Rosh Hashanah Dvar Torah by Jacob Unger '20
With Rosh Hashanah rapidly approaching, I thought it would be fitting to speak about the Mitzvah that is most synonymous with the Chag: the blowing of the Shofar. As the 10th graders learned, the Talmud tells us in מסכת ראש השנה that the Shofar itself reminds us of Akeidat Yitzchak, and its sound signifies our pleading to Hashem for forgiveness. We hope that he will remember our good deeds, and the deeds of our ancestors. We have faith that he will see the goodness inside of us. Rambam, in his book Hilchot Teshuvah, finds that the Shofar has a quite different purpose. He writes that the Shofar is actually a tool that G-d uses to cry out to us. Hashem wakes us up, and tells us to examine our deeds. The Rambam adds:
אלו השוכחים את האמת בהבלי הזמן ושוגים כל שנתם בהבל וריק אשר לא יועיל ולא יציל
There are those who forget the truth in the distractions of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save.
What sort of actions are the Rambam talking about? Which actions do not benefit or save?
I found the answer in a column written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Rabbi Sacks recalls a book that he read, in which the author distinguishes between what he calls “resumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. “Resumé virtues” are our achievements, our skills, … what makes us better than others. These things are important to us in our life, but we won’t be remembered by them. Our kindness, our honesty, our sympathy, these are things that will leave a lasting impact on the world, and will hopefully define our lives. These “eulogy virtues” are often forgotten due to the constant pressure to succeed. When the Rambam writes about the distractions of time, he is showing us that we need to focus more on our “eulogy virtues” - things which lead to a meaningful life, as opposed to our “resumé virtues” which will disappear after we are gone. The Shofar is calling us to remember what really makes life special. The Shofar is a wake up call to remember what really matters.
Rabbi Sacks continues his explanation by bringing a passage from Rav Soloveitchik's essay, The Lonely Man of Faith. The Rav explains that there are two separate accounts of the creation of אדם in the Torah. The first account, in בראשית פרק א, is of humans as the most advanced, and highest of all other animals. In Perek Bet, humans are described as having feelings, souls, and connections towards each other and G-d. Of course it is important that humans are more intelligent than other animals, but our connections towards each other and Hashem is what really matters. Rosh Hashanah is the time for Cheshbon HaNefesh: Self-evaluation. It’s the time where we can separate our eulogy virtues from our resumé virtues. We can live up to the second creation story, and leave behind the first. Even a small change within ourselves can bring out the best in the people around us, and even make an impact on the world. Rambam sees the world as balanced, and one sin or one good deed can tip the scale in or out of your favor. This year, let the call of the Shofar remind you of “eulogy virtues” that you can improve on - love, charity, integrity - and use them to make an impact on yourself, others around you, and the world.
Shana Tova U’metukah