In explaining anti-Semitism, Maurice Samuel once wrote, “No one likes his alarm clock.” He believed that the fate of the Jews provided an early warning signal to humanity, which resented the awakening, however necessary.
But over time we can indeed acquire an appreciation for alarms. The Jewish people have done exactly that on Rosh HaShanah. For the shofar is a kind of alarm clock, yet its sound is a treasured one. It awakens us to the sovereignty of God, to the gravity of our own deeds, to the possibility of teshuva. Each blast rouses Israel to a greater seriousness about our souls.
Although we think it is natural to be awake, according to science our natural state is actually sleeping. Being awake necessitates a constant flow of a hormone called orexin. What is true physiologically is true spiritually as well. It is natural to sleep, and Judaism’s task, both for the world and for Jews, is to promote genuine wakefulness. Kumi ori, rise and shine, says Isaiah (60:1). The shofar calls us to action, to mission, to hope — and to God. Shana Tovah Umetukah — may it be a sweet, healthy and peaceful year.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), is just out.