Rosh Hashannah Articles

 
THE BROWNLEE BROTHERS - A LESSON FROM THE SOUNDING OF THE SHOFAR

by Rabbi Hackenbroch

The summer was dominated with the great spectacle of the Rio Olympics.  An opportunity to see athletes in peak fitness, the very best competed to become crowned as champions.

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of Rio Olympics was the Triathlon event which was dominated by two brothers from Yorkshire in England, Alistair Brownlee who won the event and his brother Jonny who was silver medallist. This week saw them compete in the Triathlon World series in Mexico. A gruelling 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km cycle and finally a 10km run all under the most hot and humid conditions. The event shouldn’t have made the headlines, and the video of them finishing no one would have expected to go viral, yet it did due to the unprecedented manner in which they completed the race.

With 700m to the finish line disaster struck Jonny who was on the verge of winning the race. He was totally dehydrated due to the intensity of the 33 degree heat and suffering from exhaustion. His legs started to wobble so much so that it became clear he simply couldn’t carry on. His brother Alistair together with the other runners were catching him up and Jonny was frozen to the spot his legs wouldn’t move.  His brother Alistair was faced with a moral dilemma and had to make a split decision. Should he continue to race past his struggling brother to the finish line, there were medical staff on hand to assist him and thereby win the race or to give up on his personal ambition and   help his brother finish the race. Despite training and preparing for the last year to win and being intensely competitive it wasn’t a question in Alistair’s mind as he recounted later. He put his brother’s arm around his neck and arm in arm he carried his brother over the finish line, enabling them to finish second and third respectively. The cameras and the world’s media clambered around them as they collapsed to the ground ignoring the new champion. This was something unprecedented, there was even an unsuccessful appeal to have Jonny disqualified for having an unfair advantage at being helped by his brother.

Reflecting from his hospital bed after the race Jonny Brownlee said “"Alistair had the chance to win but threw that away to help me out, I'll be thankful for the rest of my life.

"Obviously it takes a very strong and good person to do that. Sometimes in sport we talk about winning being the most important thing in the world. A lot of times it is, but maybe helping a brother out was more important."

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, it is a welcome opportunity for reflection and introspection on the lives we lead. The long blast of the Shofar symbolises that drive and ambition to achieve and accomplish our potential our goals and dreams. But whilst doing so it is punctured by the Teruah the broken crying sound, symbolising the cry for help and assistance from others. It is crucial for us to consider as we approach Rosh Hashanah whether we have struck the right balance in our lives. The balance between the Tekiah and Teruah between focusing on self -achievement and stopping along that path of personal accomplishment to assist others to hear their cry for help. Ensuring that we both are driven to achieve and grow spiritually in the year as well as giving a helping hand to supporting others will ensure as a nation we are all winners this coming year

Published in Association with Aish

 
THE TWO POCKETS AND THE CRY OF THE SHOFAR

by Maureen Kendler 

Teaching Fellow and Lead Tutor LSJS

The cathartic "Avinu Malkeinu" prayer which we recite on Rosh Hashanahasking "our Father Our King" for forgiveness ends on a note of despair, saying "we are empty of good deeds." It is a moment of supreme humilty, where our self-esteem momentarily shrivels. If the last line of the Avinu Malkeinu was a sound it would be the cry of the shofar, a painful, pleading wail.

 

Why is the shofar is the key iconic sound of Rosh Hashana? The two source texts in the Torah for Rosh Hashana ( Vayikra (23:24 and Bamidbar 29:1)) refer to this day as Yom Teruah, a day of "blasting" or a day to "commemorate a blast." But it does not specify which "blaster" of the Jewish orchestra should make this noise: the shofar is not mentioned. And there are two Biblical instrumental candidates for the job. In the Torah and the Temple, a silver trumpet - a hazozrah - makes the teruah and tekiah sounds just as loudly as a shofar .

 

After a debate in the Mishna (Tractate Rosh Hashana) the shofar won over the trumpet for being blown on the New Year, and the link with the Akeida, the sacrifice of Isaac and the sounding of the shofar on Mount Sinai surely contributed to that decision. Also it is associated with a submissive demeanour, whereas the trumpet has more triumphant, military connotations.. After another discussion recorded in the same section of the Mishnah, the Rabbis chose a twisted ram's horn over the long, straight horn of the wild goat because the lowly, contorted ram's horn suits our "Avinu Malkeinu" mood.

 

But the spirit of the assertive, confident hazozrah is also part of the Musaf service which closes by proclaiming to God "Hayom Te'amtzainu: "You will strengthen us today", with six verses repeating that message to which we all say "Amen."

 

Rabbi Simhah Bunim of Przysucha (1765-1827) wrote:

 

"A person should have two pieces of paper, one in each pocket, to be used as necessary. On one of them is written, 'The world was created for me,' and on the other, 'I am dust and ashes."

 

The Kotzker Rebbe ( 1787-1859) added that the trick is to know which piece of paper to take out and when."

 

A friend once told me when he was in high school, the headteacher called him and a classmate into his office. They were threatened with a good hiding. My friend was silent. His classmate talked and talked. When they left the office the classmate challenged my friend:

 

"Why were you so quiet?" He replied: "Look, we got caught, didn't we?" His classmate said, "Yes, we got caught, but you've got to talk back, keep talking, give yourself a chance to influence the outcome."

 

Surely that should be us on Rosh Hashana- our prayers give us that chance to keep talking, keep trying to do we all we can to "influence the outcome." Maybe we need to fold up the "dust and ashes" paper a little and smooth out the other one that reminds each of us "that the world was created for me." We must have the belief and self confidence that we can be an agent for good, to stand up straight as well as bow in humility. We have to create and orchestrate for ourselves a shofar-hazozrah duet in which we are both proud and humble at the same time. May we all be given the guidance to know how and when to blow our own trumpet........ and to cry with compassion at the sound of the ram's horn.

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