Sinai Today: The simple truth
May we all merit to soon hear the sounds of “the great shofar of our freedom” heralding the Final Redemption for all klal Yisrael and all mankind.
Rabbi blowing shofar Photo: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.
One of the most significant moments of Jewish history took place between a
father and son on a lonely mountain top. Avraham had been prepared to sacrifice
Yitzhak, until G-d stopped him at the last moment. The ram, Yitzhak’s substitute
for the altar, was entangled in the bushes and as it extricated itself, it got
entangled again and again, lurching from bush to bush.
The Oral Torah,
recorded in the Midrash, says that with this picture Avraham was given a
prophetic vision about his children. He was given a glimpse into the future of
the great nation of Jews that would one day come from him. It was to be a future
of entanglements and complications, lurching from one entanglement to the next,
from one challenge to the next.
The Midrash says that the entanglements
come in two forms: internal and external – our sins from within and our enemies
from without. And so it has been throughout the millennia of Jewish history: All
crises and obstacles can be divided into one of these two categories,
assimilation or anti-Semitism, and sometimes both together.
Today we find
ourselves living part of that ancient prophetic vision revealed to our
One the one hand, we face fearsome external
Having recently extricated ourselves and survived, just barely,
the horrors of the Holocaust, we now face another enemy threatening the same
fate. Global anti-Semitism is on the rise and takes the form of a grotesque and
aggressive media and political campaign to demonize the Jewish state, and an
orchestrated and ruthless campaign of terror against Jewish targets all around
Today we are also entangled in the other major historical
threat that has plagued Jews throughout the millennia, that of assimilation and
loss of Torah values.
Whilst in certain sections of the Jewish world
there has been a miraculous revival, millions of others have drifted far from
Torah observance, and are even marrying out of the faith; a deep and wide
ignorance of anything Jewish has seeped into the essence of so many Jewish
communities around the world.
The prophetic vision shown to Avraham also
directs us on how to free ourselves from the entanglements of our times. The
Midrash says that the secret to our future is the shofar. The shofar blasts are
the sounds of freedom.
It is the call of the shofar that heralds the
Jubilee year, the year of freedom as the Torah states, “And you shall proclaim
freedom throughout the land” (Leviticus 25:10). These blasts are also the sounds
of our founding principles as a nation, given to us by G-d at Mount Sinai, where
a heavenly shofar heralded that awesome occasion as we heard the very first
words of our moral and strategic blueprint: “I am the Lord your G-d.” The shofar
on Rosh Hashana shows us that the path to freedom from the entanglements of life
is through returning to our core values as given to us by G-d in His
When confronted with the challenges of intermarriage and
assimilation, we need to return to our founding principles. One cannot argue
with history. History has proven time and again that the only form of Jewish
identity and value system which is sustainable generation after generation,
without fail, is that of authentic Torah Judaism. Only Jewish communities
centred around Torah learning and living have stood the test of time. Only
communities in which children learn Torah from a young age, and are raised to
live a life of mitzvot, are guaranteed to survive and thrive. There is no other
form of Jewish identity or living that has endured more than a few fleeting
generations before disappearing forever; no other system has produced an
unbroken chain of successive generations of strong, proud and inspired
We also need to return to our founding principles when confronting
those who seek the physical destruction of Israel. Our Torah gives us the sense
of divine purpose and mission to withstand the unrelenting attacks, and the
bravery and strength we need to ward off genocidal enemies and to face the
future with confidence. Our foundational moral and strategic blueprint – the
Torah – is particularly important when confronting the political and media
forces which seek to demonize, isolate and ultimately destroy Israel as a Jewish
state. It is through this overarching blueprint that we affirm our ancient
connection and moral right to the Land of Israel. From a position deeply rooted
in the Torah, we can proclaim with confidence to the world that we are not
colonial usurpers, and that Israel is an integral part of our identity and
The shofar is a plain, unadorned instrument that produces
simple, uncomplicated sounds. It calls us to return to our divine founding
principles of truth. The message of the shofar is that sometimes we
over-complicate our lives. Life may be difficult but its basic truths are
simple. We were created by G-d to fulfill His will, to sanctify His name and to
live in accordance with His Torah values. This is the heart and soul of our
mission on this earth. Straying from this straightforward path ultimately brings
unnecessary complication into our lives.
The image of the ram entangled
in the bushes is particularly poignant; the ram is unable to lift its head and
see the bigger picture. So too we often get so entangled in the complications
and entrapments of our destiny that we are unable to see the bigger picture and
see our greater calling. It is into these problems that the shofar enters, with
a call to a return to simple, clear values of who we are and where we come from,
and what our mission on earth is. The shofar has a message which is simple and
uncluttered: to successfully confront any challenges we need to return to our
nation’s founding principles. Life may be filled with difficulties and
complications, but our basic purpose on this earth is simple – to learn and live
our Torah values.
As millions of Jews around the world gather in
synagogues over this Rosh Hashana, may the sounds of the shofar which ring out
across the four corners of the globe bring the inspiration for us all to return
to our divine founding principles, which show us the path to the future, and may
we all merit to soon hear the sounds of “the great shofar of our freedom”
heralding the Final Redemption for all klal Yisrael and all mankind.
writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.