- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

The following sermon was preached Saturday by Rabbi Sholom B. Deitsch at Chabad Lubavitch in Fairfax.

Rosh Hashanah, which begins Friday evening, is when human beings have the opportunity to elect and appoint God as our leader.

Judaism teaches us that our relationship with God is a two-way street. It’s not just that God imposes Himself upon us; we actually have the opportunity, the gift and the responsibility to bring God into our lives.

The mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah, the commandment of the day, is to blow the shofar. What is the significance and the deeper meaning of the shofar blowing?

In Genesis, you find that Adam and Eve are created on Rosh Hashanah. In the short and succinct description of Adam and Eve is the story of all our lives. God took earth from the ground and blew into it, infusing into it a soul of life.

The Hebrew word for soul is neshamah. Neshamah also means breath. What we do on Rosh Hashanah to recreate that moment is to use that breath that is within us, the breath of God, to blow into a ram’s horn and make a sound. That sound is the sound of your breath, the sound of your soul.

How many of us would list Rosh Hashanah as our year’s most riveting, life-transforming experience? In today’s world, people ask who has the time or the inclination to go to a synagogue to listen to a ram’s horn being blown? Is there any personal relevance embedded in the rich array of traditions? In the blast of the shofar, the sweet apple dipped in honey? As we spin on the edge of the 21st century with our IBMs, SUVs and World Wide Webs, can Rosh Hashanah provide a significant experience that is enduring, memorable and empowering?

Our utilitarian society does not encourage or equip us to travel inward and introspect. Day-to-day survival immerses us in balancing budgets, cooking and car pooling. Media inundates, insisting that our value hinges on being younger, stronger, healthier, wealthier. We identify ourselves as lawyers, doctors or stay-at-home parents. These are all necessary and relevant ways to function in society, but if all we are is the roles we play, then what are we really? There must be something that transcends and unifies our being.

We all find it easy to talk about the weather, sports and politics, but when we wish to express our most inner, heartfelt emotions, we are struck speechless. The cry of the shofar connects us to that place inside of ourselves that transcends words. The shofar is the deepest cry of the soul piercing the heavens and calling to the Creator. The breath reverberating through the ram’s horn re-enacts the breath that God blew into the first man. The Bible says, “God breathed life into Adam.” Our soul is God’s breath pulsing inside of us. The sound of the shofar can align us with the breath of our soul, reconnecting us to the deepest part of ourselves, to our source in the divine.

When I was living in New York, my rabbi, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, would blow a shofar that was 400 years old. When he blew, the sound could barely be heard. Later in the service, someone would blow the same shofar loud and clear. It is easy to blow the shofar like a trumpet and make a sound.

But to truly pierce the heavens, to reach to that place where body, soul and divinity meet as the rebbe was able to do, that is not so simple. If we were to do it every day, we would not be able to function normally. But if we do not take the opportunity to do it on Rosh Hashanah, a part of us will always remain unfulfilled and unrealized.

Which one of us would not wish to take this opportunity? A sweet and happy new year to all.

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