The Sound of a Summer Shofar

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This past Shabbat, we completed Sefer Vayikra with the first of two of the double Torah portions, Behar. (not to be confused with the family of the same name!) In the fiftieth year of the Shemitta cycle (seven rounds of leaving the land fallow in the seventh year) Jewish servants are released from their masters.  Triggering the event is a shofar blast - announcing the release of the slaves. 

Rabbi Frand cites the Sefer Hahinuch who offers a creative explanation for this ritual: A master who, although he must take care of room and board, has access to years of free labor - was surely hesitant to free his servant.   It involved taking a tremendous (thought expected) financial hit!  In order to encourage Jewish masters to carry out their obligation to free their slaves, the shofar was sounded throughout the land - as if to say, "We know it's difficult - but everyone is in the same boat!"    

Misery loves company!

All of us are subject to "peer pressure" as teenagers.  The dynamic of this social pressure may change over the years, but even as we age, we, too, look to our community for cues for the proper way to behave, to respond. The Torah, here, is bidding us to respond to the positive social pressure that comes with the fiftieth year. Knowing that everyone else is being called upon by the halacha to forgo the financial benefits of free labor - makes it easier for us to part with these same benefits. 

Rabbi Frand notes that the shofar blasts we sound during the Jubillee year mirror the format of those sounded on Rosh Hashanah, a mere ten days earlier. On the New Year, we relive the "Akedat Yitzhak" - the binding of Isaac.  Avraham and Yitzhak, father and son, were ready to pay the ultimate price in response to a Divine command.  The Torah says we must love G-d with all of hearts and souls, and they were ready to do so.  But there is one more way we are bidden to love
G-d: בכל מאדך - with all of your "might".  This phrase is understood in the Talmud as "with all of your wealth."

This recalls the character developed by the late great Jack Benny:

In an episode that was broadcast March 28, 1948, Benny borrowed neighbor Ronald Coleman's Oscar, and was returning home when he was accosted by a mugger.... After asking for a match to light a cigarette, the mugger demands, "Don't make a move, this is a stickup. Now, come on. Your money or your life." Benny paused, and the studio audience—knowing his skinflint character—laughed. The robber then repeated his demand: "Look, bud! I said your money or your life!" Benny snapped back, without a break, "I'm thinking it over!" 

Our Holy Torah recognizes that some people, however preposterous it seems, value their money sometimes more than life itself!  This is why the Torah bids us to love G-d with all of our wealth. Jewish masters in the Jubilee year were asked not to "think it over", but to respond promptly to the sound of the Shofar....

This past Shabbat, I made a plea for broader and more consistent attendance at Kahal.  Our daily minyan has had some challenges in the past month, as people take vacations, have other family responsibilities and the like. For modern man, time is money - and leisure time is greatly valued, too. It's much easier to pray Minha in midday or before dinner, and settle in for the night.  It's not always so convenient to pick up and come to Kahal for Tefila.  But as I noted on Shabbat, the value of Tefila B'Tzibur, communal prayer, is great.  It's not that "we need a minyan, so will you please come?" We as a community have to experience a paradigm shift, and appreciate the value of communal prayer as the means by which we approach Hashem as a single community, offsetting each other's individual foibles.

Let the shofar of Tefila B'tzibur be sounded!

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Guest Wednesday, 24 January 2018