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The Complete Story of Tishrei

The Month of the High Holy Days - Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and the Sacred Festivals - Succos, Shimini Atzeres and Simchas Torah

by Nissan Mindel

Published by

770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N. Y. 11213

Copyright 1956 by MERKOS LINYONEI CHINUCH, Inc.

228 pages


Part I.The New Year is Coming

3-24 On the Threshold of the New Year. Confession. Selichoth in Berditschev. Two Stories. Psalms from the Heart. The Month of Tishrei in Jewish History.

Part II. The New Year

Rosh-Hashanah. The Coronation. The First Repenters. Rosh-Hashanah in Berdi tschev. Readings from the Torah. Hannah. The Shofar. The Voice of the Shofar. The Fireman. The Shofar in the Midrash. The Pardon. — The Call of the Shofar. Shofar on the High Seas. Rabbi Amnon. — Tashlich.

Part III. The Days of Repentance       

The Story of Gedaliah. — Readings from the Torah. — Rabbi Saadia and the Innkeeper. — Maimonides on Teshuvah. — The Golden Mean. — Ovinu Malkeinu. — Readings from the Torah on Shabbath-Shuvah. — The Coachman. — In Appreciation.

Part IV. The Day of Atonement

The Holiest Day. — In the Beth-Hamikdosh of Old. — A Blessing in Time. — Readings from the Torah. — Let's Visit Nineveh. — Erev- Yom'-Kippur Bidding. — The Mysterious Visitor. — The Open Machzor. — The Marranos Celebrate Yom-Kippur. — The Princess. — Did You Know. — Test Your Knowledge.

Part V. Succoth

Succoth. — Celebration of Water-Drawing.

The Festival of Ingathering. — Selections from Midrash Koheleth. — The Fox and the Vineyard. — An Ethrog from the Garden of Eden. — The Reward. — Fear of G-d. — Cast thy Bread. — Readings from the Torah.—  In Far-away Jewish Communities.

Part VI. Shemini-Atzereth and Simchath Torah

Shemini-Atzereth and Simchath-Torah. — Rain and Dew. — The Prayer for Rain. — Give and Gain. — Tzedakah. — The Sefer-Torah. — The Great Treasure. — Hakafoth under Fire. — Simchath-Torah of a Can-tonist. — Readings from the Torah.

Test Your Knowledge
Things to Remember
Message from Rabbi M. M. Schneerson . . .         


The present volume completes the series of Complete Festival Stories, written by the author for the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, Inc. The other festivals covered by this series are: Passover, Shovuoth, Chanukah and Purim, published separately, but available also in one bound volume.

...the author has endeavored to give a fairly complete, colorful and well-balanced presentation of all the aspects of the festival — historical, liturgical and ritual — liberally interspersed with popular stories and parables....



Forty Days of Grace

ROSH HASHANAH, the New Year, does not find the Jew unprepared. Already on Rosh Chodesh Elul, a whole month in advance, the arrival of Rosh Hashanah is heralded by the call of the Shofar, which is sounded at the conclusion of the Morning Services in the synagogue, and repeated every weekday until the day before Rosh Hashanah.

This custom of sounding the Shofar since the first day of Elul, although not a command in the Torah, dates back, our Sages say, to the days of Moses. On the first day of Elul Moses went up on Mount Sinai to spend there forty days and forty nights for the third time. He spent the first forty days on Sinai when he went up on the seventh day of Sivan, the day after the Revelation.* During this period Moses received the Torah, with its explanation and details of the precepts. He came down forty days later, on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, carrying the Tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Finding the Golden Calf in the camp, he broke the Tablets, and on the following day he went up again on Mount Sinai to pray for G-d's forgiveness. On the day before Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moses returned, his prayers not fully answered. Finally, Moses went up on Mount Sinai for the third time. The forty days ended on the tenth day of Tishrei — Yom Kipptir — when Moses came down,

* See COMPLETE STORY OF SHOVUOTH, by the author, published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, Inc., sixth edition, 1955.

bringing with him the second Tablets and the Divine message of forgiveness. Since then, our Sages tell us, the forty days from Rosh-Chodesh Elul until Yom-Kippur remained as days of special Divine grace and forgiveness, culminating in the Day of Atonement.

Thus, the sounding of the Shofar during the month of Elul is a call for repentance and preparation for the New Year. Being the last month of the year, it is the time for self-searching and spiritual stock-taking. The Shofar is therefore heard every morning on weekdays throughout the month of Elul, except on the day before Rosh-Hashanah. This interruption is made in order to distinguish between the sounding of the Shofar during Elul, which is a matter of custom and tradition, but not an express command in the Torah (hence no blessing is recited before sounding the Shofar during Elul), and the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh-Hashanah, which is the special precept of that festival, as expressly ordained in the Torah.

God is My Light

As a further reminder of the importance of this period, Psalm 27 is added to the daily prayers, morning and evening (at Shacharith and Minchah in some congregations; at Shacharith and Maariv in others).

A Psalm of David.

G-d is my light and salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
G-d is the stronghold of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?

"G-d is my light," our Sages explain, refers to Rosh-Hashanah, "and my salvation," refers to the Day of Atonement. Our sincere return to G-d brings us both light and salvation.

Full of faith in G-d, the Psalmist expresses complete fearlessness in the face of all adversaries, both within and without. Freed from the burden of sins, he desires nothing more than the closeness of G-d.

One thing I ask of G-d, One thing I desire:
That I may dwell in the house of G-d
All the days of my life;
To behold the pleasantness of G-d,
And to meditate in His sanctuary . . .

And the Psalmist concludes:

Hope in G-d;
Be strong And let your heart be brave—
Yea, hope in G-d.


On the week before Rosh-Hashanah, the atmosphere of repentance is intensified by the addition of Selichoth.

Selichoth ("forgiveness") are special prayers for forgiveness, recited in the early hours of the morning (before the morning services) during the week before Rosh-Hashanah. The first Selichoth are introduced on Saturday night, preceding Rosh-Hashanah, usually immediately after midnight. If the first day of the festival occurs on Monday or Tuesday (it can never be on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday), the Selichoth are begun a week earlier.

The Selichoth are a very solemn reminder of the approach of Rosh-Hashanah. The Synagogue is crowded, and the air is charged with the solemnity of the occasion, and heightened by the special solemn tunes and melodies of the Days of Awe.

Happy New Year

From the first day of Elul the season of New Year greetings begins. It is customary to wish each other a Happy New Year, when greeting friends, or writing to them.


Joseph and his younger brother Benny went with their father to the synagogue on the Saturday night before Rosh-Hashanah, for the special First Selichoth service. It was the first time that Benny went to the synagogue at such an unusual hour, for it was well past midnight. He had, however, managed to get some sleep that Sabbath afternoon, and was wide awake.

Benny was still too young to say the prayers, but he knew that "Selichoth" meant "forgiveness," and that everybody was praying to G-d for forgiveness. He stood, or sat, near his father and watched him all the time. He had never seen his father looking so serious before, especially when he was saying a certain prayer with his head bent down, at the same time touching his heart again and again with his right hand.

After the service, Benny asked his older brother about it. Joseph opened the prayer-book and showed him the prayer. "This is the prayer of Confession," he explained.

"What is confession?" asked Benny.

"Well, when you do something wrong and you say, I'm sorry I did this or that,' that is confession."

"What does this prayer say?"

"This prayer follows the Aleph-Beth. You see, 'Oshamnu' begins with an Aleph, 'Bogadnu' — with a Beth, and so on. These words mean, 'We have sinned,' *We have been false,' 'We have robbed,' . . . But what's the matter, Benny? Why are you crying?"

"I thought father was the most wonderful man in the world. How could he do such things?!"

