Elul / Rosh Hashanah
A Time for Fear, A Time for Joy
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Meir was nervous. He had barely been out of his village during his
lifetime. Now, he was on his way to the city, about to embark on a major
journey. No, this would not be a wagon ride. It would not be a train trip.
Meir was about to get on a large ship, crossing the ocean, to meet family
he had never seen on the other side.
As Meir neared the port, he saw the large boats docked. To him, they
appeared like buildings, huge buildings, the like of which he had never
seen. How these monstrosities stayed afloat was on Meir’s mind. He knew
people crossed the seas all the time. Yet, as he took his first step on
the gangplank to embark, he was shaking. He gripped the railing until his
knuckles were white, breathing slowly, trying not to feel faint.
The captain greeted him, along with others traveling on the ship, once he
got on the boat. The captain sensed that Meir was nervous, and he
attempted to assuage his fears. He explained to Meir how the ship worked,
how many times he had made the trip, how safe and seaworthy the vessel
was. Jokingly, the captain said to Meir, “Look, just in case worse comes
to worse, I want you to have this.” He handed Meir a round, doughnut
shaped object – a life preserver. The humor was lost on Meir, however, and
the gift of the life preserver absolutely terrified him. He took his
belongings, and his nerves, to his cabin.
Unfortunately for Meir, the trip did not go well. The seas were stormy,
and for much of the time, the ship rocked and rolled, swaying precariously
from side to side. Many a time, Meir thought, his end was rapidly
approaching. And then, as the shore was in sight, the worst happened: the
ship began to sink. The constant battering of the sea had been too much
for the craft. The ship began to go down rapidly. Panic and pandemonium
prevailed. Meir remembered his “gift” from the captain, and clutched onto
it for dear life. As the ship began disappearing under water, and Meir saw
others frantically looking for some method of salvation, Meir was
incredibly grateful that the captain had given him the life preserver.
What initially had caused him fear and anguish now literally saved his
life. To say that Meir was happy with his gift of the life preserver would
be an understatement.
Sefer Inyano Shel Yom quotes a query cited in Sefer HaMichtam (Sukkah
46a): Why is it that we do not find that a person who fashions a shofar
makes the blessing of “Shehechiyanu,” “Who has kept us alive, sustained
us, and brought us to this season?” The Ra’avad answers that the
fashioning of a shofar reminds a person of what the shofar is used for and
when the shofar is used: It is used when we are standing in judgment, to
arouse feelings of repentance within us. It is an object associated with
judgment, and the fear of judgment makes that time one we would rather not
recall. Hence, the recitation of the Shehechiyanu bracha would be
However, we know that on Rosh HaShana itself, the very day on which we are
judged, we make the bracha of Shehechiyanu prior to the blowing of the
shofar. Why, then, if we fashion a shofar six months prior to the Day of
Judgment, we have cause to fear and we do not make a bracha, but in the
midst of judgment itself, we can make the bracha, and fear is not an
impediment to making the blessing?
Rav Chaim Kanievsky answered simply: once you are in the midst of
judgment, you are happy to have the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, to
do something that helps tip the scales in your favor. Just as the life
preserver was initially a source of concern and fear, yet ultimately a
source of salvation, so too, is the shofar. It reminds us of a time that
rightfully inspires fear. Yet, while in the midst of judgment, when we
need help, any opportunity we have to perform G-d’s dictates is welcome.
It is therefore appropriate at that time to say the blessing of
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.