The Jerusalem Talmud notes in a remarkable passage that: “Regarding all holiday sacrifices the Torah asserts, ‘You shall sacrifice,’ ve-hikravtem, (cf. Nu. 28: 19, 27; 29: 8, 13, 36), whereas regarding Rosh Hashanah the imperative is ‘You shall make,’ va-asitem.” Why? God says, “Since you came before me in judgment and have emerged in peace, I attribute asiyah (making, creating) to you, as if you remade yourselves and have been recreated as new beings” (RH 4:8).
Herein the rabbis reveal one of the grand notions of Judaism: that we are not fated and pre-determined to live in a particular way. Rather, we have the freedom to change and redirect our lives. The process is called Teshuva (return, repentance) and it constitutes a gift that our tradition has bequeathed to us: the ability to assess where we are and to alter our course. My revered teacher, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, in his programmatic essay, Halakhic Man, pushes the talmudic insight so as to claim that “Repentance, according to the halakhic view, is an act of creation – self-creation.” Arguing that there is no Biblical narrative without normative significance, he insists that the creation chapters are intended to obligate humanity to become co-creators, God’s partners in creation. And as partners we must complete, refine and, in the case of our own person, recreate.
I find this idea, this charge daunting and inspiring: daunting in that it imposes on me an enormous burden; inspiring in that it liberates me to lift myself up and start anew, as if to say, “I am someone else, not the same person who committed those deeds” (Maimonides, Teshuva 2:4). I am a new “I” possessing a new consciousness with a new heart and spirit.
The shofar that we sound is, in this context, the herald of this creative freedom. Since the detailed rules of the Rosh Hashanah shofar are derived from an analogy to the Jubilee shofar, we conclude that, just as the tekia of the Jubilee proclaims freedom (freeing the slaves), so too does the shofar of Rosh Hashanah arouse us to free ourselves from patterns of self-enslavement and hurtful behavior. As a result, we can begin to rebuild our character and refine our morals, and can aspire to realize the Divine potential that inheres in us all.
With sincere wishes for a reflective period that inspires recreation –
Shana Tova –
A year of health, love and peace,
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Hillel at UCLA