"Wait a minute! You don't really think he did these things, do you Benny?"

"Then, why did he say so? And he meant it, I watched him!"

Joseph could not help smiling. "Listen," he said, "and I'll explain it to you. This prayer is said by all Jews, even by the holiest Rabbis. You see, all Jews are like one body. When some part of the body hurts, the whole body is sick. When one Jew sins, he hurts our whole people. Therefore, the prayer mentions all possible sins, in the order of the Aleph-Beth, that any Jew, anywhere, may have done. That is why the prayer is *We have sinned,' that is, all together." And Joseph concluded:

"This goes to show how responsible we are for one another, and how we must always help each other to do only good."

Benny wiped his tears and felt much better, for he knew that his father was still the most wonderful man in the world, and he was praying not only for himself, but also for others.


The Hole in the Boat

A man was called to the beach to paint a boat. He brought his paint and brush and began to paint the boat a bright new red, as he was engaged to do. As he painted the boat, he noticed that the paint was seeping through the bottom of the boat. He realized that there was a leak, and he decided to mend it. When the painting was done, he collected his money for the job and went away.

The following day the owner of the boat came to the painter and presented him with a big check. The painter was surprised. "You have already paid me for painting the boat," he said.

"But this is not for the paint job. It is for mending the leak in the boat."

"That was so small a thing that I even did not want to charge you for it. Surely you are not paying me this huge amount for so small a thing?"

"My dear friend, you do not understand. Let me tell you what happened.

"When I asked you to paint the boat I had forgotten to mention to you about the leak. When the boat was nice and dry, my children took the boat and went fishing. I wasn't home at the time. When I came home and found that they had gone out in the boat, I was frantic with fear for I remembered that the boat had a leak. Imagine my relief and happiness when I saw them coming back safe and sound. I examined the boat and saw that you had repaired the leak! Now you see what you have done? You have saved the lives of my children! I haven't enough money to repay you for your good 'little' deed. . . ."

A Piece of String

A wealthy merchant bought a wonderful candelabra for his home. It was a masterpiece of art, made of pure crystal and studded with precious stones. It cost a real fortune.

In order to hang up this beautiful candelabra, the merchant had a hole made in the ceiling. Through the hole he let one end of a rope drop into the living room which he attached to the candelabra. The other end of the rope he had fastened to a nail in the attic. Then he pulled up the rope until the candelabra was snugly hanging from the ceiling of his living room. The rest of the rope he wound around the nail in the attic.

Everybody who came to the house admired the wonderful candelabra, and the merchant and his household were very proud of it.

One day a poor boy came begging for old clothes. He was told to go up to the attic where old discarded clothes were stored, and help himself to some. This the poor beggar did. He collected a neat bundle of clothes, packed them in his bag, then looked for a piece of rope to tie up his bag. He saw a lot of rope wound around a nail and decided to help himself to a piece of rope. And so he took out his pocket knife and cut himself a piece of rope.

Crash! There was a terrific smash, and the next moment the whole family rushed to the attic crying, "You idiot! Look what you have done! You have cut the rope and have ruined us!"

The poor boy could not understand what all the excitement was about. Said he: "What do you mean, 'ruined' you? All I did was to take a small piece of rope. Surely this did not ruin you?"

"You poor fish," replied the merchant. "Yes, all you did was to take a piece of rope. But it so happened that my precious candelabra hung by it. Now you have broken it beyond repair!"

The two stories, my friends, have one moral. Very often, by doing what seems to us a "small" Mitzvah we never know what wonderful thing we have really done. And conversely, in committing what seems to us a "small" transgression, we are causing a terrible catastrophe. Both good deeds and bad deeds cause a "chain reaction." One good deed brings another good deed in its train, and one transgression brings another. Each of them, no matter how seemingly "small," may create or destroy worlds. Don't you think these two stories are worth remembering?


(A Story About the Baal-Shem-Tov)

It is an age-old custom to devote more time during the month of Elul to prayer and the reciting of T'hillim. Even scholarly Jews, who spend most of their time in the study of the Torah, devote more to prayer and T'hillim during these days.

In this connection, we bring you here the following story:

The saintly Baal-Shem-Tov was a great lover of his fellow-Jews. He loved the young ones and the old, the town-people and the country folk, the scholars and the unlearned. He loved them all with all his heart and soul.

No wonder Jews flocked to him from far and near, for isn't the heart like a mirror? As one feels towards the other, so does the other feel towards him. And so many Jews came to the Baal-Shem-Tov. Some came to listen to his words of Torah; to them the Baal-Shem-Tov revealed hidden secrets of the Torah which made their hearts sing for joy. Others, including the unlearned ones, came to ask his advice or blessing, or just to gaze at the saintly face of the Baal-Shem-Tov and to be inspired by the melodies they heard; for the melodies were sung without words, or with very simple words which they could understand.

The simple, unlearned folk felt very much ashamed of themselves for not having learned more in their youth. The Baal-Shem-Tov knew how they felt. He knew that it was not their fault. Indeed, he often told them that they must not feel unhappy, for G-d loves sincerity, simplicity, honesty and humility, and these were found in abundance among the unlearned. In this they were second to none!

To show them that he really meant it, the Baal--Shem-Tov was especially friendly and attentive to them. When he sat at the table, surrounded by his brilliant students, many of whom were famous scholars, the Baal-Shem-Tov invited the poor and simple folk to partake from the -wine over which he had recited Kiddush, gave them generous slices of honey cake, and generally made them feel as though they were his favorite children.

The scholars who sat at the table could not understand why the saintly Baal-Shem-Tov was showering so much attention upon the unlearned folk.

The Baal-Shem-Tov also knew how the scholars felt. Once he told them: "You are surprised that I should favor the simple folks, arent you? It is true that they have not learned as much as you; some of them even do not know the meaning of the prayers they recite daily. But their hearts are of gold; their hearts are full to overflowing with love for humanity and for all of G-d's creatures, and they are humble and honest. They observe all the Mitzvoth of the Torah with simplicity and faith, even if they do not know much about them. Above all, there is a burning fire in their heart to be with G-d, like the Burning Bush that would not be consumed. How I envy their wonderful Jewish hearts!"

The students listened to their master and could hardly believe what they heard. The Baal-Shem-Tov looked at them earnestly and said, "I will show you soon that I have not exaggerated."

This was during the Third Repast (Seudah Sbelishitb) of the holy Sabbath day. As was the custom, the Baal-Shem-Tov sat at the head of the table surrounded by his disciples. This was the occasion when he taught them secrets of the Torah. The simple folk who could not understand the mysteries of the Torah would at that time retire to an adjoining room, where they would recite the Psalms of King David as best as they could.

The Baal-Shem-Tov closed his eyes and became deeply engrossed. His holy face showed deep concentration, and beads of perspiration stood out on his brow. Suddenly, his face lit up with a great inner joy. He opened his eyes, and all his disciples felt as though they bathed in his happiness. The Baal-Shem-Tov turned to his disciple sitting at his right: "Place your right hand on the shoulder of your neighbor." He ordered the next one to do the same, and the next, until they all formed a chain. Then he ordered them to sing a certain melody which they sang only on the most solemn occasions. "Sing with all your heart, as you have never sung before," he said. And as they sang, they felt their hearts rising higher and higher.

When they finished singing, the Baal-Shem-Tov placed his right hand on the shoulder of the disciple on his right, and his left hand on the shoulder of his disciple on his left. Now the human chain was closed.

"Let's close our eyes and concentrate," the Baal-Shem-Tov said.

