INCREDIBLE ILLUMINATION: ROSH HASHANAH
Shira Smiles shiur 5782/Erev 5783
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
From the beginning of Elul until Hoshanah Rabba we add Psalm 27 to our daily prayers: "Ledovid Hashem ohri v'yishi.../By David, Hashem is my light and my salvation." Our medrash teaches that ohri/my light refers to Rosh Hashanah while yishi/my salvation refers to Yom Kippur. In other words, light is the essence of Rosh Hashanah, explains Rabbi Bernstein. Why is Rosh Hashanah called a day of light when it is generally named Rosh Hashanah/the Beginning [Head] of the Year, Yom Hazikaron/Day of Remembrance, or Yom Teruah/Day of Blowing the shofar? What is the connection between the shofar and light, and between light and salvation, asks Rabbi Roth in Sichot Eliyahu.
In Shevivei Ohr, Rabbi Yaakov Katz starts with another source. Verses 11-13 in Psalm 96 state: "Yismichu hashamayim vetageil ha'aretz... /The heavens will be glad and the earth will rejoice... before Hashem,... for He will have arrived to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth." So while Hashem's coming evokes fear and trepidation, it also inspires joy, for Hashem is coming to each of us individually, whoever opens his heart to Him.
While Hashem is always here, we live in a world of darkness and trepidation. It is only with a flash of light that we begin to see ourselves and our world clearly. We understand what Hashem wants of me and recognize that these obligations are indicative of the greatness within each of us. We see the world as Hashem's domain, and we feel Hashem shining His light upon us. We need to use this light effectively.
This light is not a new light. It is the primal, hidden light of creation. the light that enabled Adam to see "from one end of the world to the other end." We have a glimmer of that light on Rosh Hashanah, when Hashem "comes down" into our world as He came down to Adam and Chavah in the garden of Eden. As Hashem asked Adam, "Ayekah/Where are you," so does He ask each of us where we are on Rosh Hashanah.
What voice of Hashem did Adam and Chavah hear in the garden, asks the Shvilei Pinchas? It was the sound of the shofar, asking them—and asking us every year - "Where are you?"
This primal light does not appear automatically, writes Moda Labinah. The shofar awakens us to it. We are blessed if we understand the sound of teruah/shofar blast (Tehillim 89:17). When we hear the shofar, we have to imagine we are in the darkness awaiting the illumination of Hashem's arrival. But you have to know what you are looking for now that the light is turned on. As Rabbi Roberts relates, citing Rabbi Chasman, we live in a world of illusion, as within a darkened movie theater. However, when we turn on the light, the illusion presented by the Satan onto the screen in front of us disappears. We are in the midst of reality. Rosh Hashanah shines that light on our world and helps us see reality. Let us use this light to examine our values, to see whether we are spending our time and our money on things of true value.
The first 2,000 years after creation, after Adam's sin, were years of tohu/desolation. The primal light was hidden, waiting to be revealed again when Hashem would again come down to give us the Torah at Sinai, writes Rabbi Roth. Then we again saw clearly that the only reality is Hashem, for a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light. Torah illuminates the path to reconnect with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Fittingly, all the proof text verses in the Shofrot section of the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf Prayer refer to receiving the Torah. The sound of the shofar is the wordless communication that wakes us up to see the light and the truth we saw at Sinai. While we live in a physical world and must acknowledge physical needs, we must establish a balance that creates a meaningful life of connection, not an empty life consisting only of ephemeral material things that disappear when one searches for true meaning.
Rosh Hashanah is a time we are reborn to start life as a new person. It is a day of judging and accounting. All that is concealed comes before Hashem on this day to be fully weighed as good or bad, in the absolutes that only Hashem sees, not as we judge them relatively. We rationalize, have hidden motivations that we often are not aware of ourselves. Hashem sees what is truly motivating us. While we are surrounded by so many good middos/character attributes, we nevertheless tend to remain focused on ourselves, on what other people may think of me, or on how my action will give me greater profit, observes Rabbi Shach in Machshevet Mussar. How often do we ask ourselves what Hashem will think of our action?
When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers they were stunned speechless. They suddenly realized that their entire perception of Yosef had been through the lens of their own jealousy, of their own egos rather than through the truth of who Yosef himself was. When Hashem confronts us with our own egos, how will we react?
Rosh Hashanah gives us the opportunity to look at the world through the lens of reality, with the lights turned on. We can ask ourselves how we focus on ourselves, on our responses, rather than on the other person, when we are in dialogue with others. We must ask ourselves in every situation, not what I want, but what Hashem wants of me. Zichronos/Remembrance, Hashem remembers us through all our actions and interactions.
Hashem's memory is all encompassing. It includes not only all our actions and words, but all our motivations, all our circumstances, both positive and extenuating, and our potential versus our actual accomplishment. And just as Hashem judges us in all these ways, so must we also examine our lives and hold ourselves accountable, to live up to our potential and the greatness Hashem has invested in us. As we try to judge ourselves positively, so should we also judge others positively, and try to build them up. The light shines on us to judge ourselves and for us to light the path others must walk. If you help light the path of others, Hashem will shed light on you.
We have discussed the symbolism of light with regard to Hashem's Kingship and with regard to Remembrance. Now let us turn to the light that turns our gaze upward. As we articulate our deepest feeling through our mouths, so does the sound of the shofar begin in the mouth and emanate upward, writes the Tosher Rebbe in Avodat Avodah. The sound of the shofar awakens the truth deep within us that Hashem breathed into us when He created us and gave us life. As the verse states, "Elokhim has ascended with a teruah/blast, Hashem [YKVK] with the sound of the shofar" (Tehillim 47:6). It is this light that illuminates and maintains the world. With the sound of the shofar, the blankets of nature, represented by the Name Elokhim that obscure God's presence, are pierced, and the primal light of Hashem is revealed.
When that light comes, we look outward, inward, and upward to transform ourselves. On Rosh Hashanah, we realize again that we are living with Hashem, in His country, not as tourists, but as citizens. We dress like His subjects, eat the foods of His nation, and act according to their rules and customs, writes Rabbi Pincus. This is what it means to accept Hashem as our King. This is a process that will be completed on Yom Hakippurim.
The second half of the verse we cited earlier (Tehillim 89:16), those who know and understand the sound of the shofar "in the light of Your countenance will they walk." The shining of Hashem's light is the source of all salvation and blessings, writes Rabbi Reiss in Pa'amei Moed. Our prayer is to be able to walk in His light, in His kingdom, for it is His light that animates our lives.
In Shevivei Ohr, Rabbi Katz give us a profound insight. Light has a fundamental characteristic different from other entities. If I fill a bottle with water, then cap it and separate it from its source, the bottle still contains the water. Similarly, if I fill a balloon with air, stop blowing into it and tie the balloon, the balloon remains filled with air. Not so with light. If light flows into a room through its windows, if I create a barrier by covering the windows [think blackout shades CKS] the room becomes dark. the room remains lit only when it is still connected to its source. So too are we only fully alive and animated when we remain connected to Hashem's light within us. The entire world can only continue to exist if Hashem continues to shine His light upon it, a light we are privileged to get a pure glimpse of every year on Rosh Hashanah.
May Hashem shine His light upon us and bless us throughout the coming year.