Last week I wrote about the third and fourth blessings of Musaf for Rosh Hashanah. These two blessings emphasize the Kingship of God. This concept is core to the day’s message and essence. But in the Torah this holiday is called ZICHRON TERUAH (‘a memorial of trumpet blasts’, Vayikra 23:24). So, this week we turn our attention to the fifth BERACHA called ZICHRONOT and the sixth BERACHA called SHOFROT. These blessings directly describe the Torah’s names for Rosh Hashanah.
The format for those BERACHOT follows the pattern set for MALCHIYOT. There is an introductory paragraph. Then we have ten verses (three from Torah, three from Tehillim, three from Nevi’im and a final verse from Torah), and, a concluding paragraph culminating in a BERACHA.
In ZICHRONOT, something fascinating occurs. The feel or mood of the first paragraph is very different from the closing section. I’m sure that many of you, my dear readers, come into the High Holidays with anxiety, if not dread. The opening statements of ZICHRONOT feed that frenzy:
You remember all the deeds in the world, and You also visit the behavior of all creatures who lived in earlier times. In Your gaze all hidden things are revealed, including the multitude of secrets from the beginning of creation; for there is no forgetfulness before the Throne of Your Glory, and there is nothing hidden from Your eyes. You remember and note all that has been done, nothing is concealed from You. All is revealed and known before You, the misdeeds of man’s actions, the thoughts of man and his schemes
Wow, talk about surveillance, and you were worried about the CCTV in your company’s parking lot. Actually, it’s easier for us to imagine that level of scrutiny than for our pre-modern forebears. But that doesn’t make it any less daunting and creepy. Like signs outside public restrooms (WC’s for my British brethren) warning that the premises are monitored. No one would want to see replays of our most embarrassing moments from the previous year, a highlight reel to be avoided. God is presented as Big Brother.
However, the final paragraph of this section is much more reassuring:
Our God and God of our forebears remember us favorably before You and be mindful of us for deliverance and compassion from the Eternal High Heavens. Remember on our behalf, Eternal our God, the covenant, the kindness and the oath which You swore to our father Avraham on Mount Moriah, so may Your compassion suppress Your anger against us…And fulfill for us Eternal, our God, the promise You made in Your Torah, through Your servant, Moshe: ‘I will remember for them the covenant with their forefathers whom I took out of the land of Egypt’. Blessed are You, O Eternal , Who remembers the covenant.
Here we have a transition from PACHAD, fear or dread to KAVOD, respect and honor. We saw the triple list of emotions (fear, honor, joy) in the third blessing of KEDUSHA, last week. We’ve entered stage two, and feel much more comfortable with God’s inability to forget.
Continuing that process forward, we come to the third leg of the middle BERACHOT of Musaf: SHOFAROT. If MALCHIYOT brings PACHAD, fear, and ZICHRONOT delivers us to KAVOD, honor, then SHOFAROT must usher in SIMCHA, joy. And it does. The verses in this section are about the Shofar being sounded for redemption at Sinai, and to usher in the Messianic Era. But there’s more going on with the Shofar.
In the Talmud we are told,
‘Recite before Me on Rosh Hashanah MALCHIYOT, ZICHRONOT and SHOFROT. MALCHIYOT to enthrone Me over them, ZICHRONOT to bring their remembrances before Me for positive purpose. With what do we accomplish this task? Through the Shofar (Rosh Hashanah 16 a).
The Shofar not only has its own message of Revelation and Divine intercession, it is also a means of communication. It heralds the themes of Rosh Hashanah. The Pachad Yitzchak suggests that we required a wind instrument for this role because Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of humanity. How was the first human created? ‘And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Breishit 2:7).’ It’s no coincidence that the word for ‘breath’, NESHIMA, is almost identical to the word for ‘soul’, NESHAMA.
That heavy breathing or blowing into the Shofar is using the power granted through God’s unique gift to humanity for the purpose of proclaiming the messages of the anniversary of that CPR event. The Shofar has its message but it also broadcasts the other themes of the day.
Finally, it’s crucial to the understanding of the day that we note that there are two categories of SHOFAR. We have regular, garden variety SHOFAROT, but we also have SHOFAR GADOL, industrial strength SHOFAR. The normal SHOFAR has been sounded throughout history. But the Great Horn will be sounded on that day (B’YOM HAHU, Yeshayahu 27:13). The joy or good vibes engendered by the SHOFAR, not only brings us back to the wonderful memories of Divine Revelation in a glorious past, but also imagines a future, better Revelation yet to come. The optimism overflows by the end of this BERACHA, culminating in: Blessed are You, O Eternal, Who hears the sounding of the SHOFAR of His nation Yisrael in compassion.
This massive, magnificent Amida service is a rollercoaster ride of emotions and fervor. It brings us from the depths of despair over our guilt and shortcomings, to the heights of delight and elation in anticipation for the splendor yet to come. It’s a long and intricate journey from our very beginnings to our Ultima Thule, but the sublime experience is definitely worth the price of admission, devoted davening.