Presently they heard many wonderful, melodious voices, singing Psalms. The voices were so sweet and moving that they felt as if all their heartstrings were being pulled in wonderful rhythm. Some of the voices expressed unshakable faith, others were full of joyous abandon, still others expressed heart-rending appeal. They could clearly distinguish the saintly words of the Psalms with which they were so familiar, and the frequent exclamations with which the words were intermingled: "Oh, Heavenly Father!" or "Oh, Sweet Father in Heaven!" or "Oh, Master of the Universe!"

The circle of disciples that had joined with the Baal-Shem-Tov into this heavenly excursion, sat spellbound, in complete silence. They had lost all sense of time and place; tears flowed from their closed eyes, and their hearts were full of ecstasy, ready to burst.

Suddenly, the singing stopped, for the Baal-Shem-Tov had removed his arms and broken the chain. It-was not a moment too soon, for the next moment the souls of the disciples would have surely left their bodies.

"When they recovered from their soul-stirring experience, the Baal-Shem-Tov told them how much G-d likes to listen to the Psalms, especially when they come straight from the heart, and more especially when they come straight from the pure hearts of the simple, honest and humble folk.

"But whose voices did we hear a little while ago?" asked the disciples. And they were amazed indeed when the Baal-Shem-Tov replied:

"You were listening for one brief moment to the Psalms recited by the simple folk in the next room, as the angels in heaven hear them!"


NEW YEAR's day is for us Jews not a time for frivolous rejoicing, but rather a solemn day of prayer. It is the Day of Memorial when all creatures of the earth are remembered by the Creator and judged according to their merits.

Yet, solemn and awe-inspiring though this day is, we know that the Supreme Judge of the universe is kind and merciful. He is not out to punish us, but merely wants us to follow the laws and regulations He laid down for us for our own good. He has made this day of Judgment a day of forgiveness and mercy.

Rosh-Hashanah does not find us unprepared. In the month of Elul the approach of Rosh-Hashanah was heralded by the daily sounding of the Shofar in the synagogue (except Saturdays)."") During the month of Elul the Jew is particularly careful in the observance of the religious precepts; he takes more time for his prayers; he finds himself overflowing with charitableness and loving-kindness, and resolutely determines to cast away his evil ways and habits of the past. And a wonderful feeling grips the heart of the true repenter, as if a magic hand has removed the heavy burden that has been weighing upon it in the past. It is the feeling of being able to begin life anew, like a newly-born innocent child, with no blemish on his record.

Such is the feeling that the Jew brings with him into the synagogue on the first night of Rosh-Hashanah. He finds himself close to G-d, with his prayers pouring out from the very depth of his heart.

Coming home from shul (synagogue) we greet the members of our family with an affectionate "Good-Yomtov, l'shono tovo tikoseiv v'sechoseim!" (may you be inscribed unto a happy year). Saying this, we can almost see the three huge Divine ledgers laid open before G-d: the Book of the Righteous—no, we wouldn't be there, for it contains a very few exclusive names; the Book of the Wicked—we wouldn't be there either, thank G-d; and the Book of the Average—that's where we are likely to be, with our good deeds and bad deeds just about cancelling each other out. Just one more Mitzvah, and the balance is in our favor! Why, we might even tip the scale in favor of the whole of mankind, assuming that the wicked and the good people are fifty-fifty. What a lofty thought our Sages suggested!

The Honey

Kiddush is recited in that heart-warming tune, and the hands are washed before the festive Rosh-Hashanah meal. Then comes the charming custom of dipping the bread in honey, followed by the dipping of a piece of sweet apple in honey, with the recital of the short prayer: "May it be Thy will—to renew unto us a good and sweet year." (Not forgetting first to make the blessing over the apple, of course). Various traditional foods such as fish, the head of a lamb, carrots, etc., are served on the night of Rosh-Hashanah, symbolic of innocence, merits and good fortune.

On the second night of Rosh-Hashanah there is invariably that new fruit that the children always look forward to, which is tasted for the first time in the season, so that the blessing "Sheheheyanu" might be made over it.

The Morning Service

The morning service on Rosh-Hashanah begins early as there's a lot to pray, and the Shofar must be sounded.

The prayers are said with the same ardent sincerity as on the night before. Then we listen to the reading of the Torah, chanted in that special tune which we hear only on Rosh-Hashanah and Yom-Kippur. It's a moving story: The birth of Isaac—a belated but wonderful gift to the aged Abraham and Sarah; what great rejoicing! It's the first occasion of initiating a Jewish boy into the covenant of Abraham with G-d! The loving and kind Abraham sees himself compelled to send away Hagar and Ishmael. . . Ishmael's peril and rescue; his settling down in the desert as a hunter, with archery as his trade, while Isaac devotes his life to the study of the Torah and the service of G-d . . . The mighty king Abimelech of Gerar seeks Abraham's friendship . . . Abraham erects a free hostel in Beer-Sheba and teaches all wayfarers to worship the only G-d, the Creator of the Universe. . . .

Even more moving and inspiring is the reading of the Torah on the second day of Rosh-Hashanah. It is the story of the "Akedah" (the binding of Isaac)—the severest test that any father and son were ever called upon to go through, and which both passed unflinchingly, with equal devotion and loyalty to G-d. The story is too well known to be repeated here.

The Shofar

After reading the Torah, the most solemn moment arrives—the Shofar is about to be sounded!

The Baal-Tokeah in his kittle (white robe, symbolizing purity) is getting ready to sound the Shofar. For a little while there is silence in the crowded shul whilst everybody is preoccupied with himself, as this is a most suitable moment for self-examination and final repentance.

Many thoughts flash through our mind about the significance of the sounding of the Shofar: Of course, it's a commandment like any other commandment of the Torah, but it drives home many important messages to us:

To begin with, it is like the sound of the bugle, or "Reveille," rousing the sleeping soldiers to their duties. The Shofar calls unto us: "Wake up! Wake up! There's work to be done! You have been lulled into mental lethargy by unimportant earthly things; you have neglected your spiritual needs! Wake up now! Give your soul a chance, too!"

The sound of the Shofar is an "alert," as our prophet Amos says: "Shall the Shofar be sounded in the city and the people not tremble?" The sound of the Shofar inspires us with awe, for it reminds us that it is a Day of Judgment.

The broken sounds of the "Shevarim" and "Teruah" are like stifled sobs and groans, piercing the heart; they break the heart with remorse for our past failings. . . .

The "Tekiah Gedolah" — the last long blast of the Shofar — strikes a more cheerful note, however, for it reminds us of That Great Day when the Great Shofar will be sounded to gather all the exiles of our people Israel, like a shepherd gathering in his flocks, and when with our Righteous Messiah at our head, we will return to the Land of Israel. . . .

From our reflections on the sound of the Shofar we pass on to think of the Shofar itself. The Shofar is a ram's horn. It reminds us of the Ram that was sacrificed by Abraham in Isaac's place. The story of the "Akedah" (the binding of Isaac) which we read on the second day of Rosh-Hashanah comes back to our mind with its full force. We are proud of being the children of Abraham and Isaac, and to have inherited some of their undaunted loyalty and devotion to G-d. G-d couldn't be very angry with the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who, in their time, were the first and only ones to proclaim G-d's name to the world! The more we think of our great ancestors, the more we feel inspired by their great deeds. We realize that true devotion to our Torah and our G-d means being prepared to make sacrifices, and being absolutely selfless. We know that thousands, nay, millions of our brethren have faced death with undaunted courage for the sanctification of G-d's Name, like Abraham and Isaac. How far would we go?


After the service we go home to eat. There is no afternoon nap on Rosh-Hashanah, as is often the case on Shabbos after "tcholent." Time is too precious on Rosh-Hashanah. No sooner are we through with our meal than we go back to shul. On the first day of Rosh-Hashanah Mincha is davvened early because of Tashlich, and besides, we want to say as many Psalms as we can manage. Some manage to say the whole book of Psalms over and over again during the two days of Rosh-Hashanah. Children vie with each other as to who said more Psalms. . . .

