The Sound of Silence

The Rambam (הלכות תשובה ג:ג) tells us that the Shofar is wake up call. It awakens us to do Teshuva, to return to Hashem, to become the people who need to become.

אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁתְּקִיעַת שׁוֹפָר בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה גְּזֵרַת הַכָּתוּב רֶמֶז יֵשׁ בּוֹ כְּלוֹמַר עוּרוּ יְשֵׁנִים מִשְּׁנַתְכֶם וְנִרְדָּמִים הָקִיצוּ מִתַּרְדֵּמַתְכֶם וְחַפְּשׂוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂיכֶם וְחִזְרוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה וְזִכְרוּ בּוֹרַאֲכֶם. אֵלּוּ הַשּׁוֹכְחִים אֶת הָאֱמֶת בְּהַבְלֵי הַזְּמַן וְשׁוֹגִים כָּל שְׁנָתָם בְּהֶבֶל וָרִיק אֲשֶׁר לֹא יוֹעִיל וְלֹא יַצִּיל, הַבִּיטוּ לְנַפְשׁוֹתֵיכֶם וְהֵיטִיבוּ דַּרְכֵיכֶם וּמַעַלְלֵיכֶם וְיַעֲזֹב כָּל אֶחָד מִכֶּם דַּרְכּוֹ הָרָעָה וּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר לֹא טוֹבָה.

Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if [the shofar's call] is saying: Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save: Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts.

How fortunate are we that Hashem gave us this incredible mitzvah.

But this year we have a problem. This year, on the first day of Rosh Hashana we will are not blowing the shofar! We have forfeited this mitzvah in deference to Shabbos. How then will we be awakened?

The Baal Shem Tov relates that he attended a horrible cheder, school, in his small village of Okop, Ukraine. In those days, there were no institutional yeshivos or principals greeting all of the boys each morning with a smile each day. The wealthy families hired better rebbes and brought them into their nice homes to teach their children. The poorer families scraped together whatever they could for the lesser-trained rebbes and the boys went to learn in the rebbe’s “house,” which was often little more than a shack.

Little Yisroel (who was known as Srulik at the time), the future Baal Shem Tov, was an orphan, so his lot was even worse than most. The people in Okop did what they could to provide a rebbe for little Srulik, but the rebbe’s home was a disgusting mess which made him very uncomfortable. And the rebbe was a coarse person who unfortunately often used the back of his hand to communicate the lessons to the boys. The rebbe and his wife would often fight and yell at each other as well. Little Yisroel was a sensitive boy and he was extremely upset by every aspect of this cheder.

One day, when he could not tolerate it any more, little Yisroel skipped school and went to daven in the woods by the village for salvation from this cheder. He prayed, “My mother and father have left me, now Hashem gather me up!”. He sat under a tree and began to cry. He cried until his eyes closed, and he fell soundly asleep.

Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder and there was a man who he did not know standing there, which was unusual, because he knew every face in the small village. “Wake up!” The man said. “Wake up Srulik, I want to give you a brachah that you should have eyes to see.” Little Yisroel said, “Amen,” and with that, the man left.

Yisroel could not skip school forever and when he returned, he suddenly saw everything differently than before. When the rebbe got angry with the boys, little Srulik saw that this was because he felt ashamed of his poverty and lack of knowledge. When the rebbe fought with his wife, he saw that this was only because of the difficult circumstances of their lives, they could no longer see each other for who they were and could be. The Baal Shem Tov relates that after this bracha he never saw the world the same way again.

Reb Leibele Eiger explains: There are different ways for a person to be awakened. One Rosh HaShana Hashem gives us a Shofar, it's a loud noise, an alarm clock. Sometimes the alarm doesn't help, we're tuned out to it's sound. So in the long years of exile Hashem told us to turn on the lights, that’s the story of Chanukah.

But there is another way that we are awakened. Sometimes, we wake up in the middle of the night because we just remembered something. We're startled awake by a memory. Ah! Now I remember who I needed to call. Now I know what I was supposed to do! It’s a small, subtle voice – a קול דממה דקה. It whispers in our hearts; it’s giving us eyes to see, and ears to hear, and we can remember who was once wanted to be.

Chazal tell us that we don’t blow Shofar on Shabbos because today is not a Yom Teruah. Today is Zichron Teruah – a memory of Teruah. And indeed, we change our davening to reflect this memory. We remember the sound of the Shofar of Akeidas Yitzchak, of self sacrifice and ideals. We remember the Shofar of Har Sinai, when everything made sense, if even for a moment. We remember that the final Tekiah Gedola of history is yet to be heard. But when we hear it, the world will return to who and where we need to be.

This year there is no Shofar. But there is a voice inside of you, screaming in a whisper: Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! You have eyes to see and ears to hear. Remember who you are. Remember who you wanted to be.