Yesterday, we examined the Gemara’s ruling in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (27a) that a gold plating on a shofar does not disqualify it for the mitzva of shofar blowing unless the plating is situated in the area where one places his mouth when blowing.
Chatam Sofer suggested that beyond the practical halakhic implications of this ruling, it might also symbolically convey a meaningful lesson about religious life. The act of blowing the shofar, Chatam Sofer writes, might represent the importance of Torah learning, which is done, generally, through speech. The halakha established by the Gemara might instruct that we cannot “plate” the value of Torah study with “gold” – with generosity and kindness. Learning and charity are both vitally important foundations of religious life, and neither can substitute for the other. Generously giving charity is, of course, a precious mitzva, but it does not absolve one of the obligation to “blow” the shofar, to use his mouth in the service of God through devoted Torah learning. This is represented by the law disqualifying a shofar with gold plating around the mouthpiece – showing that gold cannot substitute for the process of Torah learning.
More broadly, perhaps, we might suggest that gold in this context represents our valuable accomplishments. As we come before God for judgment on Rosh Hashanah, we all bring with us our “gold” – precious and worthwhile achievements of which we can and should feel proud. However, the shofar blast, as the Gemara famously teaches (Rosh Hashanah 33b), simulates a weeping sound, a cry of humility, a cry for compassion and mercy. As we crown God anew as King over the world, we express our humble submission to His rule and our helpless dependence upon His grace and kindness. This cry must be expressed without our “gold,” without priding ourselves over our achievements. Legitimate pride certainly has its place in our mindset generally, and in the teshuva process particularly, but as we sound the shofar, our “cry” must be expressed with humility and a sense of unworthiness. And so although gold plating is acceptable on the shofar – representing the validity of feeling pride over our accomplishments – it must not be situated near the mouthpiece, because our cry must be sounded not with pride, but with a sense of desperation, as we recognize the extent to which we rely on the Almighty’s mercy and kindness.