We have all learned to live with voice mail as a necessary part of modern life. But you may have wondered, "What if God decided to install voice mail?" Imagine praying and hearing this... Thank you for calling the Yeshiva shel maalah, the heavenly court.
Please select one of the following options:
Press 1 for request.
Press 2 for thanksgiving.
Press 3 for complaints.
Press 4 for all other inquiries.
Enter some harp style music, "All the angels are helping other customers right now. Please stay on the line. You call will be answered in the order it was received.
You have reached the office of the arch angels.
If you would like to speak to Gabriel, press 1 now.
If you would like to speak to Michael, press 2 now.
For a directory of other angels, press 3 now.
If you would like to hear King David sing a Psalm while you're holding, press 4 now.
To find out if a love one has been assigned to heaven, enter his or her social security number now.
For answers on nagging questions about the age of earth and where Noah's Ark is, please wait until you arrive and have settled into your lodging quarters.
Our computers show that you have already called once today. Please hang up and try again tomorrow. This office is close for the weekend. Please call again on Monday after 9:00 a.m..
It is hard to hear the voice of God, in fact the old joke is that if you spend time praying, speaking to God you are religious, if you spend time hearing God answer, you are crazy.
But on Rosh Hashanah we are invited to hear God in two forms, the Shofar, and the kol d’mama, the pregnant pause described in the prayer unetaneh tokef.
The psychoanalyst and anthropologist Theodor Reik wrote an entire book titled “The Shofar,” in 1919, and in it claimed that the sound of the shofar was no less than the voice of God.
Shemot 19:16 is the first explicit mention of the Shofar:
Standing at Sinai, in the moment where we received and accepted the Torah in mass revelation, we hear the sound of the Shofar.
The Babylonian Talmudic Tractate of Berachot 6b, makes the statement that at the giving of the Torah, 5 voices of God were heard, the Shofar the most prominent of them.
In Tehillim 89:16 we see mention of the call of the Almighty:
Rashi comments on this by telling us that we know how to please our Creator on Rosh Hashanah, because as the Midrash says, we know how to speak to God using his voice, when we blow the Shofar during the three sections of Mussaf.
In discussing the Shofar in his book, Reik explains, that throughout history some Jews had attributed mysterious and magical powers to the Shofar, when in fact because it was the voice of God, it does not matter whether it is heard or not.
Now of course, a secular psychoanalyst’s opinion as to the necessity of hearing the Shofar is somewhat irrelevant to those occupying a religious space. What is surprising is that Rav Yehudah Amital, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, and perhaps one of the foremost theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, asks a similar question.
If the Shofar is so all important that it is a central mitzvah of the festival, and it is the sound of God’s voice, what do we do about Shabbat when we are prohibited from sounding the Shofar?
Rav Amital notes that in the midst of discussing the laws of the Shofar blowing, the Mishnah makes a tangent. Normally, based on similar thought patterns of other rule based actions, the Mishnah would normally talk about thought intentions, and yet in the discussion of Shofar, it shares a different thought.
Rav Amital asks why this is here, what does it come to teach us?
The answer seems to be that R. Yehuda HaNasi, who redacted the Mishnah and included this tangent, saw Jews in his day who believed that the shofar has some mystical power, some supernatural quality beyond our comprehension that arouses divine compassion. They thought that the actual sound of the shofar magically brought the memory of Israel before their Father in heaven. R. Yehuda HaNasi contradicted this view: the shofar is no different from Moses’ hands and the brass serpent, which did not magically save or heal the Jews. Only when Israel look upwards and subjugate their hearts to their Father in heaven do the gates of heaven open and welcome their prayers.
It is this understanding, that it is not the sound of the Shofar itself that is the voice of God, but rather the sound behind the sound, the ability to be inspired, and commune directly with God himself. That silence is the kol d’mama, that pregnant pause.
Rav Amital makes note that when Rosh HaShana falls on Shabbat is called “yom zikhron teru’a” – the day of remembrance of the teru’a. This means that we bring our memory before God not by blowing the shofar, but by recalling the sound of the shofar, by subjugating our hearts to the sovereignty of God.
I would implore you to lean deeply into the silence during today’s service, that sound of the absent Shofar, whereby we don’t hear the dramatic voice of God, but rather the still silent pregnant pause, full of hopes and aspirations of the year to come. And then tomorrow, when you hear the Shofar itself, perhaps take a moment to once again listen to the silent moments between the notes of the shofar, and understand that even in the boisterous nature of the Shofar, in amongst the drama, the kol d’mama is still there.