This year in Israel we have endured certain challenges and perceived certain dynamics which will no doubt leave an indelible impression on the landscape of Israeli society and on the Jewish world at large. Being that Rosh Hashana is a time to reflect upon the past year in anticipation of the year ahead, here are three thoughts worthy of contemplation which relate directly to the three sections of the Rosh Hashana service and reveal the three functions of the shofar.
The first segment of the Rosh Hashana service called malchuyot, from the Hebrew word malchut – kingdom, confirms that God is the master of a people and protector of a nation, a concept that secular Israelis are becoming more comfortable with in theory even if it does not translate to practice. Over the past year(s) we have seen a growth in Israelis who are interested in connecting with their traditions and learning about their history even through the observance of certain practices which they consider Jewish cultural experiences. Today statistics show that over 56% of Israelis light Shabbat candles, over 78% participate in a Passover Seder, 69% maintain kosher homes, 80% say that they believe in God, 65% confirm that the Torah is the divine book of the Jewish people, 98% of Israelis have mezuzot on their door posts and 92% circumcise their male children. Many Israeli Jews have an interest in the place that religion occupies in the State of Israel and in the meaning of a “Jewish state” and for the vast majority it is important to live in Israel as a means of identifying with the Jewish people.
The second section of the Rosh Hashana service is called zichronot which emphasizes zachor – to remember; we are encouraged to reflect upon the historical events which impacted our loyalty to God and to one another and inspired our development into a nation. Over these recent past few months we witnessed the abduction and cold blooded murder of three innocent young men by Hamas terrorists. We experienced the height of anxiety as we consistently fled to bomb shelters anticipating our safety and the safety of our communities under a barrage of rockets and missiles which were incessantly fired upon cities throughout Israel fuelling the beginnings of Operation Protective Edge, an operation whose sole objective was to disclose and destroy a vast networks of tunnels created by Hamas terrorists for the exclusive purpose of perpetrating heinous acts of terror upon innocent civilians in Israel. Yet Israel was continuously chastised as the aggressor and for its mistreatment of innocent civilians who were unfortunately harmed or killed during the operation. The world’s media referred to Israel as inhumane regardless of the extraordinary efforts made by the IDF to warn civilians ahead of their planned attacks in order to protect their safety, and regardless of the footage which showed Hamas terrorists harboring themselves in schools and hospitals and using innocent children as human shields in order to protect themselves. In comparison, mass murderers such as Syrian Prime Minister Bashar-al Assad was hardly scrutinized for killing thousands of people using chemical weapons and torturing and killing anyone who opposed his dictatorship. Vladimir Putin ‘s aggression on the Ukraine saw over 3,000 deaths as innocent civilians were abducted by both Russian and Ukrainian forces on each side but he was hardly condemned. The IS (formerly ISIS) seized territories throughout Syria and Iraq in an aggressive Jihadist war path to “conquer the Middle East”, butchering and beheading thousands of civilians and President Obama remained frighteningly unresponsive. Yet Obama was not hesitant to join Ban Ki-Moon of the UN who criticized Israel for failing to do all it can to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza during Israel’s missions against Hamas terrorists. The criticism of Israel from around the world was heard loud and clear and our supposed ally’s silence was just as deafening; this opened pandora’s box as anti-semitic acts ensued. Jews were attacked in France, Australia, England (where statistics show that anti-Semitism has risen an astonishing four hundred percent) and even in places that we would have normally considered secure havens for Jews such as New York and Miami. This year the section of zichronot on Rosh Hashana begs us to verify as we have done in the past, that the world does not see or interpret the events unfolding around our nation the same way that we do and that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora regardless of how comfortable they feel and how at home they believe they are must take heed of the events unfolding in front of their eyes and recognize that they are strangers in a strange land; temporary guests whose stay will eventually wear thin as it has done consistently in the past, and that the only land where they can truly feel curiously but comfortably secure is in Israel.
Shofarot, the third and final unit of the prayer service makes reference to the shofar, the ram’s horn, which will be blown marking the day of our redemption. It is during this section that we are expected to think about how we can actively facilitate the redemption we eagerly anticipate, something which was made easier for us to envision over this past year as we have been privy to a legal process calling for all citizens in Israel to bear the burdens and responsibilities of the country and our nation. Consequently issues have been raised which were not addressed in the past and very slowly Haredim have begun not only to entertain but to enlist in the IDF and national service. Almost 2,000 haredim have enlisted in the IDF over the past year, most in combat units; an increase of 39% from past years. In addition the percentage of Haredim joining the work force continues to gradually rise which may explain the findings that with each progressive year the friction between the secular and the religious in Israel seems to be decreasing.
The first function of the shofar was to gather people and unify the nation such was the case at the foothold of Mount Sinai when the Jewish nation united for the purpose of accepting the Torah. This year we have witnessed a nation unite be it for the sake of praying for three innocent young souls or for the sake of consoling their families after the horrible truth of their misfortune was revealed following their abduction. Israelis of all walks of life traveled en masse to the towns bordering Gaza to offer relief and supplies to the residents in the Negev and our soldiers who were protecting them and thirty thousand people converged for the sake of escorting a lone soldier to his burial place in an effort to console his parents who no one ever met.
The shofar sounds in order to amass troops and prepare them for war as was the case with Joshua when he lead the Jewish people by the alarm of the shofar to conquer the land of Canaan. This year we have witnessed troops gather from all walks of Jewish life, secular and haredi alike, for the sake of protecting the same borders which were defended by King David before us.
With Rosh Hashana swiftly approaching we can proudly declare that we have been privileged to witness and benefit from the first two purposes of the shofar. When Rosh Hashana arrives, as we crown our king and recount our history, perhaps it is time for us to demand that we witness the third purpose of the shofar come to fruition in preparation for our redemptive future.