I was working as a rabbi in New York’s Greenwich Village during the attacks on the World Trade Center of 9/11. Celebrating Rosh Hashanah a week later was one of the harder things that I have ever done. On Rosh Hashanah we hear the notes of the Shofar, the ram’s horn, that was sounded by the Israelites before battle. As we listened to its notes a week after 9/11 we feared the reality of war. Tradition tells us that Sarah died of grief thinking that her son Isaac had been sacrificed and that her cries of grief sounded like a Shofar. As we listened to its notes we heard the sounds of grief that filled New York.
We sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah to remind God that we are here and to remind ourselves that we must begin the serious work of teshuvah (repentance) that culminates on Yom Kippur. We sound the Shofar to hasten the messianic time – the time when Ishmael and Isaac will stand permanently side by side, in peace, with all the peoples of the world standing with them. Our cries for peace must be as loud as the blasts of the Shofar. If each one of us works, in whatever way we can, hand in hand with God, to ensure that justice prevails upon the earth for all its people, then perhaps we will finally live in the world envisioned by the prophet Micah, a world in which:
“Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never know war;
But every person shall sit under the grapevine or fig tree
With none to disturb them.”
Elul is a month given to us to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a month where we try to take account of our lives, so that we might make the most of this powerful time of renewal, regeneration, fresh starts and healing.
This year our daily Elul Thoughts are taken from ‘Terror, Trauma and Tragedy’, edited by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Rabbi David Mitchell. Each is a short extract of a larger piece designed to help us find meaning, comfort or perhaps more questions in the aftermath of horrific events, which have seemed all too frequent this year. The horror of such atrocities can leave us in confusion, depression and fear. As we move into a new year we hope these pieces might variously offer some solace, be a tool of self-reflection, and encourage us to continue working for a better world.