One minyan after another davvens Mincha as people come in and go off to Tashlich. We davven Mincha and join a company of young and old members of our synagogue walking to the nearest park where there's a lake. We fetch a machzor with us.

There, by the bank of the lake we find lots of Jews from various congregations, young and old, and some truly venerable-looking. There are also many Jewish women there, all saying the Tashlich prayers, and many of them wiping a tear off their faces. Some worshippers have completed saying Tashlich and they are shaking the corners of their garments, as if they were finally dumping all their sins into the water. This is symbolic of the words of the prophet, Micah: "... and Thou shalt throw into the depth of the sea all their sins. . . ."

Of course, the mere shaking of the corners of our garments will not shake off the sins. But it does remind us that we must give our heart a thorough cleaning and rid it of all evil. And indeed there is a feeling in our hearts after Tashlich as if we have left a heavy burden behind. It's a comforting feeling, and it helps us carry out our good resolutions for the New Year.


It was late on the Sixth Day since G-d began the Creation of the World. Everything was now ready, or almost everything. The sun shone brightly in the blue sky, and its rays playfully flickered in the clear waters of the rivers, brooks, and lakes down below. The meadows were green with fresh grass. The birds twittered happily in the air. The woods were full of squirrels, and rabbits, and all kinds of big and small animals.

But all the animals were dumb, and had no sense to know how they came to be, and who created them. And so G-d decided to create the last, and most wonderful creature, a creature who would be able to think, and talk, and do wonderful things. This creature was Man.

When Adam opened his eyes and saw the beautiful world around him, he knew at once that G-d created the world, and him, too. Adam's first words were: "The Lord is King forever and ever!" and the echo of his voice rang through the world.

"Now the whole world will know that I am King," G-d said, and He was very pleased.

This was the first Rosh-Hashanah! The first New Year. It was the birthday of Man, and the Coronation Day of the King of kings!

"Now, let's see what do kings do on their Coronation Day?" G-d asked, and He answered: "They make that day a festival. The loyal subjects gather everywhere to express their love and loyalty to the king. They sound the trumpets and call out 'Long live the King!' The king is filled with love for his subjects, and grants them many favors and honors. He even forgives the bad men who acted against his wishes, if they feel sorry. Yes, that's what kings do on their Coronation Day. That's what I will do!"

And so G-d made Rosh Hashanah a holy festival. We gather in the synagogues, sound the Shofar, and express our love for our King and Father in heaven. And G-d is very pleased and kind to all of us, and grants us a happy New Year.


According to tradition, it was on Rosh-Hashanah that Cain slew his brother Abel.

Abel lay motionless on the ground. Cain realized that he had killed his brother. "What shall I do with his body?" he thought, completely at a loss, for he had not seen a dead body before, nor did he know what to do with it.

Loud and angry twittering sounds made him raise his eyes. He saw two ravens fighting fiercely. Presently, one of them fell to the ground and lay still, lifeless like his brother. The victorious bird began to dig a hole in the ground with its beak and claws- It rolled the body of the dead bird into it, covered it with soil and flew away.

Cain now knew what he had to do. He dug a grave in the ground and lay the body of his brother into it and covered it with soil. "I must run away from here," he thought. Then he heard a heavenly voice, "Do you think you can run away from Me? Where is your brother Abel?"

Cain became frightened. "I know not," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

"You foolish son of man," G-d said to him again. "You cannot hide anything from Me!"

Cain's heart was filled with remorse. He was deeply sorry for what he had done. "Is my sin too heavy even for Divine forgiveness?" he cried in anguish.

G-d looked into Cain's heart, and saw that he was truly sorry. Said G-d, "Because you have repented honestly, with all your heart, I will lighten your punishment. I will spare your life, but a restless vagabond and wanderer you shall be to the end of your days; then you, too, will die at the hands of a man."

Cain set out on his wanderings. His father Adam met him. "Why are you so sad, my son?" Adam asked him. Cain told him all that had happened.

"Is the power of repentance so great?" Adam exclaimed. "What a pity I did not know it sooner."

Adam now prayed to G-d to forgive him for his own sin of eating from the forbidden tree. He prayed with all his heart, and G-d accepted his sincere repentance, and forgave him.

Cain and Adam were the first repenters. They repented, and were forgiven—on Rosh-Hashanah.


It was the first day of Rosh-Hashanah in the synagogue of the Berditschever Rabbi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

The synagogue was crowded. The Berditschever Rabbi himself was at the Amud, leading the congregation in the solemn prayers.

"All declare Thy Majesty, O G-d, Who sittest in Judgment. . . ."

The Rabbi's soft, vibrant voice touched the heartstrings of every worshipper. Hardly anybody's eyes were dry. From the women's gallery many a sob burst forth, loud enough to send the tears rolling down every face.

"To Him, Who searches the hearts in the Day of Judgment... ' "

As the Rabbi pronounced the words, his voice broke, and everybody's heart was filled with remorse. Everybody pictured himself standing before the Seat of Glory, where the Judge of the whole Universe presided, to dispense justice, and to pronounce the verdict. "Be merciful and gracious to us," was the inaudible plea, coming from the innermost recesses of every heart.

The Rabbi recited line after line of the solemn prayer, which the congregation repeated, until he came to the line:

"To Him, Who acquires His servants in judgment..."

Here the Rabbi suddenly paused, for the words died on his lips. His prayer shawl (Tallith) slid from his head onto his shoulders, revealing his pale face; his eyes were shut, and he seemed to be in a trance.

A shudder passed through the worshippers. Something was amiss. A critical situation must have arisen in the Heavenly Court; things were not goihg well for the petitioners. The Prosecution was apparently on the verge of triumph. . . . Only increased prayer and repentance could change the ominous verdict. . . . The congregation of worshippers held its breath, and waited with palpitating hearts.

A few moments later, the Rabbi suddenly came to. The color returned to his face, which now became radiant with joy. His voice shook with ecstasy and triumph as he recited:

"To Him, who acquires His servants in judgment!"

After the service, when the Rabbi was sitting at his festive table, surrounded by his ardent followers, one of the elders plucked up courage to enquire of the Rabbi as to what caused the interruption in his prayer, and why precisely at those words.

The Rabbi began to relate:

I felt myself lifted up to the gates of heaven, and then I saw Satan carrying a heavy load. The sight filled me with anxiety, for I knew that the Unholy one was carrying a bagful of sins to put onto the Scales of Justice before the Heavenly Court. Suddenly Satan put the bag down and hastened in a downward swoop—no doubt to pick up yet another sin, committed by some hapless Jew on this very Solemn Day. The bag having been left unattended, I went up to it and began to examine its contents. The bag was crammed -with all kinds of sins: evil gossip, hatred without reason, jealousies, wasted time which should have been spent in study of the Torah, thoughtless prayers, and so on—ugly creatures of sins, big and small. And while I was wondering what to do, I knew that even at that very moment the One "With a Thousand Eyes had spied yet another sin, and would soon bring it gleefully to put into the bag. "Dear me," I thought, "things don't look too good." I pushed my hand into the bag and began pulling out one sin after another, to look at it more closely. I saw that almost all the sins were committed unwillingly, without pleasure, downright carelessly, or in sheer ignorance. No Jew was really bad, but the circumstances of exile, poverty and hardships, sometimes harden his heart, set his nerves on edge, bring about petty jealousies, and the like.

And strangely enough, as I was examining all these sins, and thinking what was really behind them, they seemed to melt away, one by one, until hardly anything was left in the bag. Tlie bag dropped back, limp and empty. . . .

