The Penetrating Sound of the Absent Shofar

The Penetrating Sound of the Absent Shofar

By Rabbi Alexander Coleman
(based on a talk given by Rabbi Calman Weinreb of blessed memory)
In a world where brilliance often overshadows the subtle, there once lived a maestro conductor named Barbierri. His heart beat to the rhythm of every note, every instrument, and every soul that contributed to the symphony. He knew that each musician, no matter how seemingly insignificant their part, held a pivotal role in the creation of something extraordinary.

One fateful day, as the anticipation for a special symphony performance grew, a cloud of concern settled over the orchestra. A humble fourth violinist, though gifted, was not at his best. To some, this might have seemed a minor hiccup, a mere blip in the grand scheme of things. But not to Barbierri.

For he understood that the magic of a symphony lies not in the spotlight, but in the seamless dance of every note, every instrument, and every heart that beats in time. With a heavy heart, he made a decision that left the world stunned. He canceled the performance.

Why? Because to him, the symphony was incomplete without every member giving their all. He valued the contribution of every soul, every artist, recognizing that even the faintest whisper of a note held the power to elevate the entire composition.

The story above stands as a vivid example and a wellspring of inspiration for a particularly pertinent law of Rosh Hashanah this year.

This year, the inaugural day of Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbos, and thus, according to the halacha (Jewish law), the shofar remains silent. The Gemara elucidates that this ruling arises from a concern that one might inadvertently carry a shofar in a public domain to a learned individual for instruction, inadvertently transgressing the melacha (labor) of carrying on Shabbos. Contemplating this, we confront two weighty challenges:

Firstly, for whom did the rabbis harbor concern? Surely, not for the erudite and devoted members of the community, but rather, their concern was directed towards individuals who either were ignorant of the rule, or did not possess so much devotion to be concerned about it! Does this warrant the cancellation of such a revered and sanctified mitzvah for everyone else?

Moreover, when we reflect on the profound potency of the shofar as a vessel to deflect harsh decrees – for the Gemara proclaims, "Any year that does not commence with shofar blowing, its conclusion will be fraught with calamity" – and Tosfos (Talmudic commentary) supplements that this holds true even when it is omitted due to circumstances beyond our control – the gravity of not sounding the shofar at the year's inception becomes all the more pronounced. This accentuates our astonishment at the Rabbis' resolution to forgo the shofar's resonance, all on account of a minute fraction of less knowledgeable and devoted Jews. Why?

The answer mirrors the story above, for just as Barbierri revered the presence of every musician and understood how the symphony depended upon them, Rosh Hashanah is also day of harmonizing the symphony of Malchus Shamayim (Heavenly Kingdom). It is a day of coronating God as the sovereign, and of infusing into our souls and hearts the magnificence, splendor, and grandeur of a world led and governed by the Divine. The shofar emerges as the instrument purposefully designated for this task. As its notes resound, the King is crowned, and the Malchus Shamayim is firmly established. Yet, in every kingdom, a king and his dominion are incomplete without a populace. The more the population mirrors the king and advocates for his message and sovereignty, the more consummate and unified the kingdom becomes. Each and every individual, whether wise or unassuming, exceedingly righteous or still in the process, bears a role and a mission in that realm. Thus, should one Jew be absent from this "orchestra," the symphony known as Malchus Shamayim is marred.

Hence, we understand why the "symphony" is put on hold when Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbos. Instead of the customary shofar blasts heralding the dawn of Malchus Shamayim, it is the very absence of those blasts that accomplishes the same effect. In that interlude, during the time when the shofar would typically sound, each of us, regardless of our station, can contemplate the profundity of our significance and the pivotal role we play in the symphony of Malchus Shamayim. Indeed, it holds true – I wield a significant role. For why did the Rabbis suspend the customary service today? Because perhaps I may not be present, and it is imperative that I be here. I am cherished, vital, and beloved to the Almighty.

Kesiva v'chasima tova
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