As 5776 draws to a close, Jews throughout the globe are engaged in introspection and soul-searching. As we reflect on the year that has passed, we find ourselves engulfed in a sea of memories and waves of powerful emotions.
In many hearts, there is a profound feeling of appreciation that, baruch Hashem, another Tishrei is almost upon us. For those who saw the fervent tefillos they uttered last Rosh Hashanah answered and merited that their fondest dreams came to fruition, they enter Rosh Hashanah filled with immense gratitude towards Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Yet for many others, the past 13 months constituted a year of dashed hopes and shattered dreams, yet another year of experiencing the anguish of waiting for a yeshuah that has yet to materialize, or even, Rachmana litzlan, a devastating personal loss.
Then there are a great many individuals whose hearts are torn by conflicting emotions. They are cognizant of how much they should be thankful for, but also filled with searing pain. For some, their situation — although perhaps not in detail — is known; for others, only Hashem, and perhaps their immediate relatives, know the agony they are experiencing.
For all of creation, from man to angel, Rosh Hashanah is a time of fear and trepidation. But it is also a day of bitachon, of hope and optimism.
On Erev Rosh Hashanah we take haircuts and on Rosh Hashanah day we eat and drink at the Yom Tov seudah amid expressions of our bitachon that in His infinite mercy, Hashem answered our tefillos and we emerged victorious in our judgment.
As we declare in V’chol Maaminim, we “all believe that He can do anything.” There are no limits to His abilities and no boundaries to His compassion. In a split second, he can sew together the most shattered heart and heal the most tortured soul.
As we recite in every Shemoneh Esrei throughout the year, Hakadosh Baruch Hu is a matzmiach yeshuah. It is from a decayed seed buried deep in the ground, unseen even to most sharp-eyed observers, that a magnificent new fruit will emerge. Often, our salvation comes in a way and at a time that it is least expected. It is crucial that we recognize that the incredible power of tefillah and bitachon ensures us that neither the painful events of the past nor the most expert predictions of the present have any say in what the new year will bring.
Harav Yisrael Mordechai Twersky, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe of Yerushalayim, zy”a, taught that we eat various simanim for a good year, but “simchah is also a siman!”
Indeed, this is a day of judgment and fear, but it is also a day on which we should be clearly exuberant over the coronation of Hashem as our King, and full of optimism and hope for the coming year.
Few sounds elicit the powerful emotions that greet the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Throughout the generations, the call of the shofar has been associated with stern judgment; this piercing sound fills the Jewish heart with enormous fear and trepidation.
Yet the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 29:5) tells us that with the sounding of the shofar, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, k’vayachol, rises from the throne of judgment and sits on the throne of mercy.
So, which attribute does the shofar represent? Judgment or mercy?
The Rebbe, Harav Yonason Eibschutz, zy”a, explains that the answer to this question is already alluded to in the poignant and powerful words of the piyut U’nesaneh Tokef. “Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening … The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them and they will say — it is the Day of Judgment!”
The sound of the shofar does indeed symbolize strict judgment, but the judgment On High doesn’t commence until the shofar is sounded in this temporal world.
As the prosecuting angels gather in Shamayim seeking to condemn Am Yisrael, it seems as if our case is lost, with no one to come to our aid.
But then the shofar is blown below, and in response, the sound of a shofar is also heard Above. The prosecuting angels are filled with trembling and terror as they declare, “It is the Day of Judgment!” In their haste and grave worries over their own fate, they desist from speaking ill against Klal Yisrael, allowing us to emerge victorious in judgment. The same sound of the shofar that bodes judgment to the angels represents the attribute of Heavenly mercy to Klal Yisrael.
May the Ribbono shel Olam grant each and every member of Klal Yisrael a kesivah vachasimah tovah, a year of health and prosperity in both a physical and spiritual sense, a year in which we merit to clearly see the kindness of Hashem in all aspects of our lives, and most vitally, the year in which we will finally merit to hear the kol shofar of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.