Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneersohn (1860–1920), the fifth Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe, was once traveling by horse and buggy. After some time, they stopped by a well, and the chariot driver let the horses drink some water. After a short break, the driver took out his whip and, speaking to the horses, said, “You think I gave you guys water so the straw and hay could taste better to your palates? Absolutely not. I brought you to the well to drink so you would have more strength and motivation to pull the buggy. So, now, giddy up.”
The Rabbi, hearing all this, became serious and said the following to his students sitting with him.
“The world has a purpose and an intended destination, driven by God Himself, this is the Godly Chariot. To pull this chariot as partners with God to its Godly destination, God provides us with our physical needs. However, we must always remember the essential thing in life (the reason God is providing us with all these blessings) is not our possessions of straw and hay, but carrying out our purpose, to pull the chariot.”
The Rebbe added, “For the horse not to get carried away with its drinking and eating, every once in awhile, the horses are whipped. For us humans, it should be enough to have a hint, or once in a while a reminder, from a good friend.”
Rosh Hashanah represents the days God decides the fate of the entire world. This was the day man and woman were created and judged for not listening to God. On the first day of creation, only after a few hours in the Garden of Eden, they were already transgressing against God’s will.
God said, “Just as you were judged and were granted grace on this day, the same will be true of all future times. This day will be reserved for Judgement and grace.”
The most powerful and important act on this day, in addition to prayer, is listening to the sounds of the Shofar from a person who knows what he is doing. The laws for the sounding of the Shofar can be pretty complex. King David writes in his book of Psalms, “Praiseworthy is the people who know the sounds of the shofar, in the light of Your countenance they go.”
Why? What makes the sound of the Shofar so potent? Well, for one thing, it is because God commands us so in the Bible. “Let them say before me verses of kingship so that I will bring their needs before me through the sounds of the Shofar.” Everything happens on this very serious and critical day of Judgement because of, and through, the sounds of the Shofar!
When God made all of creation, it was with the power of His words and commands. When it came to making humans, the Bible tells us God formed the human body from the earth on the ground, and then God blew — from deep down inside Himself and into the nostrils of this form — the breath of life.
The great Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534–1572) teaches that unlike everything else in creation, humans are not bodies with the occasional spiritual experience. The life and identity of humans are essentially the Godly breath inside of us, experiencing life through the physical and corporeal body.
To blow the Shofar, we must go deep inside to exhale enough air to create the simple, pure sounds of the Shofar.
On this day, the beginning of a fresh New Year, we meditate on the two layers of our existence: the outer layer, which desires immediate physical pleasures, and the inner, deeper layer, which is simple and pure, uncomplicated and humble.
On this day of Judgement, we reflect on the purpose of our existence.
Are we waiting for the chariot driver to remind us not to tarry too long at the wells of self-gratification? By listening intently and “knowing” the sounds of the Shofar, we evoke the memory that we are essentially Godly spiritual souls with a mission mandated by the Creator of the Universe to uncover the Godliness and spirituality all around us.
The Shofar is the call to reach deep inside and discover the pure spark of God, to cut through all the distractions on the outside that make so much noise. “May everything that has been made know that you have made it, everything that has been created understand that you created it, and everyone who has the breath of life in his nostrils declare that the Lord God of Israel is King and His Kingship has dominion over all.”