming Ten Days of Repentance should be discussed and viewed
seriously. We are unique among all nations in how we understand the concept
of the "New Year" and the yearly opportunity to establish a stronger and more
intimate relationship with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
As much as the customs and expectations of this time direct us to our
personal relationship with G-d, His expectation is for us to spend as much, if
not more, time and energy rebuilding our personal relationships with each
May the coming period of time be filled with growth and understanding in
all our relationships.
It's really up to each one of us, so let's do it together.
The Rosh Hashanah Musaf - an overview
The Musaf service incorporates the main Mitzvah of the day, the sounding of
the shofar. It is organized in three basic parts. At the onset of Musaf the
Brachot on the Shofar will be made, followed by the shofar being sounded 30
times. During the repetition of the Amidah, the shofar will be sounded
another 30 times, broken up into 3 soundings of 10 blasts each. At the
conclusion of the Musaf, the shofar will be sounded a total of 40 times broken
up into 30 and a final 10 blasts.
The reason for a total of 100 blasts has to do with the mother of the evil
general Sisra, who cried because of her son's death 100 times. The manner in
which the blasts are carried out relates to the minimum fulfillment of the
Mitzvah, as well as the 3 basic themes of the Musaf davening.
The minimum requirement is the first 30 blasts. These are a combination of
notes that accommodate all the different opinions as to how the shofar should
The next 30 follow the 3 themes of the Musaf. 1. Malchios - G-d as King;
2. Zichronos - G-d remembering all deeds as well as the merits of the
forefathers; 3. Shofros - the concept of the shofar as found in the
At the conclusion of each theme, the shofar is sounded 10 times. The final
40 blasts are intended to complete the compliment of 100 blasts.
The various sounds of the shofar are intended to imitate crying or
sighing. Much is written on this theme, but succinctly put, we view our day
in court as awesomely fearful, yet hopeful. The emotions are running high and
they are right at the surface. The shofar is the collective cry of the Jewish
people as they approach the Judge of Judges with the simple plea, "forgive us,
not because we are deserving, but because you are our father; and a parent has
no choice but to forgive.
The Shofar "Ten"
The ten messages of the Shofar as explained by
Rav Sadiah Gaon
- . Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of creation and G-d's mastery over
creation. The sounding of the shofar are the trumpets proclaiming the
coronation of G-d as King over all.
- . The decree of a King is heralded by a trumpet blast. G-d who is King
decrees, "Improve your ways!"
- . It reminds us of the giving of the Torah and encourages us to rededicate
ourselves to our original covenant with G-d.
- . The blasts of the Shofar bring to mind the ancient words of all the
Prophets who directed us with loving encouragement and criticism. Their words
had the awakening quality of a shofar blast.
- . The sounds of battle and the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash are
recreated in the blasts of the shofar. We fervently pray that this year G-d
should deem us worthy of rebuilding His home and returning us to Eretz
- . The ram that replaced Yitzchak on the Alter is framed in the blasts of the
shofar. We remind ourselves and G-d of the extraordinary merits and devotion
of that moment. Tradition has it that it is the shofar from that very same
ram that will be sounded upon the arrival of Mashiach.
- . The warning blasts meant to awaken the sleeping to the dangers of attack.
For us it is a wake up call to do Teshuva and avert the dangers of the growing
distance in our relationship with the Creator.
- . Tzefania the Prophet refers to the final judgment day as "...a day of the
shofar..." Today's blasts are a warning of that impending moment.
- . The shofar reminds us of the coming of Mashiach. "...the Great Shofar will
be sounded..." Yishaya 27:13
- . It reminds us of Techiyas Hamaysim - the resurrection of the dead. Yishaya
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.