Shofaros of History

As the baal tokeah for Gateways on Rosh Hashanah I bought a new shofar two years ago.  It had caught my eye at the Judaica store: it was not polished beautifully, it had a rustic, earthy look to it, but it had a beautiful sound.  I removed the numerous layers of price stickers and found underneath a certification from the Beit Din of Gush Katif. This shofar, a reminder of the tragic and traumatic eviction of the Jews from Gush Katif (Gaza) had clearly been waiting a long time to be used and I felt privileged to be its new owner.

Aside from the technical fulfilment of a commandment of the Torah in blowing the shofar, the sound also reverberates with a variety of historical notes.  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Meisels ztz”l blew shofar numerous times in Auschwitz on Rosh Hashana of 1944.  He blew the traditional one hundred sounds and writes that “although this put my life in danger, this revived the spirits of the shattered camp inmates and gave them some peace of mind knowing that at least they could observe one mitzvah in Auschwitz – that of shofar on Rosh Hashanah.”  He blew the shofar again later in the day for a transport of about one thousand people due to leave the camp that evening.  Rav Meisels came to them at the edge of the camp near the gate, where he writes, “They were brimming with joy and begged me to blow the one-hundred sounds quickly so they could fulfill the mitzvah before the gate opened and they would be on their way to who knows where…. I can still hear reverberating in my ears the sobs that burst forth from those thousand people during the tekios.”  He blew shofar a third time that day for a group of teenagers, as their last request before being murdered.  (Introduction to Teshuvot Mekadshei Hashem)

A very different shofar blowing is recorded by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Segal who describes blowing the shofar at the Western Wall under the British Mandate in 1930. “The British Government forbade us to…. sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The British Government placed policemen at the Kotel to enforce these rules… I thought to myself: Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of Hashem?  Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? True, the sounding of the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is only a minhag, but “A minhag Yisrael is Torah”! Moshe Segal blew the shofar and was immediately arrested by the police. He was released at midnight following Yom Kippur only because Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook threatened a hunger strike until Segal was released by the British authorities. (Memoirs of Moshe Zvi Segal and HaKol HaYehudi, Aviel Halevi, 24/9/2014, Shofar of Rebellion)

Another sounding of the shofar took place at the Kotel on June 7th, 1967, this time by Rav Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of the IDF.  Soon after Israeli forces liberated the Old City from Jordanian occupation, soldiers and others gathered there to daven, sing, dance and cry.  There is a dramatic recording made by an Army Radio reporter in which one can here the recitation of “Kel maleih rachamim” for fallen soldiers and then the sounding the shofar. The reporter, who describes himself as “not religious and never been religious” cries during the prayer and the blowing of the shofar.   (Galei Tzahal Archives)  These historical shofar sounds are all very different: Courage, self-sacrifice, hope, prayer, war, repentance and redemption.  When we heard the shofar on Rosh Hashana, elements of all of these sounds were present. Above all there is the mitzvah, but as Maimonides tells us, “Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a decree, it contains a hint. It is as if saying:  Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator…. Look into your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts.” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 3:4)  The blowing of the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur reminds us of the shofar of freedom sounded during Yovel, the 50th jubilee year. (Leviticus 25:10)  We look forward to the culmination of all the sounds of the “small” shofars of history, which will come together to form a “great shofar,” “Bayom hahu yitoka beshofar gadol” – “on that day a great shofar will be blown” – the shofar of the redemption. (Isaiah 27:13)

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