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 credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)
Rabbi blowing shofar
(photo credit: 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 forefather Avraham.
One the one hand, we face fearsome external enemies.
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 the world.
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 Torah.
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 Jews.
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 divine mission.
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.
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.