My favorite moment on Rosh Hashana is the minute or two leading up to the blowing of the Shofar. Parents are running around in the social hall scooping up their children and bringing them inside. The men and women all adjust themselves to find the perfect position to stand by at attention. Children start to gather around the bimah, faces beaming with anticipation. And the ba’al tokeiah, with a creased forehead and a sense of heaviness on his shoulders, makes his way through the preliminary prayers.
It’s why we come to shul on Rosh Hashana, to hear those blasts, to be moved by their wordless cry. To remind ourselves of the shofar at the giving of the Torah, to blow trumpets as we coronate G-d as our king, to express our faith in the great shofar of the Messianic era.
And then there are the memories. I am sure for many of us the sounds of the Shofar awaken dormant feelings. Perhaps the warm memories of standing near a parent or grandparent as the shofar was sounded. Or maybe a Rosh Hashana during which we felt especially inspired. Sound, especially musical sounds have the power of stirring memories from their sleep. So much symbolism and so many memories packed into a tekiah, a shevarim, a teruah.
But alas, ‘those rabbis,’ they came along and ruined everything. Because as you know, (and despite what it said on our High Holiday tickets) there is no shofar blowing today. Although the Torah instructs us to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana even when it falls out on Shabbos, the Gemara in Rosh Hashana teaches us that the rabbis were concerned. What if someone needs to brush up on their shofar blowing skills on Rosh Hashana. And what if they decide to walk over to someone else’s home who is an expert in blowing the shofar for a last-minute tutorial. And what if they live in a community that does not have an eruv making carrying forbidden. And what if they forget that they cannot carry and they walk outside, carrying a shofar, and they violate the law of carrying on Shabbos. And soooo, it is forbidden to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana that falls out on Shabbos.
What?! Are you kidding me?!
All of that beauty, all of that magic, all of that spiritual and emotional power thrown out the window because some shmendrik living in a community without an eruv will forget and carry on Shabbos?! Give me a break!
The great Baal HaTanya, the very first Lubavicther Rebbe, was also bothered by this question. How could it be that the rabbis robbed us of this incredible spiritual opportunity?
He offers a profound insight in response. He points out that the mere fact we’re asking the question betrays the fact that we are missing out on something so much greater than the yearly Shofar blowing. The fact that we are bothered by a lack of blowing a Shofar on Shabbos means that we do not appreciate what Shabbos has to offer. You see, that shmendrik carrying the shofar, he’s just a scapegoat. It’s not about him at all. The real reason we do not blow the shofar on Shabbos is because – we do not need to. We do not blow the shofar on Shabbos because every seven days, the magic, the emotions, the power of the shofar can be attained. What the rabbis were trying to convey to us is that we do not have to wait 365 days to feel that nostalgia. We do not have to wait until the shofar is blown to feel that excitement. We do not have to wait until the Ba’al tokeiah is red in the face to feel a tingling down our back. Every Shabbos can and should feel this way. You want nostalgia? You want meaning? You got it. Every seven days. For a full 25 hours. It’s all there.
You’re not sold, I know. C’mon, Rabbi Motzen, Shabbos is nice, but it is NOT Rosh Hashana.
But I’m in luck. Something happened this year that in my opinion, serves as the perfect metaphor for Shabbos. It will help us, I hope, understand how and why Shabbos is indeed so awesome that we don’t need to blow the shofar when Rosh Hashana falls out on Shabbos.
This event was so grand that it grabbed the attention of millions of people, it impacted the economy, it got the attention of all politicians and even more amazingly, our incredibly distracted teens. It was something that even caused a small earthquake – Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. That’s right, the singer, Taylor Swift, and her series of concerts, called the Eras Tour.
On November 15th, 2023, presale tickets for her concerts went on sale. Ticketmaster had anticipated the sale of 1.5 million tickets. 14 million people flocked to their site causing the site to crash and spawned a federal investigation into Ticketmaster’s practices. The revenue from her tour is estimated at over a billion dollars – the most ever for a concert tour. But she’s not the only one raking it in. Glendale, Arizona reported more profits for local businesses during her visit than the Superbowl had generated a few months prior. The governor of Illinois credited her three-night stay with reviving the tourist industry of the state. Politicians across the world are falling over themselves trying to bring her concert to their cities. Santa Clara made her honorary mayor when she visited, and Minneapolis renamed their city for a day to be… Swiftie-apolis…
After spending an embarrassing amount of time scouring through tens of articles, I came up with three reasons Taylor Swift and her concerts are so popular – (What is Rabbi Motzen doing? Taylor Swift on Rosh Hashana?! It’s a good analogy. Hear me out.)
- She’s a good songwriter, but it’s more than that. Her lyrics are highly personal but also universal. Her fans all claim that they find their own stories in her
- It’s not just a concert. It’s a journey through time – the Eras tour takes you through her history, which for her fans is their It’s like going in a time machine.
- Her concerts bring together a community of people with a shared love and a shared language and even shared rituals, like giving each other friendship bracelets.
Personal story, historical journey, and a sense of community. And that, my friends, is a terribly sacrilegious but perfect metaphor for the magic of Shabbos.
Every Friday night I open my siddur to the words of l’cha dodi, a beautiful 16th century composition by the great mystic, Rav Shlomo Alkabetz. I am tired, physically and emotionally, after six days of giving it my all. But most of all, I feel distant from myself, from my life mission, from who I know I could be. I know there’s more to life than the daily grind, but I am usually so consumed by the task at hand that I cannot bring myself to imagine anything beyond. I imagine I am not the only one who feels this way on a regular basis.
