A Rosh Hashanah teaching from Rabbi Gershon Hanokh Henekh Leiner of Radzin (1831-1891)

The Shofar, the ram’s horn which is bent in the very image of our broken hearts, emits a Kol Pashut, a simple sound that imparts no particular linguistic meaning. What is the significance of this Kol Pashut? The Jewish esoteric tradition describes the process of the unfolding of speech as follows: Machshava, Kol, Dibbur; from abstract thought, to sound, to word—yet paradoxically the more developed our articulation, the more specific our words, the less potential meaning our words contain. It is the Kol Pashut, the simple voice of the Shofar that says everything by saying nothing, which interests the Radziner Rebbe.

On Rosh Hashanah we stand in judgement for our past deeds, as we offer forth our prayers for the upcoming year. Latent in the Radziner Rebbe’s teaching is a piercing question: How do I pray for that which I do not yet know I need? More specifically, how do I presently respond in prayer for a future that has not yet come into being? Every year on Rosh Hashanah I have prayed for the personal and collective future I had hoped for at that moment when I stood in shul, gathered in prayer with my community. However, the Radziner Rebbe wants us to shift our focus—what will we need to pray for then, in the moment that has not yet come to pass. In its lack of words, the shofar blast says every word. In letting the sound of the Shofar—absolutely articulate in its inarticulateness—speak for me in lieu of specific requests, I acknowledge that I do not have knowledge of what I will come to need, but pray nonetheless.

Sod Yesharim, Rosh Hashanah, p. 4

“It is taught in the Holy Zohar: “Rosh Hashanah, Head of the Year—Head of the King’s year…” (Zohar 1:226b) This means that all the days of the year are contained with this day, just as all of the body’s parts are contained within the head [rosh], seat of the mind. The limbs acquiesce to the inclinations of the mind, as they are immediately drawn after it in one glance. We see therefore that all of the body’s parts are contained within its head. In this same manner, all of a person’s prayers, desires, and needs for the entire year are contained within the day of Rosh Hashanah, as is taught in the Talmud: “And they are all scanned before him in a single scan.” (Rosh Hashanah 18a)—this is Rosh Hashanah, “The head of the King’s year.”

“Therefore, we are commanded to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. For [the shofar] is a simple sound that does not differentiate between [the sound of different] letters, indicating that the simple sound of the shofar blast contains all of the cries and prayers of a person’s needs for the entire [upcoming] year. Even though a person’s future requests over the course of the year are utterly imperceptible—for is there a person who knows what they will come to lack, and that for which they will come to pray and seek at a later date?—all of their needs, together with everything that will come to pass over them over the course of the year, are contained within this simple sound. Even the very combinations of sounds which will later be formed into the [words of the] future prayers of the entire year are all contained on that day within the simple sound. For this it is called “The head of the King’s year.”

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