Chabad of the North Shore presented a free outdoor Rosh Hashanah service this past Sunday at Clove Lakes Park, across from the Stone House restaurant, next to the boat rental stand where park-goers can take to the water to explore the park’s lakes. In fact, some attendees at the service did just that prior to the service, as it was a beautiful day on Staten Island.
The performance of this service was in keeping with the tradition of gathering near a flowing body of water for the holiday, where participants throw bits of paper into the water in a practice known as Tashlikh, or the symbolic casting off of one’s sins. Mendy Gopin let the ritual of Tashlikh after the sounding of the shofar.
Usually, the shofar blowing is held indoors, in a synagogue, but due to COVID-19, Chabad decided to hold this year’s service outdoors. This was not a compromise, but rather a hidden blessing, as the outdoor service was beautiful, set against the backdrop of the lakes and flora.
Dozens and dozens of Islanders assembled just south of the stone bridge crossing the lakes. There had to be over a hundred people present. There were families with children in tow, elder couples, and Jewish people of every culture and sect present, truly a melting pot joined together in prayer and religious observance. Most attendees were masked, however some stayed the minimum of six feet from others and remained without a face covering, as is permitted by law.
Among the crowd stood Congressman Max Rose (Dem-NY). He was difficult to miss, as many people approached him and said hello. One unnamed attendee incorrectly addressed him as Senator Rose, joking that perhaps in the future that would his actual role.
All stood, as is customary. Rabbi Katzman warmly greeted the crowd, explaining, ““The one thing the pandemic showed is how important family, faith and community are to all of us…We had to kind of strip down our lives to just the bare essentials and it showed us what is truly most important to us.”
The Rabbi continued, “We’re not in the temple. We’re not in schul…we’re going to blow the shofer in a couple of minutes. It’s going to be a wake up call…a call to action. Everyone is talking about getting back to normal [after COVID]…what I want to know is why we have to go back to normal, why can’t we make things better than they’ve ever been? Why can’t we make this world better than it’s ever been? Why can’t we try having a normal that puts more of a focus on the things that are important…Stop wasting all our time and energy on things that are not vital to us and don’t make this world a better place than when we came? Our mission in this world, on Rosh Hashanah, is to try to use every ounce…to bring more light more Godliness…down here.”
Chabad’s aim is to help bring the heart of Judaism, that is, observance of faith, back to all Jews. Re-Judaizing the peoples descended from the Nations of Israel and Judah are one of the worthy goals of this charitable organization.
Apples and honey were also provided free of charge, foods long associated with this holiday. Apples are symbolic of the Garden of Eden, and apples dipped in honey are doubly-sweet, reminding us of the year ahead, and the promise made that in keeping God’s law, all will work out stupendously.
To that end, Rabbi Mendy Katzman led an outdoor services that was free to one and all, and without restrictions that the COVID shutdown may have caused. Yom Teruah ( יוֹם תְּרוּעָה) is called the “day of shouting or blasting,” and is centered on the sounding of the shofar.
The shofar is sounded daily in the month preceding Rosh Hashanah services, when the ram’s horn bugle is blasted one hundred times. All Jews are called to hear the sound of the shofar at this time; doing so is the fulfillment of a mitzvah, or commandment. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the Creation of Adam and Eve, and the blowing of shofarot commemorates this. But that’s not all; there are multiple reasons why this takes place.
The Baal Tekiya, or shofar blower, begins with, “I am prepared to fulfill God’s commandment to blow the shofar, as it is prescribed in the Torah, ‘a day of blowing unto you.'” This is followed by prayers.
It’s also a call for Jewish people to awaken, to experience fear and trembling before the Creator, to find a new place within ourselves, to forge anew relationship with God. It’s how the Jewish people accept God as their ultimate Lord and King.
Additionally, it’s a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, as the shofar was blown as an alarm to the Jews when this happened, now ages ago. Likewise, it’s a call to remind Jew to pray fore the Temple’s rebuilding, “I shall not be silent, for the sound of the shofar have you heard, O my soul, the shout of war. Destruction upon destruction has been proclaimed…” (Jeremiah 4:19-20) The gathering of the exiles back to the Holy Land is another future event described in the Torah which will be marked by the blasting of the shofar. ( Isaiah 27:13)
And, that’s not all. The Shofar was also blown at Mount Sanai, when the Israelites accepted the Torah, brought down from the mountaintop by Moses: “The sound of the shofar continually increased and was very great” (Exodus 19:19)
It’s a very serious matter, calling to mind and heart the very Soul of the Jewish faith. The shofar’s sounding also calls to mind the future Day of Judgement, which is described as a day of shofar blowing and shouting. (Zephaniah 1:16) The resurrection of the dead will also be marked by the sounding of shofarot. (Isaiah 18:3)
When the prophets of old implored the Jewish people to repent and again live by the letter and spirit of the Law of God, they would accompany their pleas with the blowing of the shofar. (Ezekiel 33:2-3)
There are four kinds of blasts. These are the tekiah, which summons the people’s attention. The second is the Teruah, which symbolizes the sorrow that humanity endures upon realization that we have fallen short of God’s edicts. The third is the Shevarim, which was used when the Israelites were wandering the desert, and meant that tents must be folded up and the encampment would be moved. The fourth sound of the shofar is the Tekiah Gedolah, a long sustained tone that again is an appeal to repentance and atonement.
The shofar blasts, as well as the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, is all about repentance, and redirection. It’s about finding one’s way back to the path of righteousness, and correcting our errors.
Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a decree from God, it still contains a personal message. Moses ben Maimon, best known simply as Maimonides, explains it best: It is as if the shofar’s call is telling us, “Awaken from your slumber! Examine your actions, return to your true selves, and remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time… Look inside yourselves. Improve your ways and your actions and abandon the negativity in your life…” – Rambam, Laws of Teshuva 3:4
אע”פ שתקיעת שופר בראש השנה גזירת הכתוב רמז יש בו כלומר עורו ישינים משנתכם ונרדמים הקיצו מתרדמתכם וחפשו במעשיכם וחזרו בתשובה וזכרו בוראכם. אלו השוכחים את האמת בהבלי הזמן ושוגים כל שנתם בהבל וריק אשר לא יועיל ולא יציל הביטו לנפשותיכם והטיבו דרכיכם ומעלליכם ויעזוב כל אחד מכם דרכו הרעה ומחשבתו אשר לא טובה
(רמב”ם הלכות תשובה ג:ד)