And then, “Hisna’ari mei’afar kumi, shake it off (😉), get up from the dirt!” Who is this song speaking of? Shabbos? Mashiach? No. It’s talking about me! “Livshi bigdei tifarteich ami, put on your royal clothes!” You are not the sum total of your struggles; you are royalty, you have so much to offer. “Uri, uri, shir dabeiri, wake up, wake up, sing your song!” “K’vod Hashem alayich niglah!” There is a personal mission, a song that only you can sing, G-d is watching over you, He is rooting for you; spread your wings and let yourself soar!
That song, that story of Shabbos – my story, it lifts me up from the dirt every single week.
As I walk home from shul, the sun setting over my week, with no phone to look down to, I look up at the darkening sky, and I am reminded of the very first sunset. I imagine two beings standing in awe at the world around them – vayechulu hashamayim v’haaretz, G-d had just concluded the finishing touches of this planet with all its brilliance. Imagine the peace and serenity of a world with just two people?
The next morning as I look out to the community gathered here in shul – v’shamru b’nei Yisrael es haShabbos, imagining our ancestors in a barren desert being taught to rest on the seventh day, for the very first time. I imagine the communities of Jews who held onto this radical idea through the ages. I feel inspired by them, connected to them and connected to each other.
And by the end of the day, as the sun begins to set again, I have a memory of something I have yet to experience – Avraham yageil, Yitzchak yeranein, a time in the future, a true Shabbos, a time of peace, health, and prosperity for all.
Shabbos is the ultimate time machine – a historic journey from the beginning of time to its glorious end.
And lastly, Shabbos is the glue of Jewish Peoplehood. I remember hearing a prominent member of the Jewish Conservative movement lamenting their decision in the 50’s to allow the driving of cars to shul. That, he said, was when their movement’s membership started to decline. Because Shabbos, with its restrictions on travel and carrying, forces us to live with community. And yes, we can complain about how expensive it is to live within the eruv, but when the nation is facing a crisis of loneliness, I’d pay a premium for a neighbor who I can say hello to.
Shabbos is the ultimate experience; it’s my story, it’s a historic journey, and it connects us with one another. I don’t know about you, but Shabbos causes a seismic movement, a mini earthquake, in my life every seven days.
And like all good things in life, it comes at a cost. You can’t get into the concert unless you pay up. The cost of Shabbos is a hectic Friday that lets you know you’re about to embark on something magical. The cost is shutting down your business and shutting down your laptop and turning off your phone for 25 hours. Yes, there are restrictions, but there are also restrictions as to what you can bring inside the stadium at a Taylor Swift concert. Those restrictions are there to create an ambience like no other.
And hey, it’s a free country, you don’t need to go all the way. You could do a half-Shabbos; a Friday night meal, some candles, keep some of the rules, ignore others. But it’s the equivalent of partying in the parking lot pre-concert. It’s nice. But it’s just not the same as standing inside, swaying, singing, being lifted up by the crowd.
And for all of us who “keep the rules” of Shabbos, before we pat ourselves on the back, let’s take our metaphor one step further. You’re at a Taylor Swift concert, or for all you alfa males out there – maybe you’re at a Ravens game, and excuse me, but you need to go to the bathroom. Okay, okay, you need to make a quick call or you’re hungry and want to buy a drink or some food. How long do you spend outside in the hallway at the food stands? We’ve all done this. We move as fast as we possibly can. We’re at an amazing concert! We’re at a game! We don’t want to miss a second!
How much of Shabbos do we miss out on?
The Gemara teaches us that on Shabbos we have an extra soul. Some understand this to mean we have an extra appetite on Shabbos. I guess that explains all the food. The deeper meaning is that on Shabbos, our spiritual impact is so much greater. During the week, we’re up in the nosebleeds with an obstructed view and on Shabbos, we’re up against the stage, but it’s not Taylor on the stage, it’s G-d! It’s an unparalleled opportunity to connect to Him through prayer and through Torah study. And you know who else is standing up there with you? Your loved ones, yourself – you know, the people you ignore throughout the week. Shabbos is an unparalleled opportunity to connect to our loved ones, to go on a walk, to have a real and uninterrupted conversation, and it’s the ultimate time for self-reflection. Are we really going to spend these precious moments waiting in line for popcorn?
It’s not just Swifties who are looking for a transcendent experience. We are all weighed down by the bad news we hear daily, by the challenges we face and bear. We all feel assaulted by the hate and discord in the streets. We all have that gnawing feeling from time to time that there is more to life than work and play.
Thank G-d, there is a tried and tested method to revive our faith in humankind. There is a tool we have access to that strengthens the bonds between us, our family, and friends. There is a mechanism at our fingertips to awaken our soul. “More than the Jews kept Shabbos, Shabbos kept the Jews.” Shabbos is what keeps us together in a culture that tries to divide us – look around at this wonderful mix of people! Shabbos is what keeps us sane in a world that spins faster and faster by the day – who here doesn’t feel like they’re drowning? Shabbos is what keeps us in touch with our soul in a world that denies her existence. So yes, Shabbos is the most timely message of all. And now we have a choice to make. What is it going to be?
Can we put our phones down for 25 hours and recharge our soul? Can we take our Shabbos meals seriously and fill them with meaningful conversation, a weekly opportunity to strengthen our family values? Can we look into the eyes of our loved ones for a few moments a week and connect ever so deeply? Can we lose ourselves in a book for a few hours, maybe even a Jewish book, and allow our minds to soar? Can we take advantage of the magical atmosphere on Shabbos and pray, slowly, thoughtfully? Can we sing? Here at shul? At home? Yes, song – the ultimate spiritual tool to bring people together that allows us to feel the edges of our soul? Can this be a year in which we invest in what G-d describes as the greatest gift to humankind?
We don’t need Taylor Swift.
We don’t even need the Shofar.
We have Shabbos.
Good Shabbos. Shabbat Shalom.