The next moment, I heard a terrible cry. Satan was back, and discovering what I had done, he was filled with anger and consternation. "You thief! What did you do to my sins?" He grabbed, at my beard and peyoth, yelling, "Thief, Robber. All year I labored to gather these precious sins, and now you have stolen them! You shall pay double!"

"How can I pay you?" I pleaded. "My sins may be many, but not 50 many."*

"Well, you know the Law," the Adversary countered. "He who steals must pay double, and if he is unable to pay, he shall be sold into servitude. You are my slave now! Come!"

The thought of being Satan's slave chilled my blood, and I was ready to collapse.

Finally, my captor brought me before the Seat of Glory, and pleaded his case before the Supreme Judge of the Universe.

After listening to Satan's complaint, the Holy One, blessed is He, said: "I will buy him, for so I promised through my prophet Isaiah (46:4) : Even to his old age, I will be the same, and when he is grey-headed, still will I sustain him. I have made him, I will bear him, I will sustain and save him!"

At this point I came to — concluded the Berditschever Rabbi. — Now I understand the meaning of the words,

"To Him, who acquires His servants in Judgment!" We are the servants of G-d, and if we are faithful servants, G-d protects us and is our Merciful Master. Let us remain faithful servants to G-d, and we'll be spared from being servants of servants, and in the merit of this, the Almighty will surely inscribe us all in the Book of Life, for a happy New Year.


First Day:
Genesis xxi
Haphtorah: I Samuel, i

Five men are called up to the reading of the Torah on Rosh-Hashanah, if it occurs on a week-day; seven— if the first day occurs on a Sabbath; in both cases—apart from the one called up to Maftir. Two scrolls are taken out; the second one is for Maftir.

The birth of Isaac is the theme of the reading of the Torah on the first day of Rosh-Hashanah.*)

* See page 21

The message of the portion may be found in a number of lessons. First, there is the lesson of Divine Providence and Omnipotence. Sarah, at the age of ninety, gives birth to her first and only child, Isaac, the second of our Patriarchs, when Abraham was one hundred years old. Isaac is entered into the Covenant of our father Abraham at the age of eight days, as G-d had commanded.

The importance of upbringing and education is also emphasized in this portion. Seeing that Ishmael, Isaac's elder half-brother, the son of Hagar, exercises a bad influence on the younger Isaac, Sarah insists on sending away both Hagar and her son. Lost in the desert of Beer-Sheba and on the brink of a painful death from thirst, Divine Providence saves Ishmael by a miraculous revelation of a well.

The portion concludes' with an episode illustrating Abraham's rise in the eyes of the surrounding neighbors, when Abimelech, king of the Philistines, comes to visit Abraham to conclude a covenant of peace with him.

The birth of Samuel is the theme of the Haphtorah. Both Sarah and Hannah had been childless and barren, but G-d eventually blessed them each with a son. Both Isaac and Samuel were consecrated to the service of G-d: Isaac through the Akedah (Binding), and Samuel as a prophet.

The Haphtorah concludes with the significant words: "O Lord! G-d's adversaries shall be broken when from heaven G-d will thunder down upon them and judge the ends of the world; He will give strength to His king and raise the horn of His anointed." Here the prophetess Hannah refers to the final Day of Judgment and the "horn of Messiah,"—a theme which we mention many times in our prayers of this day.

Second Day:
Genesis xxii
Haphtorah: Jeremiah 31

The "Binding of Isaac" (Akedab) is the theme of the reading in the Torah, on the second day of Rosh-Hashanah, which directly follows the portion of the previous day. It is the symbol of self-sacrifice with which we, the children of Abraham, are always ready to obey G-d's commands, and for which G-d has promised us His blessings.

The Haphtorah suitably speaks of the final rebuilding and redemption of Israel: "For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from a hand too strong for him . . . Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears, for thy work shall be rewarded . . . and they shall return from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for thy future . . . and thy children shall return to their own border." The Haphtorah concludes with G-d's moving declaration of His everlasting love and mercy for Israel: "Surely Ephraim is My own darling child! For whenever I speak of him, I do earnestly remember him still. ... I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord."


Hannah was one of the seven women to whom G-d gave the power of prophecy, for altogether we had seven women prophetesses, and forty-eight prophets, whose prophecies are mentioned in the TeNaCh.

The story, as we read it on Rosh Hashonah from the first chapter of the book of Samuel I, begins with introducing to us Elkanah, Hannah's husband. He was a Levite (belonging to the tribe of Levi) and lived in Ramathaim-Zophim of Mount Ephraim. Elkanah was a man of noble character and of great piety. He saw with sorrow that many of his Jewish brethren were slowly drifting away from G-d, and he took upon himself to create a lively interest in the spiritual center of Shiloh, where Eli the High Priest was the Judge of Israel in those days. As prescribed in the Torah, Elkanah made a pilgrimage to Shiloh during each of the Three Festival seasons. Together with him his family spent the holiday in a religious atmosphere in the holy city of the Sanctuary. When the people saw Elkanah's caravan making its way to Shiloh in a happy and festive spirit, many of them joined him. A closer bond thus developed between the Jewish people and their spiritual center in Shiloh, thanks to Elkanah's influence.

Hannah was one of the two wives of Elkanah, and she was childless. Silently she suffered many humiliations at the hands of the more fortunate Peninah, who did have children. On one of the annual pilgrimages to Shiloh, Hannah stood in the Sanctuary and poured out her heart before G-d. She prayed that G-d bless her with a son, and vowed that she would consecrate his whole life to G-d. Silently she prayed, swaying slightly. Eli saw her and thought she was drunk. He rebuked her for entering the Sanctuary in a state of drunkenness. But Hannah answered with dignity, "No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before G-d." Eli realized the deep piety and grief which had moved this woman, and he said to her, "Go in peace, and the G-d of Israel grant thee thy petition which thou hast asked of Him." Hannah thanked him graciously and went away with happiness in her heart, feeling certain that her prayer was accepted.

In due time a son was born to her, whom she named Samuel, meaning, as she said, "I have asked him (borrowed him) of G-d." Hannah's joy knew no bounds. The first few years she kept him home. Then true to her promise, she took him to Shiloh with an offering of gratitude to G-d. Turning the boy over to Eli, the High Priest, Hannah said, "My lord ... I am the woman that stood by thee here praying unto G-d. For this child I prayed, and G-d hath given me my petition." She told Eli of her vow, and left her beloved son in Eli's care, to be brought up in a wholly religious atmosphere in the Sanctury.

You might think that Hannah would be heart-broken to part with her son, for whom she had prayed for so many years. But Hannah was full of joy as she prayed to G-d and said, "My heart rejoices in G-d." These were the first words of Hannah's famous prophecy which reads like a wonderful hymn: "There is none holy as G-d, for there's none beside Thee; neither is there any rock like our G-d.

"Talk no more so exceedingly proudly; let not arrogance come out of your mouth;

"For G-d is an all-knowing G-d; and unto Him all actions are known.

"G-d bringeth death and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave, and He bringeth up.

"G-d maketh poor, and maketh rich; He bringeth low, and He lifteth up.

"He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, to make them inherit the seat of glory. . . ."

As we read the inspiring words of the prophetess, we can see at once how fitting they are for the Day of Judgment, Rosh-Hashanah, when G-d decides on the fate of each person: who shall live, who shall be rich, who shall be honored — or otherwise.

Our Sages tell us that the prophetess Hannah has taught us several important things. One of them is the importance of reciting prayer in a whisper. As you know, we have the "quiet" Sbemone-Esrei, which is then repeated aloud by the Chazzan (if the service is held in the synagogue) . The "quiet" Shemone-Esrei, which we say in a whisper, our lips moving but our voice hardly audible, in the way Hannah prayed, is the most important part of our prayer. When the heart is full and overwhelmed in the presence of the Almighty, then prayer is best expressed in a whisper.

