The Sound of Joy
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
The shofar makes many sounds. It also shouts – exultantly, triumphantly – through the firm and upbeat tekia sound, which precedes and follows each of the weeping terua sounds; a score of 2:1 in favor of joy and optimism.
What is the basis for this joyous sound? Rosh Hashana is when time first came into being; it is the anniversary of the creation of humanity: “Today the world was born.” We shout with joy in our recognition of God as creator, owner and “King” of a world of wondrous beauty replete with dazzling colors and exquisite variety, a world of the uninterrupted rhythms of sunrise and sunset, of summer, fall, winter, and spring, a universe of a galaxy of stars in the heavens above and variegated fish and flora in the seas below.
We are moved to tears when are investigate snowflakes under a microscope, take note of their consummate precision, each one a perfect hexagon, each one formed with artistic design and color, each one uniquely different from the other. And where is the place of the mortal human being in light of what appears to be the infinite expanse of the heavens and the seas? Why he or she is the astronomer, the scuba diver, the one with the ability to contemplate, calculate, correlate and create. The human being is, after all, formed in the image of the Divine.
The joy and optimistic faith of Rosh Hashana emerges from the realization that indeed, the world has a creator, the universe has a ruler. Life is not, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth contends, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The Big Bang was not a haphazard accident, and the human being is not born of a cosmic joke, doomed to live out his life in maze of no exit.
Hence, it is only the beginning of repentance, which is a cry of inadequacy and weakness; once we recognize that the world masterfully created by God is a universe with a Director and an ultimate purpose, a humanity formed in the Divine image, then we realize that each of us has the ability to rise above him or herself, to recreate ourselves, to remake our society and world into a more perfect place. We can do it because God loves the world and the people He created, just as every individual loves the handiwork he or she creates, and because He gave us freedom of choice and almost limitless potential. We can do it because God wants us to do it and He will help us do it – “His right hand is always extended to help the penitent.” We can do it because God guarantees that his plan will eventually succeed, that humanity will better itself, and that the world will be perfected under His Kingship.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is Founder, Chancellor Emeritus and Rosh HaYeshiva of the Ohr Torah Stone network