As the sun sets on the last day of 5775 and we usher in the new year, we will simultaneously take leave of the shmita year.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
When a baby is in its mother’s womb, according to the Gemara, it can see from one side of the world to the other. Obviously this cannot be understood on a literal, physical level. What our sages are conveying to us through this vivid description is that vision is one of the most important aspects of human greatness.
Vision is the intellectual clarity to grasp the ultimate purpose of life; the emotional power to transcend our current circumstances, to see beyond what’s immediately in front of us; and the spiritual inspiration to rise above the travails of life in order to understand the big picture, the full perspective of why we are here on this earth.
Often, we get so engrossed and entangled in our day-to-day challenges that we don’t stop to think about why we are here in the first place, and whether we are fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. In the rush and pressure of daily life we often lose sight of the big picture, of our lofty purpose.
Rosh Hashana is a time to step back and regain our lost vision. And the call of the shofar is how we do it. The Rambam writes that the message of the shofar is to “awaken those who are asleep.” The analogy to sleep is profound. The dreams we experience in our sleep seem so real at the time, yet the moment we wake up we realize they were merely illusions. So, too, we often live life in a spiritual slumber; we dream of accumulating material possessions and indulging ourselves to the greatest extent, and we forget about any higher purpose. The shofar is a call from G-d to wake up to that higher purpose – to remember why we are in this world in the first place; it is a call to regain our vision, to transcend our daily entanglements and return to the basics. It is a call to our souls to return to the reality of why G-d created us – to live a life of good deeds and in so doing, make the world into a better place.
IT IS SIGNIFICANT that Rosh Hashana, the day of repentance and judgment, takes place on the anniversary of the creation of the world. There is a deep connection between these two aspects of the day. The fact that G-d created the world means that life has an elevated, Divine purpose. At the heart and soul of the Judaism’s worldview is the idea that life has purpose; that G-d created each and every one of us to carry out a unique mission in this world, fulfilling His commandments and living life on an elevated plane. People can so easily forget the purpose of life, and slip into a dream-like state of being, where trivial matters assume inflated importance, and important values are forgotten. The shofar, with it simple call to clarity of purpose, awakens us to see the world the way it is instead of how it appears when we are in a state of spiritual sleep. G-d has given us the incredible gift of Rosh Hashana to wake us up and reconnect us with who we are and why we are here.
Reconnecting with our soul and with our deepest Divine purpose in this world brings with it invigorating joy. This is why Rosh Hashana – though it is a day of judgment and introspection – is also celebrated as a festival. It is a day on which we celebrate the profound joy of knowing our purpose, of renewing our sense of purpose and recapturing the transcendent vision of life we all saw so perfectly in the womb.
This is the third in a three-part series. The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.