SALT - Sunday, Rosh Hashana 5781

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Rama (O.C. 585:1) observes the widespread custom that the tokei’a – the one who sounds the shofar in the synagogue – blows the shofar from the bima, the table where the Torah is read.  The Mishna Berura explains that this is done so that the merit of our Torah study, represented by the bima, will assist us in our efforts to earn a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah.
            The Tolna Rebbe (Ori Ve-yish’i, Rosh Hashanah, 1) suggests a deeper insight into this custom.  The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, 507) tells of the time when the prosecuting angels in the heavens challenge God for extending special grace and favor to His beloved nation, Am Yisrael.  They will ask why Am Yisrael are deserving of such treatment, considering that they, like all nations, are guilty of various forms of wrongdoing.  God will then answer that Benei Yisrael deserve special kindness because they accepted the Torah, adding, “If this did not happen, where would My Kingship be?”  It was through Benei Yisrael’s acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Midrash here teaches, that God’s Kingship over the world was established.
            What exactly does this mean?  Why did God truly become King over the world only once Benei Yisrael accepted the Torah?
            The Tolna Rebbe explains that the honor and prestige of a leadership position depends on the nature of the constituency.  The higher the stature of the people being led, the more impressive and prestigious the leadership post is.  The purpose of Matan Torah was for Am Yisrael to rise to an especially high stature by committing itself to strive to higher standards of morality and Godliness.  By accepting the Torah, we took it upon ourselves to reach for a higher plane, to elevate ourselves by following God’s laws and devoting ourselves to Torah learning.  In so doing, we bring honor and glory to God.  Even though we occasionally fail, nevertheless, the sincere commitment to adhere to the Torah’s standards has the effect of elevating us.  And when we elevate ourselves, we elevate God’s Kingship – establishing Him as not only King over the world, but King over a distinguished people, over people of stature.  Hence, through our genuine acceptance of the Torah, we bring greater prestige to the Almighty.
            Rosh Hashanah, of course, is about God’s Kingship, crowning Him anew as King over the world.  The Tolna Rebbe suggested that as part of this process, we must reaffirm our kabbalat ha-Torah – our acceptance of the Torah, like on Shavuot.  We are to bring glory to God not only by proclaiming our submission to His rule over the earth, but also by elevating ourselves through the acceptance of the Torah, whereby He becomes King over the special, distinguished nation that we become when we make a sincere commitment to observe and study the Torah.  Accordingly, recommitting ourselves to study and observance is important on Rosh Hashanah not merely as part of our effort to earn a favorable judgment, but also as part of our obligation on this day to celebrate God’s Kingship over the world – because by recommitting ourselves to Torah, we elevate ourselves and thereby bring greater glory to God.
            On this basis, the Tolna Rebbe suggests an additional reason for the custom to sound the shofar specifically at the bima, the place where the public, congregational Torah reading is conducted.  The bima represents kabbalat ha-Torah, our collective acceptance of the Torah.  Appropriately, then, it is there that we sound the shofar, through which we proclaim and celebrate God’s Kingship.  We accept upon ourselves not only God’s general rule over the world, but additionally, the Torah He gave us for the purpose of becoming His special, treasured nation.  And so we sound the shofar where the Torah is read, signifying the fact that as we crown God over the world, we recommit ourselves to the observance and study of His Torah, through which we bring Him greater honor and prestige.