Hannah also introduced the holy name of G-d, as the "G-d of Hosts," that is, the Master of the whole universe, the hosts of heaven and earth. It is most fitting on Rosh-Hashanah, when we proclaim G-d's kingdom over the whole world.

According to the Targum (which reveals many secrets hidden in the Holy Scriptures), the first verse of Hannah's prayer contains the prophecy that her son Samuel would be a prophet in Israel; that in his days the people of Israel would be delivered from the Philistines; that he would perform many miracles and wonders; and that his grandson Heyman with his fourteen sons would sing and say Psalms in the Beth-Hamikdosh, together with other fellow-Levites. In the second verse, Hannah predicts the defeat of Sennacherib at the gates of Jerusalem. Further on she prophesies about Nebuchadnezzar and other enemies of Israel who would pay for their wickedness; among them the Macedonians (Greeks) who would be defeated by the Hasmoneans;* the wicked Haman and his sons, and their defeat at the hands of Mordecai and Esther.** Finally, Hannah also prophesies about the great world war, when all the world will be engulfed in a desperate war of self-extermination, and then the Messiah will come and bring complete redemption to the people of Israel, and there will be a new world in which there will be no evil, no destruction, for all the world will be full of the wisdom of G-d.

He who says, I will sin and repent—will not be given an opportunity to repent.

He who says, I will sin and Yom Kippur will forgive —will not be forgiven on Yom Kippur.

Transgressions against a fellow-man are not forgiven on Yom Kippur unless the offended person is first reconciled. This is what Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: It is written, "Of all your sins before G-d you will be cleansed." {Lev. 16:30) Yom-Kippur forgives only sins against G-d, while sins against a fellow-man are not forgiven until forgiveness is obtained from the person offended.

Said Rabbi Akiba: You happy Israelites! Before Whom do you cleanse yourselves and Who cleanses you? —Your Father in Heaven!

(Talmud Babli, Yoma 85b)

* See Complete Story of Chanukah, by the author, ** See Complete Story of Purim, by the author.

The Shofar, as you all know, is a plain ram's horn. All year round it is hidden away somewhere in the Holy Ark in the synagogue, or in another suitable place, and we do not give it a thought. But when the month of Elul comes, the Shofar emerges from its hiding place to play a very prominent part during the Solemn Days. Blowing of the Shofar (Tekiath Shofar) highlights the service of Rosh-Hashanah, and it makes a final appearance at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service.

Let's have a closer look at the Shofar. Did you ever stop to think that it is one of the oldest wind instruments used by man? Only the reed-flute (called Ugov in the Bible) matches it in age (according to one opinion), but plays no part in our present day Divine service. The Shofar, however, is the same we used for thousands of years! All through the history of mankind new instruments have been invented and the old ones discarded, and only in the museums can we find an ancient flute or wind-pipe. Is it not remarkable that we should still cling to our age-old Shofar?

Of course, if you consider the Shofar as some "musical" instrument, you may not think much of it. It does not produce delicate and smooth tones as a modern bugle or trumpet or other wind instrument. But after all, to us the Shofar is not a "musical" instrument. It is not used for pleasure or entertainment. Far from it. It has a profound meaning. It is a call for repentance, heralding the Ten Days of Repentance, beginning with Rosh-Ha-shanah and culminating with Yom Kippur. Its message, in the words of the great Maimonides, is:

"Awake, ye sleepers, from your slumber, and ponder over your deeds; remember your Creator and go back to Him in penitence. Be not of those ivho miss realities in their pursuit of shadows, and waste their years in seeking after vain things which cannot profit or deliver. Look well to your souls and consider your acts; forsake each his evil ways and thoughts, and return to G-d so that He may have mercy upon you!"

Herein lies the most important function of the Shofar. The sounds of the Shofar are awe-inspiring, and touch off an unusual vibration in our heart, kindling a feeling of repentance, broken-heartedness and humility. Indeed, the very sounds of the Shofar, handed down to us by tradition, are very much like broken sobs and sighs. These sounds are three: Tekiah (the straight blast), Shevarim (three broken blasts) and Teruah (nine or more broken sounds). They are sounded in the following order:

1.TekiahShevarim-T eruahTekiah

2.Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah

3.Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

In each case the sounds are repeated three times, making thirty sounds in all.

Altogether, no less than one hundred sounds of the Shofar are sounded in the course of the Rosh-Hashanah morning service (each of the above group of sounds is repeated three times, and in the same way three times during the service, making ninety sounds, and finally a single time again adding up to one hundred).

Rosh-Hashanah is called the Day of Sounding the Shofar. On this day it is imperative for every Jew to hear the Shofar.

Because the purpose of the Shofar is to inspire us with humility and repentance, we can well understand why the Shofar is not richly decorated. Decorations and ornaments do not make it unfit for use as long as they are on the outside only. But if they pierce the walls of the horn through and through, it becomes useless.

Perhaps this can serve us as a lesson on the importance of simplicity and humility. Like the Shofar which becomes unfit if the gold and silver of its ornaments cut through the bone of the Shofar, so we, too, become unfit human beings if we permit gold and silver to become so important in our lives as to "cut to the bone," and take possession of our minds and souls.

In days of old, the Shofar was used on very solemn occasions. We first find the name Shofar mentioned in connection with the Revelation on Mount Sinai, when "the voice of the Shofar was exceedingly strong, and all the people that were in the camp trembled." Thus, the Shofar we hear on Rosh-Hashanah ought to remind us of our acceptance of the Torah and our obligations under its laws.

The Shofar used to be sounded when war was waged upon a dangerous enemy. Thus, the Shofar we hear on Rosh-Hashanah ought to serve us as a battle cry to wage war against our inner enemy, our evil inclinations and passions.

The Shofar was sounded on the Jubilee Year, heralding freedom from slavery and want. The Shofar we hear on Rosh-Hashanah should likewise be the signal of our breaking the shackles of sin, so that we can start a new life with a pure heart attuned to the service of G-d and fellow-man.

To sound the Shofar on Rosh-Hashanah is a commandment in the Torah. It is a precept, like all other precepts of our faith. And like all other precepts, we have to make a blessing before fulfilling the commandment. The purpose of the blessing is to thank G-d for having made us holy through His commandments and for giving us an opportunity to do His will. The blessing is a preparation for us, so that we should not do these things in an absent-minded way, by force of habit only, but should know what we are about to do, and before whom we are going to do it, and the meaning of what we are going to do.

The blessing before the Shofar-blowing has the same purpose.

Now let us see what this blessing is:

"Blessed art Thou, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who hath sanctified us (made us holy) by His commandments and commanded us to hear the voice of the Shofar""'

When you say in English "to hear," it means but one thing. But in Hebrew the same word (lishmoa, from the same root as Shema) means several things. It means, first of all, to hear, or to listen with our ears; it also means to understand, and finally it also means to obey.

And so when the Baal Tokea (the one who is about to sound the Shofar) makes the blessing for all of us, we are expected not only to hear the sound of the Shofar, but also to understand and obey its message.

What is the message of the Shofar?

* Note that we start the blessing in the second person — as though standing directly before G-d, but we finish it in the third person — for G-d is omnipresent and unseen, holy and quite beyond our understanding. All blessings have this form.

