On Rosh Hashanah we have the special Mitzvah (commandment) of listening to the sound of the shofar (the blowing of a special kind of horn). The Rambam (Laws of Teshuvah, 3:4) says that we perform this Mitzvah simply because the Torah instructs us to do so on this day, but the shofar is also hinting something to us. The shofar is sending us a message with its striking blast: “Wake up sleepy ones from your sleep and rise from your slumber and examine your ways and repent and remember your Creator!”
Who are the sleepy ones that are referred to here? The Rambam explains these are the people who forget the truth of what life is about and get caught up in mundane nonsense instead of focusing on the soul.
Since the Rambam writes that this is the message of the shofar which must be listened to by all, we can deduce that this message applies to all as well. No matter how much a person is involved with spiritual pursuits throughout the year, there is always an element of “slumber” to be overcome.
By nature, we are very attached to the physical world we live in. Our bodies draw us to fulfill our physical needs and desires, and the world around us is permeated with materialism and pursuits of physical acquisitions. By default, our minds become absorbed with concerns for our physical being and other materialistic pursuits. To whichever degree our minds are caught up with the physical world, we are considered to be “sleeping,” in reference to what life is really about. The human mind cannot be focused on fulfilling its materialistic desires while simultaneously being involved in spiritual advancement.
How do we “wake up” from this “slumber?” With what agent can we combat the lure of the materialistic world which we have no choice but to be involved in? The answer is dictated in the message of the shofar the Rambam mentioned: Remember your Creator! This doesn’t mean merely superficial knowledge of God’s existence. It means bringing awareness of God into everything we do in life and getting emotionally involved in connecting to God, whether it’s in the form of hope, gratitude, fear or love. There is no area in our lives which should be devoid of awareness of God. Whether it’s when we are eating, shopping, conducting business, etcetera, we can always revert our minds to think about God’s presence and God’s expectations of us at any given time. God is constantly controlling our lives, helping us, leading us and watching us. There is not a moment in which one cannot connect to God.
Someone once noticed Rabbi Avigdor Miller standing alone at the end of a hallway during a family wedding. He went over to Rabbi Miller to find out if anything was wrong, but Rabbi Miller remained silent, apparently deep in thought. After a few minutes Rabbi Miller responded, “Inside the hall there is great distraction; no one is thinking of God.” Even in the midst of a wedding celebration of a family member, Rabbi Miller made sure his mind was not distracted from God.
It is no small challenge to maintain awareness of God constantly throughout our lives. It takes very little to get our mind absorbed in the mundane details of life. In addition, the whole world around us seems to be governed by nature with no clear vision of God’s existence. It requires constant effort and reminders to bring awareness of God into all areas of our life. This is the sound of the shofar. It is to remind us to keep God in the forefront of our minds. The more we succeed in increasing awareness of God in our lives, the more we have “woken” from our “slumber.” By incorporating consistent sporadic thoughts about God into our routines, we can begin to develop a sense of God’s presence in our lives, which will transform our lives into vibrant lives focused on the true purpose of our existence.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)