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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Mordechai Lipskier

Shock of all shocks.

ROSH HASHANAH A few days ago I went to visit Rabbi Yudi Dukes, a friend of mine who has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for over six months. Knowing that he is now able to eat soft foods, I asked him what I could bring. Based on his fragile state and knowing what others had been bringing, I expected him to ask for yogurt or a smoothie. So imagine my astonishment when I saw his reply: “Bring a shofar. I heard on the phone but I would love to hear in person.” There was an unexpected downpour as I was about to leave the hospital, and since the closest subway station was 10 minutes away, I waited in the lobby for the rain to ease. A Yid from Boro Park offered me a ride to the train, but once we were in the car he insisted on driving me all the way back to Crown Heights. He had just come from visiting his unwell wife, yet he drove an hour out of his way, in the pouring rain, at 10 o’clock at night! He noticed the shofar and we discussed why I’d brought it. Then he shared this story: A chosson once told his future father-in-law that instead of the customary watch, he’d prefer a shofar. “It’s a lot cheaper,” agreed the father-in-law, “but how can you tell time with a shofar?” “It’s simple,” the chosson explained. “If I need to know the time during the day, I’ll just ask someone with a watch. And if I need to know the time during the night, I’ll open my window, blast the shofar, and the neighbors will scream: ‘It’s –– o’clock at night, and you’re blowing the shofar?!’” It took a few days until I registered what a deep lesson this whole episode taught. There are several things we do to confuse the Satan during the days surrounding Rosh Hashanah.  We don’t announce the new month on Shabbos Mevorchim, nor do we blow shofar on erev Rosh Hashanah, and on Rosh Hashanah itself we blow more sounds than strictly necessary.

But is it really possible to fool the Satan? The truth is that he’s not fooled; he’s stunned. When he sees how scrupulous we are, how determined we are to fulfill Hashem’s will, he loses track of his accusations against us.[1] When I think of my own surprise at Yudi’s request for a shofar, or at how touched I was that the Yid from Boro Park was so giving even in his own time of need, it’s easier to imagine the shock the Satan experiences. Over the past half year, Jews have collectively pulled off many such shockers. Under tremendous stress and inconvenience, we did our best to ensure our children’s chinuch. We did our utmost to observe Pesach with the highest kosher standards, even though our plans were turned upside down. When others focused on saving money, we raised unimaginable sums to help those in need, and our organizations—Hatzalah, Chevra Kadisha, and others—operated in ways we never imagined possible.   Just as we refrain from blowing shofar on erev Rosh Hashanah even though we feel we could benefit from it, many of us have had to (and may still have to) refrain from Jewish practices, like going to shul, even when it challenges our sense of inspiration. And yet we forge on. The Satan is like the outraged neighbor in the story. Each time a Jew shows a shocking display of commitment to Hashem and His Torah, the Satan shrieks, “It’s the middle of a pandemic, and you’re worried about chometz, chinuch, shofar?!” The acronym for this past year was shnas p’laos, a year of wonders. In a sense, this year was one in which we Yidden showed wonders. It’s thus befitting that the coming year should be p’laos arenu, Hashem’s turn to show us wonders, with an end to all our challenges and suffering and the coming of Moshiach now. [1] Likutei Sichos vol 24 pg. 22 and sources cited there.  Good Shabbos and K'siva V'chasima Tova, Rabbi Lipskier


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