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S.A.L.T. - Tuesday

Rav David Silverberg


          The Rambam, in Hilkhot Teshuva (3:4), famously comments that the shofar symbolizes the need to “awaken,” to introspect and improve our behavior.  He writes:

Even though sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Scriptural decree, it [also] contains an allusion, as if to say: Awaken, those who sleep, from your sleep, and arise, those who slumber, from your slumber; inspect your deeds and perform repentance, and remember your Creator…

The piercing sound of the shofar represents the “wakeup call” that we need, shaking us from our complacency and our inattentiveness, and alerting us to the need to closely examine our conduct and make the changes that we need to make. 

          The Tolna Rebbe further develops this concept, explaining more fully the “awakening” which we are to experience on Rosh Hashanah.  Rav Yaakov Yitzchak of Pashischa (the “Yehudi Ha-kadosh”) noted that the mitzva of shofar is alluded to in a verse in Parashat Nitzavim (Devarim 29:17), in which Moshe warns the people of a “shoresh poreh rosh ve-la’ana” – a “root” from which spiritual “disease” (literally, “poison and wormwood”) could sprout.  The first letters of these words (shin, peh, reish and vav) are the same letters that spell the word “shofar,” thus alluding to the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.  The Tolna Rebbe explained that the purpose of the shofar blowing is to eliminate the “root” of sinfulness within us.  Just as a plant’s roots are embedded deep in the ground, out of human sight, we similarly all have a “root” of evil within our beings of which we might not be aware, negative characteristics and incorrect perceptions which yield improper behavior.  As we are naturally predisposed to judge ourselves favorably, we often fail to recognize these “roots,” our subtle faults and misconceptions, and so we cannot address them.  By associating the mitzva of shofar with Moshe’s warning of the “shoresh poreh rosh ve-la’ana” – the “root” of evil – within our beings, the Yehudi Ha-kadosh teaches that the shofar blowing is to “awaken” us in the sense of drawing our attention to the hidden “roots” of negative behavior within us.  It calls upon us to look honestly and thoroughly within our characters to identify the flaws which we normally do not see.  We are to “awaken” from the “slumber” of our delusion, of our comfortable assumptions about who we are, and try to find the concealed “roots,” our less obvious faults and shortcomings.  This process, difficult as it may be, is necessary for us to uproot our negative traits, thereby ensuring that they never produce “fruit” in the form of misconduct, and helping us become the devoted servants of God that we are supposed to be.



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