The New Year is a time of new beginnings. Rosh Hashanah is a time to reflect and prepare. The literal meaning of the Hebrew word “rosh” is head, and the meaning of the word “shanah” is year. Just as the body follows the head, Rosh Hashanah sets the tone for the rest of the year.
Starting afresh is never easy. As the Midrash proclaims, “All beginnings are difficult.” This is because all beginnings are like a birth. If we want to bring a new concept, idea or life into the world, then we must be willing to endure the birth pangs, for it is the birth pangs that consecrate a new creation.
Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the year and there is a spiritual process that occurs in order to give birth to the New Year and its consciousness. At the time of birth, the highest aspect of the incarnating soul, the Soul Father, comes close to the mother and infant to help bring the child safely into the world. In a similar manner, the Soul of Israel overshadows the Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah to anchor the energies that are vital for the coming year and to infuse Divine Life into the next segment of God’s Plan for Israel.
This is why there is such a strong emphasis on inner reflection and spiritual cleansing during the Hebrew month of Elul that proceeds Rosh Hashanah: It is essential that we do everything possible to prepare ourselves for the great spiritual approach that takes place at this time. This is also why the acronym for the month of Elul is Ani ledodi vedodi le – “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). Elul is a time of courtship leading to union on the High Holydays and the subsequent spiritual birth that then occurs.
The shofar (ram’s horn) that we sound on Rosh Hashanah is intimately linked with this process. The shofar blast is a column of energy in the form of sound that aligns us with our soul and prepares us to receive the incoming new consciousness and energies. It creates the “birth canal” for the spiritual awakening that is to take place at this time. The stronger the alignment is with the column of energy, the greater will be the spiritual birth that takes place.
Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that on Rosh Hashanah we bring the New Year from koach el hapoel, from potential into action, from the plane of the mind into the plane of physicality – from celestial energies into concrete activities in the world. The physical act of blowing the shofar is a symbolic representation of this movement. We take air from our lungs and send it through a physical vessel, the shofar, which then takes the breath and turns it into sound.
Psalm 33:6 declares, “By the Word of God the heavens were formed, and through the breath (ruach) of His mouth all of its hosts.” In the Kabbalah, the breath is symbolic of the Divine life force within each of us. The act of blowing the shofar is an affirmation of our profound desire to transform the Divine potential that lies hidden within us into a vital living presence in our lives.
On Rosh Hashanah we take the hopes and aspirations in our heart and formulate them into solid ideas and ideals. We link our mind to the Soul of Israel and draw inspiration and willpower from the Divine Plan – the Word of God. We then utilize that inspiration and willpower to bring the Plan to fruition in the world.
This process of turning breath into sound is done through the work of meditation and prayer. Through these spiritual practices, we build a bridge in consciousness between our individual soul and our group or root soul – between our neshama and our shoresh neshama. This bridge enables us to reach into the higher realm and tap into the wisdom of the Universal Mind. During the period of the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – this work takes place with increased potency; it is a time when we can reach further into the “body” of our soul and forge new spiritual links in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This work takes place on both a personal and a national level. The combined spiritual effort of the people of Israel builds a bridge in consciousness between the people of Israel and the Soul of Israel. This bridge strengthens the link between the souls who are part of the mission of Israel on higher planes and those who are in incarnation in this physical world. This enhanced link enables the God of Israel to reach His people with more effectiveness and power. His Love and Will can then pour into Israel with greater purity and intensity.
The blowing of the shofar symbolizes this work of bridge building on the High Holydays. This is why the fulfilment of this mitzvah (Divine command) is the central focus of the worship on Rosh Hashanah and the culminating moment of the service on Yom Kippur.
We can use the above idea as a focus for contemplation during the blowing of the shofar:
Begin by first emptying your mind of all thoughts. Search inward and find the center of your being. Now turn your mind towards the God of Israel and the Soul of Israel, and look in their direction with love and awe.
When the shofar is blown, use the sound to focus your mind and ascend upward on the energy. Keep reaching higher and higher as the shofar blasts continue. When the shofar stops – sit in the silence – still and ready to receive the Lord’s response.
This response may come as a feeling of God’s presence, or as a thought, word or image that drops into your mind; or it may simply come as the “livingness” within the silence. Whatever form God’s response takes, if you are open and sincere, then you will receive.
Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe are a time of great spiritual invocation by the nation of Israel and Jewish communities around the globe. This great invocation brings about a corresponding evocation by the Soul of Israel and the God of Israel. This evocation leads to a close approach between Heaven and Earth and a powerful inner vitalization of the people of Israel. This inner vitalization then becomes a source of spiritual power and inspiration for Israel during the coming year.
May this Rosh Hashanah bring renewed strength and hope to our nation and our people. May we receive the courage, wisdom and guidance that we need to face the challenges which lie ahead. May we each approach our individual lives with greater purpose, love and commitment.