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Friday, September 11

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

My apologies for not having anything on Nitzavim. But Rosh HaShanah is nearly upon us and this way, I don't have to rush anything out after Shabbos.


I assume that I'm not the only one who, more than once, while itching for the end of mussaf on Rosh HaShanah, has read Artscroll's explanation of the symbolism behind the 100 shofar blasts. The source is Eliyahu Ki Tov's Sefer HaToda'ah, wherein he explains that Devorah, in her song following the defeat of Sisera and his Canaanite army, states (Shofetim 5:28-30) that Sisera's mother whimpered and groaned while she awaited her sons return. She did so 101 times, according to the midrash. We sound the shofar 100 "whimpers" to express our opposition to the barbarism Sisera's mother supported but we fall short by one blast to show the smallest inking of sympathy for her pain.


Surely, there must be more behind this connection. The mother's whimpers are not enough for us to base such a significant custom on this episode in Tanach. (I have always thought it ironic that the heroin of the story of Sisera's defeat was Yael who single-handedly killed the ruthless general. The mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 3:3) states that the shofar used on Rosh HaShanah is the straight horn of an ibex, a "yael." This observation is made slightly less significant by the fact that our custom is not in accordance with that mishnah.)


The theme of Rosh HaShanah is accepting upon ourselves the yoke of HaShem's Kingship. We do this every day when we recite the Shema and declare that HaShem is One. The essence of a king is a single, authoritative entity with no superior and no equal. Thus, recognizing HaShem's oneness is a crucial part of accepting His Dominion. To achieve that recognition, we must come to accept that the good and the bad, life and death (as in this week's parsha) all come from a single source. In the Torah, we are often confronted with seemingly contradictory messages - messages of kindness and compassion alongside messages of apparent cruelty and destruction. As well, on Rosh HaShanah, we often reflect upon the events that have transpired over the past year - the blessings and the good fortune, the tragedies and hardships. The challenge, again, is to realize that these are not conflicts but simply Divine decrees.


The story of Sisera presents a very similar challenge (although not necessarily unique in Tanach.) We read about poor Sisera - all he wanted was a glass of water and what did he get? A glass of milk and a tent pole through his skull. And then we read about his poor, grieving mother. Yet we must be careful to keep our emotions in check, to realize that Sisera was a man of great cruelty and that his demise was the will of HaShem and an essential component of B'nei Yisrael's miraculous victory. With this, the story of Sisera's demise is more closely related not only to shofar, but to the general theme of Rosh HaShanah itself.


May you all have a Good Shabbos and a Shanah Tovah uMesukah and a Kesiva vaChasimah Tovah.

Eliezer Bulka

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