Two Facets of Our Relationship with God
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander
The primary mitzva of Rosh Hashana is the blowing of the shofar. Jewish law tells us that there are two sets of blasts: one, known as t’kiot d’meyushav, are the sitting blasts which are blown before or, in some traditions, during the silent amida. The second set of blasts are known as t’kiot d’meumad, the standing blasts. These are blown at the close of each section of the communal amida (colloquially known as the “repetition of the amida.”) Why do we blow the shofar blasts in two separate contexts? What is the meaning of one set of blasts being termed “sitting blasts” when we stand for all the shofar sounds? Is it really necessary to hear the blasts both prior to (or during) the silent amida, and then again during the subsequent communal repetition?
The requirement to hear the shofar blasts, both as t’kiot d’meyushav and t’kiot d’meumad, emanates from two different paradigms vis-a-vis our relationship with God. The t’kiot d’meyushav are called such not because we sit during those blasts. Rather, the name connotes the lens through which we must integrate these blasts into our lives. They are a clarion call to each and every one of us to be involved in the teshuva process as individuals; d’meyushav –“sitting alone” for these blasts. They are blown during the personal amida, or immediately prior to it, because these blasts call upon each of us to reevaluate our personal relationship with God. Have I, as an individual, succeeded in establishing a personal communication with God? What have I done as an individual to get closer to God? Do I know God this year better than last year? Have I integrated God in all aspects of my personal and familial being? In what ways have I triumphed and in what ways have I failed? The answer to the t’kiot d’meyushav, these sitting blasts, cannot be, “Yes, I have succeeded by helping the Jewish people.” We cannot answer these tekiot in the context of what we have done for community. These blasts ask us to focus on how, as an individual, we have grown spiritually during this year.
The second message of the shofar is the t’kiot d’meumad, the shofar blasts which are sounded while we stand together as a community. These blasts require us, together, to ask in all candor: Has the community lived up to its responsibilities in its unique relationship with God? Does our community speak truth to power on issues which affect the moral fiber of society? Do we, as a community, support the international causes so vital to the Jewish people, in particular the State of Israel? Does the community empower people to engage in a spiritual journey? Does our community recognize that the celebration of Modern Orthodoxy requires an engagement with society as well as excelling in the mitzvot bein adam l’Makom (the rituals that allow us to reconnect with God)? And for all of these questions, what role have I played in contributing to the creation of this climate within the community?
May the High Holiday season allow us the clarity of vision to reflect upon the ways we focus on our personal and familial development, recognizing that personal growth is necessary to be effective communal leaders. At the same time, let us reflect upon our community initiatives and be strategic in the way that we serve the Jewish people and society at large, analyzing what initiatives need to be developed in order to allow our communities to flourish and achieve their fullest potential.
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of the Ohr Torah Stone network