As already mentioned, the Shofar makes three sounds: Tekiah—the straight blast, like a long sigh; Shevarim— three broken sounds, like gasps; and Tcniah—nine (or more) short sounds, like broken sobs or wails. Thus, the very sounds of the Shofar arouse and express our feelings: deep regret for any wrongs we may have committed in the past. But it is more than that; it is also a call to arms, like war drums. The Shofar tells us to take up arms against everything that does not let us fully practise our religion: against our passion; against our being lazy, negligent; against our being influenced by bad friends, and so on. It tells us: be brave, don't be afraid or lazy to fulfill all those holy precepts, such as praying every day, putting on Tefillin, wearing Tzitzith, observing the holy Sabbath, and so on. For our religious precepts and truths are worth fighting for.

And even if in the past we have not observed all these things very carefully, the Shofar tells us: It is not too late to start right now. G-d will forgive you for the past, if you will make a firm resolution to observe these things better in the future. This is the final message of the Shofar: the message of Divine forgiveness. That is why the final sound of the Shofar is a long blast, the Tekiah Gedolah ("Great Tekiah"). This sound does not represent a sigh or a sob or a wail, but a cry of triumph, a shout of joy, for we are confident that G-d has accepted our repentance and has forgiven us. You may notice this expression of joy in the melody of the verses which are recited immediately after the Tekioth. For, whereas the verses recited before the Tekioth are solemn and pleading, those recited after the Tekioth are jubiliant; they speak of happiness and joy, the kind of feeling that comes after sincere repentance.

And so this is the meaning of the blessing to hear (and to understand and to obey) the voice of the Shofar: just as the word lishmoa has three meanings, so has the Shofar three chief messages: a call for repentance (to wake us from our indifference in the past); a call to arms (to overcome all obstacles in our way in the future); and finally—a message of G-d's mercy and forgiveness, so that we can start the new year with a clean slate, in a happy state of mind, like innocent children who have never sinned and have not an unhappy memory.


Many, many years ago, before there were any fire engines, fire brigades, and electric fire alarms, and most houses were built of wood, a fire was a terrible thing. A whole town, or a good part of it, could go up in flames and smoke. And so, when fire broke out, everyone left his business or work, and rushed to help put out the fire. There used to be a watch tower which was taller than the other buildings, where a watchman kept a lookout all the time. As soon as he saw smoke or fire, he would sound the alarm. The townspeople would then form a human chain between the fire and the nearest well, and pass on to each other pails of water with which to put out the fire.

Once it happened that a lad from a small village came to town for the first time. He stopped at an inn, on the outskirts of the town. Suddenly he heard the sound of a bugle. He asked the innkeeper what it meant.

"Whenever we have a fire," the innkeeper explained to the lad, "we sound the bugle, and the fire is quickly put out."

"How wonderful!" thought the village lad. "What a surprise and sensation I will bring to my village!"

Thereupon, the village lad went and bought himself a bugle. When he returned to his village, he was full of excitement. He called all the villagers together. "Listen, good people," he exclaimed. "No need to be afraid of fire any more. Just watch me, and see how quickly I will put out a fire!"

Saying this, he ran to the nearest hut and set fire to its straw roof. The fire began to spread very quickly.

"Don't be alarmed!" cried the lad. "Now watch me."

The lad began to blow the bugle with all his might, interrupting it only to catch his breath, and to say, "Wait, this will put out the fire in no time!" But the fire did not seem to care much for the music, and merely hopped from one roof to another, until all the village was in flames.

The villagers now began to scold and curse the lad. "You fool," they cried. "Did you think that the mere blowing of the trumpet will put the fire out? It is only the call of an alarm, to wake up the people, if they are asleep, or to break them away from their business and work, and send them to the well to draw water and put out the fire!"

We are reminded of this story, when we think of the Shofar which is sounded many times on Rosh-Ha-shanah. Some people think, like that village lad, that the sound of the Shofar itself will do everything for them. They think that they may continue to "sleep," or go about their business, there being no need to change their way of life and daily conduct; the Shofar sounded in the synagogue will surely bring them a happy New Year.

But, like the bugle in the story, the Shofar is but the sound of an "alarm." It has a message: "Wake up, you sleepers, think about your ways, return to G-d, put out the 'fire' that is threatening to destroy your Jewish homes. Go to the "Well, the Well of Living Waters, the Torah and Mitzvoth. Hurry, before it is too late!"

That is why, immediately after the Shofar is sounded, we exclaim: "Happy are the people who understand the meaning of the sound of the Shofar; they walk in Thy light, O G-d."

THE PARDON (A Parable)

A king went a-hunting in the forest. Chasing after a deer, he went deep into the woods, and when he looked around, he found himself alone. He began to look for a way out of the woods, and for the road which would lead him back to his city and palace.

In his search he met some country folk, but nobody recognized him, or wanted to have anything to do with him. "When he began to speak to them, they did not even understand what he was saying, nor did they care.

Wandering about in the woods for a long time, the king heard a fine melody which someone was playing on a flute. Following the sound, the king came across a man and engaged him in conversation. The man recognized the king at once, and spoke to him with humility and respect. The king saw that here was a man after his heart, and liked him at once. When he told the man that he was hoping to meet someone who would be able to lead him out of the woods and back to his palace and throne, the man was happy to do it, and the king felt grateful to him. He invited him to his palace and gave him a place of honor among his royal counsellors and advisers. Then he ordered costly garments for his friend, befitting his rank.

Some time later, the king's friend disobeyed the king. The king became very angry, and ordered him to appear before the royal court for trial.

When the day of trial came, the king's friend took off his robes, and put on the simple clothes he wore on the day when he first met the king. He also took his flute with him, and appeared before the royal court very humble and repentant.

Before passing judgment the king asked him if he had any request to make.

"Permit me, Your Majesty, to play a melody on my flute," the defendant asked, and his request was granted.

He played the beautiful melody which he had played on that day when he had met the king for the first time.

The king remembered it well. At once that happy meeting came to his mind, when the stranger had made the king so happy, and led him out of the forest back to his palace. The king thereupon pardoned his friend and took him back into his grace and favor.

This story will help us understand a little better the meaning of the blowing of the Shofar. For what happened to us is very similar to the story.

When G-d was about to give the Torah, he turned to various peoples, but no people on earth wanted to accept it. In the end G-d turned to our people, and we accepted Him and the Torah with the beautiful words of "Naase v'nishma"—We will Do and Obey—a promise to fulfill G-d's commands without question. We took upon ourselves the Divine rule, and proclaimed G-d as the King of the whole world. This pleased G-d very much.

When Rosh-Hashanah comes, and all our actions come before G-d and are weighed on the scale, the good deeds against the bad deeds during the whole year, we may rightly be worried what the outcome may be, if we were judged according to our merits. We want G-d to be merciful to us and forgive us no matter what our record may have been in the past. Therefore we appear before G-d in the way we appeared before Him on that great day at Sinai. On that day the sound of the Shofar was heard, and we sang the beautiful melody of "Naase v'nishma." Then G-d remembers that day and turns towards us with mercy and forgiveness, and our love for G-d and G-d's love for us becomes as strong as ever. Then we may be sure that we will be inscribed unto a New Year of good health and happiness.


(A Story)

Once upon a time there lived a poor orphan, who had neither father nor mother. His name was Moshe, but because he was a small boy and an orphan everybody called him "Moshele." As long as he was still a little boy he went to "Cheder" where he learned "Chumash" and "Gemarah" together with the other children, but when he grew a little older he had to go out and earn his livelihood. So a collection was made to provide him with a basketful of merchandise, such as needles, buttons and other trinkets, and Moshele set out to sell them to the peasants and farmers in the villages and hamlets that surrounded his native town.

It was a very -hard job, of course. In the summer the heat was unbearable, and in the winter the snow and icy winds often made his teeth chatter. But Moshele did not mind. His only regret was that he could not go to the Yeshivah, for he wanted to become a scholar.

