(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
‘And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel: “Be
strong and of good courage; for thou shalt go with this people into the land
which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause
them to inherit it”’ (Vayelech; Deuteronomy 31:7)
In last week’s commentary on Rosh
Hashana, the anniversary of the day on which the world was conceived, I
explained the sighing-sobbing sounds of the shofar as the natural response of
the Jew to an incomplete, imperfect world of evil as well as good; chaos as well
as order. We are entrusted with the mission of bringing down the Divine
attributes of lovingkindness and courage, of compassionate righteousness and
moral justice, to suffuse society with freedom and peace in order to perfect and
complete the world in the Kingship of the Divine.
This is the message of
the firm, exultant and victorious “tekiya” sound of the shofar, when we crown
God as King of the Universe.
This task is not a simple one; it requires
our becoming a holy nation and a kingdom whose every citizen is a successful
teacher of morality to the world. Hence, Rosh Hashana begins a period of
teshuva, or repentance, which must continue until it succeeds – however long
that may take. It will require the cumulative commitment of many generations to
the retelling and then reliving of the biblical narrative and to scrupulous
observance of God’s will.
Rosh Hashana is a joyous festival because we
have God’s biblical promise that we will eventually succeed.
those verses of our success again and again in our Yom Kippur
But there is a second significance to the broken, crying sound
of the shofar. It is the existential sound of the individual who is living life
within a vale of tears, who often doubts that this world will ever be perfected
in the Kingship of the Divine, who always doubts that he will have the strength
of will and character to make the world any better and who even doubts that the
world had a Creator in the first place.
Although such a train of thought
may initially release the questioner from certain ethical and ritual
responsibilities, it can only lead to a dead end. If life is merely a “tale told
by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” why go through the
struggle? The specter of a Sartrian world to which there is no exit other than
suicide hardly leaves one with a life worth living or worth reproducing. It only
leaves one trembling in fear before a dark, black hole of
These questions plagued the children of Israel in the wake
of the sin of the Golden Calf. Having experienced the concern, the miracles and
wonders of the Lord during the Exodus, as well as the riveting Revelation at
Sinai at which they actually heard the Word of the Divine, how could they
possibly have fallen prey to the orgiastic abandon of wild Dionysiac debauchery?
Moses, the source of their connection to God, had seemingly disappeared; they
felt bereft and abandoned and so they lost themselves in a momentary “escape
from freedom” and responsibility.
Moses is so frustrated that he smashes
the sacred tablets. He beseeches God first to forgive Israel and then to teach
the next generations how to deal with probable recurrences in the future. He
says, “Make Your ways known to me,” now the Israelites must act to find favor in
your eyes, and “Show me Your glory in this world” – what truly characterizes You
and Your relationship to us.
God then tells Moses to stand in the cleft
of a rock in the mountain range of Sinai, to ready himself for the second
Revelation, the continuation of the Ten Commandments; God will reveal to Moses
His Name, His face, as it were, the aspect of God that may be grasped by the
And this is the Divine Revelation on the 10th day of Tishrei,
Yom Kippur: “Havaya Havaya…” the Ineffable Name of God, of Havaya, which means
literally “to bring into being, to create,” and which the talmudic sages
identify as the God of infinite and unconditional love. The name is repeated
twice, and as our Sages interpret, “I am the God who loves you before you sin
and I am the God who loves you after you sin” – unconditional love.
first Havaya explains that since God’s essence is love, His first human
emanation, the human being, also has most fundamentally the transcendent power
to love another and thereby to perfect himself and the world. The second Havaya
explains that although the human being will fail and will sin along the way, God
will always be ready to forgive us as long as we seek forgiveness.
God goes one step further. Yes, in our imperfect and incomplete world, it is
often difficult to find God, to sense His presence and recognize His concern. It
is even more difficult to bring the Divine Majesty to this often corrupt and
evil world. But once a year, God will seek us, God will “come down” to us in His
cloud of glory, God will knock on our door with His gift of unconditional
forgiveness. All we need do is open the door for Him and let Him in – into our
hearts, where He can already be found and into our homes and our
This is the magical gift of Yom Kippur, the day of consummate
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone
Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.