L’shana Tova to all of you,
We are approaching the New Year 5781 and my last year with you, my dear Belsize Square family. I look forward to sharing with you all the theme of my High Holyday sermons this year, ‘What Matters’’: God, Israel, being Jewish, Judaism, family, community, synagogue and our own lives. Despite the limitations on public gatherings, we will be with you via our livestream—a High Holydays for us all to remember.
That word ‘remember’ is a special one and particularly important for the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe). After all, Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom Zichron Teruah—A Day to Remember and to Hear the Sound of the Shofar. So, what shall we remember as we prepare for the coming of the new year and what does the sound of the shofar have to do with our remembrance?
There are quite a few indications in the Torah as to what we should be remembering, but let’s share a few:
1) Remember the Shabbat Day – Shabbat is the day for us to remember the blessing of creation and the miracle of life. It also embraces our highest ideals, of social equality and peace. So what shall we remember? The Fourth Commandment teaches us ‘Remember you were slaves in the land of Egypt’— remember who you are, what you believe in, what your ideals and values are, and those values and teaching that are eternal. And in case you think this is just a cerebral exercise, we have the reiteration of the Ten Commandments in the book of Deuteronomy, reminding us to ‘Keep the Shabbat Day’ – you need to do it, you need to hear the sound of the shofar to heal the world, to pursue peace in every path of our existence.
2) Remember what the terrorist Amalekites did to our people in the Sinai desert on their way to Eretz Yisrael. What do we remember? That there is much that is wrong in the world, that there is violence and evil. So embrace good causes, do not be blinded by forces that endanger innocent lives or by organisations that promote terror, violence and antisemitism. Sound the shofar! Be aware, get involved in Jewish responses to hatred, do not sit on the sidelines of our people’s righteous cause for our dignity and safety. As the Torah says, ‘Blot out the memory of Amalek.’
3) Remember what Miriam did to her brother Moses – her transgression of slander. So we remember the price paid by the innocent for gossip and smearing of reputations, so that we might become more sensitive to others. Sound the shofar! Let us improve our relationships and be careful not to hurt others, especially those closest to us.
4) Yizkor/Mazkir – ﬁnally, we will be remembering our loved ones who are no longer with us in the land of the living. In the traditional meditations we recite for our parents, spouses,siblings, children and loved ones, we pledge to give tzedakah in their memory. We remember our loved ones in order to sanctify their values and through us, to make this world a better place. That is the way we Jews remember.
So, the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah will remind us to ‘Remember’. This year we will be blowing the Shofar only on the second day as the ﬁrst day is Shabbat. Whether we come to synagogue or remain at home we should try to remember what is crucial in our lives. Individually, the shofar call on us to do serious heshbon hanefesh, scrutinising our souls, to remember what we have done, in order to do better in the coming year.
Remember, remember who you are – remember the Jewish people, our relationship with God, the Covenant that was made with Abraham, how our people survived throughout history despite enormous pain and suffering and with obstacles that no other people on earth had to overcome.
In conclusion – hear the sound of the Shofar in order to do teshuvah, to return or repent, a proper return to where one should be before God. To ask ourselves how we can be better, but also to cherish the good that we did during the past year. We must all remember the preciousness of life and think of the pain that has been endured by millions across the world because of the coronavirus. We will hear the sound of the Shofar and remember, but also look forward to a better world, a new beginning and new life for the world, our own country, Israel, the Jewish people all over the world, our congregation, our families and our friends.
L’shana tova tikatevu – may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life, thankful for health, life and the blessings surrounding us each day of our lives.
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler