1.04 WAKING UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR : THE OPPORTUNITY OF ELUL
WHEN G-D REVEALED HIMSELF TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE AT MOUNT SINAI THEY ROSE TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL IMAGINABLE
On Shavuos, in the year 2448, G-d revealed hlimself to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai. the Jewish People had cleansed themselves of the impurity of Egypt and had risen to the highest spiritual level. The greatness they had achieved cannot be underestimated. After uttering “na’aseh v’nishma (we will do and we will understand),” at Mount Sinai, they resembled angels rather than humans. They had regained the level of Adam before he sinned, and Hashem pronounced them free of the power of the Angel of Death. (Shmos Raba 32.7)
MOSHE’S FIRST ASCENT TO THE HEAVENS
Moses went up to heaven to learn the Torah directly from G-d. Before ascending to heaven to receive the luchos, Moshe assured the people, “I will return in forty days, before noontime.” (Shmos Raba 41.8). At the end of the forty days, Hashem handed Moshe two sapphire luchos (tablets) of identical shape and size. On them, He had engraved the Ten Comandments
THE JEWISH PEOPLE MISCALCULATE MOSHE’S RETURN FROM MOUNT SINAI
At noon on the 40th day when Moshe didn’t return, the people knew that he would not be returning for the rest of that day. This was because Moshe would only ascend and descend in the early mornings. The people had calculated in the following manner: They calculated 40 days including the day when Moshe went up. In reality, Moshe had excluded the day he went up from his calculation because he had still been in the camp the night preceding that day (i.e. it had not been a complete 24 hour period). Since Moshe had left on the seventh of Sivan, he should have returned, according to the people’s opinion, on the sixteenth of Tammuz. According to Moshe’s calculations however, he was due not until the 17th of Tammuz. (Based on Rashi ‘When Moshe went up Shabbos 89)
THE JEWISH PEOPLE PANIC WHEN MOSHE DOESN’T RETURN AND THEY BUILD THE GOLDEN CALF
On the 16th of Tammuz when Moshe didn’t return, the Jewish People began to build the Golden Calf (The Chait Ha’aigel). As soon as the Bnei Yisrael had set up the aigel, the Clouds of Glory departed. The people thus remained bare of Divine protection. The angels descended and removed their immunity from the Angel of Death. By their sin they relinquished their spiritual greatness and became mortal again. (Shmos Raba 51.8)
MOSHE’S SECOND ASCENT TO THE HEAVENS
After smashing the Tablets, destroying the Calf, and punishing the sinners, Moshe went up to plead for the lives of the Jewish People as a whole. On the nineteenth of Tammuz, Moshe ascended to Heaven once again. He stayed there for forty days, until the 29th of Av, to plead with Hashem to pardon the Bnei Yisrael. (Rashi on Shmos 33.11) During that time, he presented his arguments in favor of the Jewish People with such intensity and fervor that his whole body was feverish. After 40 days of unceasing prayer, Hashem finally agreed to spare the Jewish People in the merit of their forefathers. On the last day of Av, Moshe returned to the people. Although he had evoked Hashem’s mercy, thus saving the Jewish People from destruction, Moshe had not obtained forgiveness for their sin. (Tanchuma Ki Sisa 35)
MOSHE’S THIRD AND FINAL ASCENT TO THE HEAVENS
Moshe ascended Har Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul and stayed in the heavenly camp for forty days. This was his third stay in Heaven (bringing to 120 the total number of days spent there.)
On the tenth of Tishrei, Hashem pardoned* KIal Yisrael for the Chait Ha’aigel. He gave Moshe the second luchos. Hashem designated this day as a day of forgiveness for all future generations: the day of Yom Kippur.
And on the new moon of Elul, G-d said to Moshe “Come up to me to the Mount and let them sound the shofar throughout the camp … so that they do not go astray after the worship of idols. And G-d is elevated with that shofar of that day… Therefore the sages instituted that the shofar be sounded on the new moon of Elul every year. (Pirke de Rebbi Eliezar Ch. 46)
In the Tur, chapter 581, it is stated that the shofar is to be blown not only on Rosh Chodesh, but this custom is continued throughout the whole month of Elul in order to bring people to teshuva.
WHAT SHOULD SOMEONE BE THINKING WHEN HE HEARS THE SHOFAR BEING BLOWN IN ELUL?
A. The shofar of Elul is meant to bring clarity. alertness, and focus while you are attempting to get forgiveness from Hashem.
The Jewish People attempted not to fall back into their previous mistakes while Moshe was away. This is a message for us. During Elul, we must fight not to fall back into our old habits and maintain focus on our main priorities while we are trying to get forgiveness.
B.’ The shofar of Elul symbolizes not going after idolatry
“Let them sound the shofar throughout the camp… so that they do not go astray after the worship of idols.” We see from the excerpt from Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezer that the purpose of the shofar sound is to turn the people from the worship of idols.
What is idolatry? It is the attribution of power to anything other than G-d. It is running after things that do not have any meaning — running after confusion and illusion.
When someone hears the Shofar in Elul, it reminds him of the main purpose of Elul: to get clarity as to the true meaning in life; to draw away from the things that pull him down; and to focus on the main things in life.
C. The Shofar of Elul symbolizes the ability to do teshuva even on the most grievous sins.
Elul was the time period when Moshe was in Heaven getting the final forgiveness* for one of the most grievous sins a human can do. Therefore, when the shofar is blown it emphasizes the ability to return to Hashem even after one has done harmful things to that relationship. It shows the mercy of the Al-mighty to allow us to return to Him if we take the proper steps, no matter what we have done.
We see from the previous excerpts how powerful and meaningful is the message of the month of Elul. We also see the function of the shofar in bringing across that message. May we all hear the message of the shofar of Elul and integrate it into our lives.
*It should be noted that the sin of the Golden calf was never totally forgiven Rather, Hashem agreed to mete out the punishment for the Golden calf over many generations effectively reducing the punishment to a miniscule degree