The Shofar’s Wake-Up Call for Our Generation

One of the most famous reasons given for tekias shofar on Rosh Hashanah is found in the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4), who says: “Uru yesheinim mi’sheinaschem” — it is a wakeup call for those in a spiritual slumber.

My Rebbi, Harav Chaim Dov Keller, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Telshe-Chicago, offers an interesting explanation of this Rambam. People who sleep often have dreams. Dreams are the “koach hadimyon” — they present a “real-life” experience, but in actuality there is nothing there. We often have all sorts of dreams while awake as well — we dream about someone else’s success and wonder why we have not found it (kinah), we dream about obtaining more pleasure (taavah), and we dream about receiving more attention and honor (kavod). Uru yesheinim mi’sheinaschem — the shofar blows and tells us to wake up and stop dreaming because these desires are only dreams — the koach hadimyon. They appear to be wonderful, but they are not.

Chazal tell us that kinah, taavah and kavod are destructive. This is the meaning of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (4:28) which states in the name of Rabi Elazar Hakappar that they are motzi’in es ha’adam min ha’olam — they take a person out of the world. This means not only Olam Haba but also Olam Hazeh. One simply can look at the lives of so many famous personalities in this country. These “stars” who are idolized by most of the nation have all the taavah and kavod imaginable —what most people think brings happiness — yet many live in misery, often with substance abuse, broken marriages and families, and unhappy lives. When Yidden struggle with these dreams of kinah, kavod, and taavah, R”l, havoc is wreaked as well.

There is a parallel Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:22) that tells us to be students of the person we discuss most frequently on Rosh Hashanah — Avraham Avinu. We are advised to have an ayin tovah (to view others favorably without kinah), ruach nemuchah (to be humble and not pursue honor), and nefesh shefeilah (to have minimal needs and avoid taavah) — all middos of Avraham Avinu.

Who in Tanach created an opposite force of tumah to the kedushah brought into this world by Avraham and his aishes chayil, Sarah? This Mishnah tells us it was Bilaam Harasha, who had an ayin ra’ah (i.e., kinah), ruach gevohah (arrogance, always seeking honor), and nefesh rechavah (taavah). He was the opposite of Avraham Avinu.

If we expand on an idea discussed in the Maharal, we see how fascinating it is that the story of Avraham Avinu at the Akeidah has so many similarities and contrasts to the story of Bilaam when he attempted to curse Klal Yisrael. Out of love for Hashem, Avraham awoke early and saddled his donkey, an act beneath his dignity. Bilaam did the same action out of hatred for the Jewish people. They were both escorted by two ne’arim, both were confronted by an angel, and both stories include a sharp-bladed object. An animal from brias ha’olam plays an integral part in both stories, as the ram that Avraham saw and sacrificed at the Akeidah, and which was the basis of the mitzvah of tekias shofar on Rosh Hashanah, was from Creation. Furthermore, some opinions understand that which Chazal state that the pi ha’ason was created at twilight of the Friday night of Creation means the entire donkey was created at that time. The animals lived over 2000 years, each dying shortly after the event in which it is discussed in the Torah.

What lesson is to be learned from this comparison? First, we must strive in life to be a student of Avraham Avinu and not follow our dreams addressed above. This brings kvod Shamayim and assists us, our families, communities and Klal Yisrael. Furthermore, there is something else that happens when we follow the ways of Avraham Avinu and not Bilaam.

Rashi in Parashas Balak (Bamidbar 22:21) tells us that when Bilaam woke up early to saddle his donkey and curse Klal Yisrael, the Ribbono shel Olam told him that Avraham Avinu had already woken up early (see Parashas Vayeira 22:3). What does this mean? Didn’t Avraham Avinu live hundreds of years earlier? Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explains that Bilaam woke up early to create a complaint in Heaven upon Klal Yisrael, as if to claim, “I get up early for my tasks; Klal Yisrael does not do so for their obligations.” The Ribbono shel Olam responded, “Long before you were born, Avraham woke up early to do mitzvos.” The ability for Yidden to emulate Avraham Avinu in this way is a great zechus for them.

The mussar of this yesod is quite practical: Does the general population fulfill their cultural needs with more gusto than we perform our mitzvos? They camp out overnight in parking lots to purchase front-row tickets to concerts. They wait in line in the rain for hours in front of an electronics store to be among the “asarah rishonim” to purchase the latest new gadget being sold at midnight. In order to “be there,” they sit for several hours in winter’s frigid weather in stadiums, watching a game they could have viewed from the comfort of their cozy living rooms.

We must wake up from our slumber and ask ourselves if we are as committed to our mitzvos. Do we go above and beyond to help a fellow Yid even if it means some discomfort for us? Do we go the extra mile to attend a shiur or learn with our chavrusa? Do we engage our minds with proper kavanah when we daven? Do we walk away from machlokes even if we know we are right? We need to emulate Avraham Avinu with his mesirus nefesh in performing mitzvos; Klal Yisrael must not be outdone by our non-Jewish peers!

May heeding this wake-up call, b’ezras Hashem, grant us and our mishpachos a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Rabbi Dovid Heber is Rav, Khal Ahavas Yisroel Tzemach Tzedek – Baltimore and Kashrus Administrator, Star-K Kosher Certification