What is the essence of our faith, the purpose for which the Jewish people have
been placed in the world? Fascinatingly enough, the answer is to be found
within the central prayer of our Rosh Hashana liturgy: the three blessings,
uniquely found within the Additional (Musaf) prayer of Rosh Hashana, of
“Malchuyot” (kingship), “Zichronot” (remembrances) and “Shofarot.” These
blessings are each punctuated by the sounds of the shofar, and according to the
14th- century theologian Rabbi Yosef Albo as well as the 19th-century Franz
Rosenzweig, contain the essence of our faith.
The ﬁrst of these
blessings, Malchuyot, begins with the more familiar “Alenu” prayer. This prayer
teaches that the God whom we now accept as the one Lord of the Universe, the God
of love, morality and peace, will eventually be accepted by the entire
This axiom of our religion, this prophecy of the ultimate endgame,
is especially comforting in the face of the dangerous global village in which we
live, a global village in which the specter of nuclear proliferation
This blessing afﬁrms that it is the God of compassionate
righteousness and moral justice who will eventually emerge supreme over the
totalitarian trinity of Nazi fascism, Stalinist Communism and Islamic
fundamentalism. Our broken world will eventually be perfected under the Kingship
of the God of righteousness; through the teachings of Abraham “all the families
of the Earth will be blessed” with a world of peace (Genesis 12:3).
second blessing, Zichronot, which is a Hebrew term for history, opens with: “You
remember the activities from the beginning of the world, and you are mindful of
the deeds [or the potential functions, from the Hebrew tafkid] of every creature
from earliest times.”
Here is a ringing declaration of faith in the
process of history; the clear sense that historical time is on the side of
humanity, and that individuals and nations have a unique role to play in the
cumulative march of history toward redemption. Israel alone of the nations of
the world enjoys a special relationship with God, a covenant which ensures its
eternity and deﬁnes its mission as the messenger of ethical monotheism to all of
This blessing guarantees that there is an overarching purpose
to history, which is not a cyclical, repetitive cycle leading nowhere but rather
a linear pathway leading to peace. Redemption will come about in the fullness of
historic time as a result of the cumulative merits of all preceding
How will we carry out our covenantal task of imparting our
message to the world? This is told to us by the third blessing, Shofarot, which
reminds us of the revelation at Sinai, the 613 commandments which God presented
to Israel and the seven commandments of morality, centering around “thou shalt
not murder,” which God presented to the world.
Maimonides, the great
codiﬁer of Jewish law, insists that just as God commanded Moses to bequeath 613
commandments to Israel, “similarly did He command Moses to coerce the nations of
the world to accept the seven laws of morality” (Laws of Kings
This is an immensely signiﬁcant message, especially in our
postmodern, relativistic, “everything goes” society, which denies any absolute
concept of morality.
“Situation ethics” dominates our conventional
wisdom, and the most heinous crime can become transformed into a sacred act
“when seen from the perpetrator’s point of view.” (Hence a suicide bomber who
murders innocent children is called a “freedom ﬁghter.”) Shofarot tells us that
the seven laws of morality which must be accepted by the nations are not
options, but absolutes, since – especially in our global village – the lives of
all humanity hang in the balance of their acceptance.
Hence the Rosh
Hashana Musaf Amida teaches that the nation of Israel must and will teach
fundamental morality, or ethical monotheism, to all the nations of the world.
Only when this message is accepted, when “this Torah comes forth from Zion and
the word of God from Jerusalem,” only then will “nation not lift up sword
against nation and humanity not learn war anymore,” and “everyone will sit under
his vineyard and ﬁg tree and no one will have reason to fear” (Micah
Each of these blessings is punctuated by the shofar sounding. After
God’s kingship we sound the shofar, the means by which the king in the ancient
world was crowned. Take note: It is us, the Jewish people, who must bring God
down into this world and crown Him.
After Zichronot we sound the shofar
as a reminder of the aborted sacriﬁce of Isaac in favor of the ram whose horns
were caught in the thicket. Isaac, the future of the Jewish people, was slated
for slaughter, but was set free.
The shofar sound after Zichronot reminds
us that the Jews will continue to live despite exile and persecution.
must live so that we may remain God’s witnesses and a light unto the nations of
the world (Isaiah 42:6).
Finally, we sound the shofar after Shofarot
since the method by which we must reach out to the world is by teaching the
world our Torah – a teaching revealed at Sinai amid the sounds of the
And it will ultimately be that when the Almighty Himself will
sound the shofar that all of the dispersed will return to Israel, the Temple
will be rebuilt and the nations will come to learn from us to beat their swords
into plowshares and to live together in peace.
SHABBAT SHALOM AND SHANA
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and
graduate programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.
His annual T’shuva Drasha
will take place at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, 56 King George Street on
Wednesday September 11, commencing at 8.00 pm.