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The Notes of the New Year 
By Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz o.b.m.

Tatty Shofar.jpgWhen Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch was a young man, he lived in the same house as his father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad movement. Rabbi DovBer and his family lived in the ground floor apartment, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman lived on the second floor.

One night, while Rabbi DovBer was deeply engrossed in his studies, his youngest child fell out of his cradle. Rabbi DovBer, a brilliant intellectual and mystic, was so entrenched in his learning and meditation, that he heard nothing. But Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who was also immersed in study in his room on the second floor, heard the infant's cries. Rabbi Schneur Zalman came downstairs, lifted the infant from the floor, soothed his tears, placed him in the cradle, and rocked him to sleep. Rabbi DovBer remained oblivious throughout it all.

Later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman admonished his son: "No matter how lofty your involvements, you must never fail to hear the cry of a child."

The Jewish New Year is known as Rosh Hashanah (this year Wednesday evening September 24- Friday September 26). It is a time to reflect on our deeds of the year gone by and to sincerely resolve to improve in the year to come. It is a time to gather in the synagogue as we beseech the Almighty to be inscribed in the books of life, success and prosperity. Even our family holiday gatherings echo these themes by featuring traditional holiday foods that symbolize sweetness and longevity.

The one biblical commandment that is mandated for Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the Shofar – the horn of a ram. Its sounds recall some of the most profound moments in history of the Jewish people like the binding of our forefather Isaac and the giving of the Torah on Sinai. Its simple notes are a call to “wake up” from the deep sleep of our lackluster daily grind.

There are actually three types of notes that are blown with the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. What do these sounds represent?

Tekiah – the single whole note - reminds us that once we were whole. During our childhood years, innocence and joy defined our lives.

Shevarim – the three short blasts - reminds us that in life we might experience scatteredness and fragmentation. As we grow up, we learn that many days are filled with paradoxes, inner conflict and confusion.

Teruah – the nine staccato notes blown in rapid succession - reminds us of the health and financial challenges that affect so many. We recall the suffering in the world and of how many people’s lives have been shattered into small pieces.

But what we do after the three sounds? We blow one final note known as the Tekiah Gedolah – the great sound - one note that lasts for as long as the Shofar-blower has breath. This final lengthy sound reminds us that we can return to wholeness again.

Let’s take note (pardon the pun). Tekiah Gedolah is a much longer note than the initial blast of Tekiah which began the cycle. Through surviving brokenness, we can reach an even deeper form of wholesomeness than we knew before. When we overcome negative energy and turn it into a catalyst for new awareness and growth, we reach genuine completeness.

So, as we begin this New Year, as busy as we might be with the loftiest of pursuits, let us make sure that we are not oblivious to the sounds of the Shofar. Its message is one that could change our lives – for good.


The Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz of blessed memory was the regional director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois and spiritual leader of Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook. Published in the Chicago Jewish News Sept 18, 2014.