One wintry day Moshele was trudging along on the snow-covered road, with his basketful of merchandise under his arm. He knew some Psalms by heart and he recited them cheerily as he walked. Snow kept on falling from the grey skies, and soon he found himself plodding ankle deep in snow. It was getting difficult to walk, and it was even more difficult to follow the road which was now completely covered with snow as far as the eye could see. Unwittingly he strayed off the road and presently found himself in a little wood. Moshele felt very tired and decided to have a little rest. He noticed a big stump and sat down on it, placing his basket down on the snow. "No, you must not fall asleep," he kept on telling himself, "it is very dangerous; you might freeze to death!" So he sat there huddled up and shivering, trying in vain to keep himself warm, and his eyes open.

Suddenly he felt a breath of warmth through his body. He found himself sitting by a nice, cosy fire, and stretched out his hands and feet towards it. He felt as if sharp needles were pricking his finger tips, but that stopped soon as the flames blazed bigger and bigger. . . .

A peasant passing on the road in his sledge noticed the huddled figure of a lad almost fully covered with snow. He stopped his horse and ran to the body. Brushing the snow off, he found that the body was almost frozen stiff, with no sign of life.

Without losing time, the peasant set to work. He pulled out his knife and cut up the clothing around the still body. Then he started to rub it briskly with snow. After half an hour's work the blood began to flow in the young body again, and the boy stirred. The peasant then carried the lad to his sledge, covered him up, and drove his horse as fast as he could to his home in the nearby village. There he again rubbed the body of the lad with snow, until his skin began to glow, and finally poured some hot brandy down the lad's throat. Moshele opened'his eyes and closed them again. Thereupon the peasant carried him onto the oven and covered him up snugly. Moshele fell asleep.

The crowing of the cock woke him up very early next morning. Moshele opened his eyes and looked around. He could not understand where he was, and why so many pins and needles were pricking him all over his body.

The farmer's wife was up and came up to see him. "How do you feel?" she asked him in Russian, for she was a Russian peasant-woman. "Alright," Moshele said, still wondering what had happened to him.

The woman boiled up some tea for him, and he drank it gratefully.

"What is your name?" she asked him.

Moshele tried to think hard, but could not remember. "I don't know," he said, thinking how strange it was that he could not remember his own name.

"Never mind," said the peasant woman, "we'll call you Peter."

Thus Moshele, or Peter as he was now called by all, remained in the peasant's home, little knowing that he was a Jewish boy and did not belong there at all.

When summer came, Peter helped the farmer in all the work in the field: ploughing, sowing and reaping. Peter was an industrious, capable lad, and the farmer was very pleased with him.

The summer passed by and autumn came. One day the farmer said to Peter: "To-morrow we shall drive to town and take some of our products to the market."

Peter was very glad, and looked forward to seeing the town. When they finally got there the next day, the market place and all the streets were deserted. When they passed by the synagogue, they saw it was crowded with worshippers, and the peasant realized that it was a Jewish holiday. There was nothing to do but to drive back home. But Peter was fascinated by the quaint synagogue and begged the peasant to stay in town a while. "Very good then," said the peasant, "you will meet me in the public house," and he went to have a drink, while Peter felt an irresistable desire to look into the synagogue.

Peter came in quietly and stood by the door. The worshippers wrapped in praying-shawls seemed very intent on their prayers; many of them were weeping. No one paid any attention to him. Peter looked closely around him. His heart began to beat faster. Somehow the scene was familiar to him. Had he ever been here before? Slowly his memory returned to him, as everything in the synagogue brought new memories into his conscience. The tune and melodies of the cantor were familiar to him. The scrolls of the Torah that had just been brought out of the Ark were familiar too. As if glued to his place, Peter stood motionless and stared. . . .

Peter did not know how long he stood there, but presently he noticed a little excitement among the worshippers. The very air appeared to become tense with sacred animation, as if angels were fluttering in the air. Peter was transfixed with awe.

The silence was broken by the shaking voice of the aged cantor, and immediately the entire community joined in fervent prayer. For some time the roar of the whole community praying seemed to shake the very walls of the synagogue, and then it began to subside gradually, until a solemn silence fell again. In the stillness of the air the sobbing of the cantor became clearly audible, and Peter found himself weeping too.

Suddenly he heard "Tekiah-ah-ah" and the blast of the ram's horn pierced the air.

"Shevari-i-m Teruah," and again the broken sound of the Shofar seemed to stab Peter's heart. "Tekiah-ah-ah," the Shofar called again. . . .

"Moshele, you are a Jew," the Shofar called. "Moshele, you are a Jew! Hurry now . . . Now is the time to return to G-d . . . Tekiah-ah . . . Teruah-ah-ah. . . .

Everything now became very clear to Moshele. . . .

"O dear G-d, forgive me," Moshele cried, and fainted.


A great and saintly Rabbi was once aboard ship, together with two of his disciples. Rosh-Hashanah drew near and land was not yet in sight. So the Rabbi and his disciples prepared to spend the Holy Days of Rosh-Hashanah on the High Seas.

On the night of Rosh-Hashanah a terrific storm broke out. The ship was tossed about by the huge waves and was in grave danger of breaking up. The big waves swept over the ship again and again, flooding it from bow to stern. The sailors worked hard to bale the water out, until they had no strength left in them. It seemed only a matter of time before the ship would sink, unless the storm passed immediately.

During all this time the saintly Rabbi sat in his cabin, engrossed in prayer, paying no attention to the storm threatening the ship. At dawn, when the storm had not let up, his two disciples decided to tell the Rabbi of the danger that threatened all of them. Entering his cabin, and finding him engrossed in prayer, they hesitated and withdrew, finding no courage to disturb him. A little while later they tried again, but again they turned back, not daring to disturb him. Finally, when the storm seemed to have reached its height and it was a matter of minutes before they would all be drowned, the disciples decided there was no time to be lost. With trembling voices and tears in their eyes they approached the Rabbi and told him of the danger they were in.

"If this is the case, then waste no time. Bring the Shofar quickly and let us fulfill the sacred commandment of sounding the Shofar while we still are alive," the Rabbi said.

The disciples brought the Shofar, and soon the sound of the Shofar was heard through the boat — "Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah . . . ah . . . ah . . ." And the high winds seemed to snatch up the sounds of the Shofar and carry them far away. . . ."

Suddenly the wind began to calm down, as if afraid to drown out the holy sounds of the Shofar. Also, the roar of the sea grew quieter and quieter, and before long there was perfect calm over the water. The last sounds of the Shofar rang clearly in the stillness of the early morning.

It was a wonderful miracle!

The captain and the sailors and many passengers, following the sound of the Shofar, came to the Rabbi's cabin, where they found the Rabbi and his two disciples joyfully concluding the solemn Shofar service.

Amazed and full of awe, they bowed their heads in respect, and when the Rabbi concluded the service, the captain said, "That is certainly a magical horn that you have there, for it has changed the stormy sea into a calm lake. If you will sell it to me, I will give you anything you wish for it."

The Rabbi smiled as he answered: "No, my friend, it is not a magical horn, but a Shofar, a simple ram's horn, which we Jews are commanded to sound on the solemn days of our New Year. It raises a storm in our hearts, which is mightier than the storm of the sea, for it calls us to return to G-d with humility.

"I did not know," the Rabbi continued, "that it would save us all. All I wanted to do was to fulfill one more Divine commandment in the last moments of life left to us. But G-d is merciful, and spared us all, so that we might live a good and holy life. Let us show our gratitude to G-d by obeying His commandments always, in times of safety as well as in times of danger, for we are always at His mercy."


From the begining chapters of
The Complete Story of Tishrei by Nissan Mindel

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