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MWU High Holiday Message

Dear Friends,

An exemplary story for these days of Soul-Searching, Improvement and Change:

The old ba'al toke'a[1] of the small shtetl[2] synagogue was no longer able to sound the shofar. His lungs lacked the strength he'd had for decades. It was imperative to find a replacement, someone able to blow the shofar on the High Holidays of Israel.

The shtetl was thoroughly mobilized. Signs and posters went up on each street, announcing the search for a new ba'al toke'a.

Four candidates responded. The aspirant most anxious for the great honor was first. Immediately, he proceeded to blow the shofar, with the rabbi listening attentively. Impeccable; the sound was absolutely correct. The rabbi then asked him a simple, but puzzling question: "What were you thinking while you blew the shofar?" The man, after a short interval, said: "Rabbi, when I blow, I transport myself in time. I am a witness of the Isaac's akedah. I feel as if Abraham himself gives me the horn of the ram he sacrificed in place of his son, and I work the notes out of the shofar ..."

The rabbi made no response, then welcomed the second candidate. He knew him well: he was a very diligent student of Judaism, the father of young children. Before delivering sound from the shofar, this student recited the laws regarding the shofar, recalled his family lineage (very prominent, indeed), and the number of Talmud tractates he had read. He blew the shofar without errors. The rabbi then asked his question: "Of what do you think when you blow the shofar?" The young man immediately began to recite the halachot (laws) of the sounding of the shofar: the time each note should last, the proportions between Teki'ah, Truah,Shvarim[3]... "All these calculations you make when you blow the shofar?, asked the Rabbi in surprise. Nodding with pride, the young man hastened to answer, "Yes."

The rabbi turned to the third, evidently emotional candidate. Sweating, trembling, he whispered some verses to God for the mercy of being able to pass the test successfully. He blew correctly, and fervently, then turned to face the rabbi's question. "What did I think while blowing the shofar? Actually, Rabbi, I felt like the Cohen Gadol - the High Priest - before entering the Kodesh Hakodashim - the Holiest of Holies in the Great Temple. As I blew, I hoped God would forgive my sins and those of our People. I hoped that the cry of the shofar could be like the smoke and incense of the Cohen's sacrifice in the Temple that reached up to the Throne of Heaven. "

Then it was the turn of the last candidate, none other than the poor village carpenter, Mordechai. He proceeded to blow the instrument that calls to the very souls of the people of Israel, and he did it very well, coaxing loud and clear sounds. The rabbi repeated his question for the last time. "Rabbi, I do not understand the question ... What do you mean 'what did I think of while blowing the shofar?' " The rabbi was reassuring: "Do not be afraid. I just want to know what went through your mind when you blew the shofar."

Mordechai, blushing, confessed softly to the rabbi: "You know, rabbi: I am a simple man. I thought..." then Mordechai stopped, obviously embarrassed, "I thought of my four daughters, all of marriageable age but unmarried, and asked God to find good husbands for them. I do not care that they be rich, only that they be good Jews, sensitive and loving to my daughters. I also thought about my wife Rivka, who is in somewhat frail health, and my son Moishe who will be Bar-mitzvah in a few months. And also...", continued the carpenter, now clearly distressed, "I prayed to God that this year I will not get sick, nor break any of my tools, because I cannot afford to stop working..." The words tailed off into silence; poor Mordechai could not dare even to look at the Rabbi. Crestfallen, he waited for some sign from the master of the shtetl. Wiping away his own tears and emotion, the Rebbe approached the carpenter, hugged him and kissed him, then gently said: "Now our shtetl has a new ba'al toke'a. Mordechai, thank you for being my teacher today; thank you for restoring purity to the sound of the shofar."

That year, and for many years after, the shtetl vibrated with the sounds Mordechai pulled from his shofar, indeed, from the very depth of his soul.

Why was Mordechai the carpenter chosen to be the shtetl'sba'al toke'a? Because he sought divine help on issues in which he could "partner" our Creator. Mordechai worried about those human beings who should (and did) have his attention – his daughters, his almost bar-mitzvah son, his wife's health, his own health and parnasah, the means to feed his family – and asked the Kadosh Baruch Hu to intercede for their wellbeing. Without underestimating the merits of the other candidates and the explanations they gave, the rebbe realized that of all the messages transmitted through the shofar, Mordechai the carpenter's message was most relevant to our Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe. These High Holy Days are the days when we should return to and deal specifically with our closest and most immediate concerns. We must accord our families their rightful place at the center of our lives and concerns, addressing them with zeal and devotion before all the other major causes of the world. If each invests his/her highest thoughts, prayers and actions for the welfare of his/her own family... what a marvelous society we could create! If each would invest his/her most sincere efforts in the present and future of his/her loved ones... can you imagine the chain of solidarity that that would generate? It would multiply love in all directions, creating families founded on the support from parents to children, spouses helping each other, brothers, feeling and acting as siblings should, friends sharing each others' joys and sorrows, and so much more…

May God grant that upon hearing the call of the shofar we will be able to reaffirm our joy in our lives, our happiness at being chosen to hear the Teki'ah, the Sh'varim, the Tru'ah;

May God grant that we return our families to our chief concern at the center of our existence;

May God grant that the notes of the Shofar remind us that we are partners with our Creator in the search for a better world for ourselves and for all humankind;

and May God grant to us a great year filled with achievements, satisfaction, health and happiness in the company of our loved ones.

With best wishes,

LeShanah Tovah ticatevu vetechatemu!

May you and yours be inscribed for a Good Year!



Deputy CEO & Director of Education

Maccabi World Union


[1] The person who blows the shofar, the ceremonial horn ram.

[2] Yiddish word referring to any Jewish small town in Eastern Europe.

[3] The three different sounds of the shofar, blown during the New Year's prayers.

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