We find ourselves right before Rosh Hashana, and there is a very interesting halakha regarding the shofar:
הגוזל שופר ותקע בו יצא…
Normally, we do not allow the use of a stolen object to fulfill a mitzvah. Nevertheless, if you steal a shofar and you hear that sound, it’s obviously not the best sound that you can hear on Rosh Hashana – no one wants to hear a sound on Rosh Hashana from a stolen shofar – but if that’s the sound that I hear, I still fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 586:2)
Why is this? Because of the halakhic principle of
אין בקול דין גזל
There is no such thing as stealing a sound. (Maimonides, Laws of Shofar, Sukkah and Lulav 1:3)
Yet there is another interesting halakha that states:
המתעסק בתקיעת שופר להתלמד לא יצא ידי חובתו וכן השומע מן המתעסק לא יצא
If I’m walking by a person’s yard or a person’s home, and a person is practicing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, and I hear 100 blasts from his practicing, I do not fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 589:8)
Why is it that I can fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar blasts via a stolen shofar, but not if I hear a person practicing with a pristine shofar on Rosh Hashana?
I believe that the underlying message is that Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the process of re-engaging with God.
We are trying to find our own sound, and there will always be something that is not perfect about our sound when we begin to create a relationship with God.
It will never be fully authentic.
Every one of us on Rosh Hashana is not fully engaged yet – it’s the beginning of the process.
As much as we try, and as hard as we work beforehand, a stolen sound still works, because all of us – even with the most pristine shofar – have a little bit of a stolen sound in our psyche, in our essence, we’re just not there yet.
But we have to try. We have to work hard. Therefore, we cannot fulfill the mitzvah via a shofar sounded not in order to inspire and empower us, but rather sounded for practice, because it must be a shofar sound intended to inspire the people around him.
It must be a shofar sound committed to trying to make a difference.
As we begin the process of Rosh Hashana, let us work to realize that it is okay if our spiritual sound is not completely authentic.
At the same time, it cannot be that we are in a state of “מתעסק” / practicing; that we are just in a state of a robotic routine.
Instead, we have to work hard to find a new energy, a new music in our relationship to God, in our relationship to our families, and really in our relationship to ourselves.
Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.