Rosh Hashanah

The Sound of the Shofar: A Time to Cry

The last month of the year is already behind us. Then come the last 12 days, which correspond to all the months of the year. The last Shabbat, warns the Sefat Emet, corresponds to all the Shabbatot of the year, and we must therefore be especially vigilant in observing it. Then we have the last four days, the aweinspiring days of Selichot. And finally we come to the very last day, when many people take upon themselves a taanit dibbur. When the final hour comes upon us, all that is left for us to do is beseech, “Tehei hasha’ah hazot she’at rachamim v’et ratzon milfanecha.”

During the last hour before the final sun of the year sets, we recite the poetic words of a very beautiful song in our tefillah, “Achot Ketanah.” Penned by the master poet Rav Avraham Hazan Gerondi of Spain, each clause in this piyut ends with the words “Tichleh shanah v’kileloteha, may the year and its accompanying curses end.” Who is the achot ketanah in this piece, the “little sister” who is standing and davening for the geulah? It is our Mother Rachel. Why does he mention her now, as we stand at the threshold of a brand new year?

Because our Ima Rachel doesn’t daven anymore; after so many years of waiting and waiting, after so many akeidot that she has sacrificed, she has no words left, only a voice. “Kol beramah nishma” only her voice is heard, like the wordless voice of the shofar. Why doesn’t she say anything? Why don’t we say anything when the shofar is blown? The Baal Shem Tov gives the answer with a parable about a king whose children are lost for many years in a vast forest.

At first, they scream out to him, “Father, Father, please save us!” But he doesn’t answer. Finally, after years of fruitless requests, one of the sons says to his siblings, “I know why he’s not answering us. We don’t remember his language anymore! Let’s shout wordlessly until he finds us.” The Baal Shem Tov says that, sadly, we have forgotten the language of our Father. We’ve sullied our mouths to the extent that they cannot speak the holy language of the Ribbono Shel Olam. Only the voice of the shofar,the voice of Rachel’s cries,can still save us. The voice of the shofar is the voice of all the desperate women in klal Yisrael, who, like our Ima Rachel, are waiting for redemption.

The Midrash tells us something very beautiful about Sarah’s end and how it is connected to the tekiot on Rosh Hashanah. When Yitzchak lay on the altar, understanding clearly that in moments his father would offer him as a korban to Hashem, he asked Avraham, “What are you going to tell Ima?” That was his last worry—his mother.

At that moment, the Satan approached Sarah and asked her, “Where is your son?” She answered, “He’s learning in the yeshivah.” The Satan replied, “Zekeinah tipshah, you elderly fool, your husband took your son high into the hills and put a large knife to his throat.” At that moment, Sarah emitted a visceral scream: “Nooo!” That’s the flat sound of the tekiah. Then she broke down and cried, which corresponds to the shattered sound of the shevarim. And then she screamed, “Nooo!” once again, another long tekiah, after which her heart gave out.

The Midrash says that the kol shofar is the cry of all the mothers in all generations. It is the cry of all Jewish women who are akudim, bound to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, even as they wait. When the shofar is blown, it is a time of maternal anguish and tears. “Sarah, why didn’t you wait?” asks Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rav of Piaseczna and author of the popular Chovat Hatalmidim, who served as a spiritual guide to many during the anguished period of the Holocaust. “If you had waited only one more moment, you’d have heard the Satan’s next words—that Yitzchak was ultimately spared.”

His revolutionary answer teaches us an inspiring lesson about our selfless Mother Sarah. Sarah was a neviah, he says, so she knew that her son would live. However, she wanted her cries to serve as a plea to Hashem on behalf of all future generations: “Even if my son eventually returns, even if this Holocaust ultimately ends, even if this woman’s cancer is healed after years of treatment, we can’t wait!

We mothers don’t have the koach for this. Even if we know that yashar Kel, Hashem’s ways are just, even as we wait with emunah for a shidduch, a child, the return of a wayward son—it’s just too hard for us. Ribbono Shel Olam, please bring us the final geulah already.” Imagine! This was our Mother Sarah’s selfless focus during those painful moments.

She sacrificed her life in the hope of sparing all future mothers anguish. The Ari Hakadosh tells us that although most poskim say it is forbidden to cry on Rosh Hashanah (we are meant to tremble with joy—gilu bir’adah), for those who cry during tekiat shofar, it’s a siman that they possess a holy neshamah. Tekiat shofar is a time of crying; it is the collective voice of all of our cries over the generations.

The Ari Hakadosh continues that if a Yid suddenly feels the urge to cry on Rosh Hashanah, he should allow his tears to flow freely during those few moments of inspiration, for this urge is a sign that he is being judged right then, and it is therefore the opportune time for him to repent with his whole heart.

Dear Jewish woman, as you stand in the beit knesset this year during the tekiot, remember that this is the time for you to cry—a wordless cry like the kol beramah of our Ima Rachel, like the piercing cries of our Mother Sarah. It is the moment when all human voices penetrate the skies. Yehi ratzon that in the merit of our good deeds and our desire to be the best we can be, we will be zocheh to hear the shofar shel Mashiach and to shed only tears of complete joy.

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