WHO'S IN CHARGE?
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich
If the High Holiday season beckons a Jew to arouse from his state of spiritual slumber and give careful thought to his direction in life, then the message of the shofar - which is the means by which we are to be aroused - deserves our careful attention.
If the High Holiday season beckons a Jew to arouse from his state of spiritual slumber and give careful thought to his direction in life, then the message of the shofar - which is the means by which we are to be aroused - deserves our careful attention. Interestingly, when discussing the criteria of a "kosher" shofar, the Talmud states that a horn taken from a cow is invalid. The reason given is because such a shofar would recall the sin of the golden calf (a young cow), thus disqualifying its utility as an appropriate advocate for the Jewish community on the Day of Judgment. How is this to be understood?
The Shem MiShmuel, an early 20th century classic work on Jewish thought, sees a novel but highly poignant message that the shofar communicates to us on Rosh Hashanah. Two sources must first be cited to appreciate this message: Firstly, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Tractate Ta'anit, chapter 2) equates the sound of the shofar with that of a groaning animal in the service of its master. Secondly, King David writes in Psalms, "Hashem brings salvation both to people and to animals" (36:7). Interestingly, the Talmud (Tractate Chullin 5b) interprets this verse to mean that G-d brings salvation to people with noble spirit who, although they may intellectually fathom the Divine directive, nonetheless faithfully submit to G-d's will as a faithful animal at work submits to the will of his master.
The critical idea portrayed by these rabbinic sources is that subservience to the Divine directives must be, at its roots, motivated by the awareness that Hashem wants something of me, rather than the fact that Hashem's will complies with what I deem to be logical and reasonable. To be sure, we are charged to intellectually explore the great wisdom of the Torah, but ultimately we are to accept the Divine yoke of mitzvot solely because it is G-d's command rather than because the mitzvot rationally appeal to our intellect.
The sin of the golden calf occurred because the Jewish people could not rationally see themselves without a leadership figure, be it physical or symbolic. They could not make the ultimate commitment to Hashem's commandment forbidding the fashioning of a graven image, because it did not seem rational for them to be without some tangible expression of leadership to which they could relate.
If the sounding of the shofar is to convey the sound of the faithful animal in the service of its master, we too must commit ourselves to the unconditional surrender of ourselves and our resources to the will of our Maker. This commitment serves as a powerful advocate for us on this Day of Judgment, when the Books of Life and Death are opened for review in the heavenly sphere. There can be no recalling of the tragic miscalculation which the Jewish people made with the sin of the golden calf, for that would expose our inability to faithfully submit to G-d when His law seems to be in conflict with the way we think that things ought to be.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us remember that if we are in fact to accept the sovereignty of G-d over our lives, it is we who must seek His approval and not, Heaven forbid, the reverse.
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich has been an educator at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over a decade.
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