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The Systems of the Jewish Year

The Teruah

By Rabbi Sender Haber

A new Teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein is published in ninth volume of his responsa. It concerns an event that happened at least fifty years ago.Apparently enough time has passed since the story that the family is no longer worried about anyone being identified.

The Teshuva describes a situation in which the Shochet in New Orleans became very ill and needed to be replaced. There were no national companies like Empire, and New Orleans needed a new shochet.

Many years earlier a man had immigrated to New Orleans and worked as a Shochet for a short time. He realized that he was making very little money and that he could make more money if he opened a store. He made the unfortunate decision to keep the store open on Shabbos.

Now, with the community desperate for a shochet, this man came forward and offered to take the job.

The community refused to accept the man as a shochet because he was not Shomer Shabbos. Worse, he openly violated Shabbos by working in his store and was disqualified for shechita.

The man accepted their rebuke and admitted that he had erred. He would close his business and return to shechita – even if it meant going back to a lower salary and a more difficult job.

The question was presented to Rav Moshe. Rav Moshe acknowledged that the man truly realized the errors of his ways. He sincerely regretted opening the store and working there on Shabbos. He wanted to turn back the clock and return to shechita because it was the right thing to do.

All the same, Rav Moshe recommended that the community not accept the man as a Shochet. The man talked earnestly about change, but he had not yet changed. His was still working in his store. He was a Mechalel Shabbos B’farhesya and not fit to be a shochet.

On the surface, Rav Moshe was concerned with the verse in Yeshaya which states “an evil man should leave his ways … return to Hashem”. The power of Teshuva is awesome, but it is not without effort. Talk is cheap and planning is relatively easy. We need to take actual steps in the right direction. The Rambam writes clearly that one of the key steps of Teshuva is ‘Azivas Hacheit” – Leaving the sin. As long as this man was only willing to change, his Teshuva would not be accepted. He needed to actually change. Until then he is like a man who immerse in the Mikva while holding an object of impurity.

This may have been what Rav Moshe had in mind, but I would like to suggest something deeper based on two other ideas from Rav Moshe’s writings.

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The Mussaf of Rosh Hashana is made up of three sections: Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros. In Malchuyos we describe Hashem’s dominion over the world, In Zichronos we describe Hashem’s unerring accounting of our actions, and in Shofaros we describe the Shofar. As we say each of these sections, we blow a Tekia, a Teruah, and Tekia. There are different customs regarding the Teruah, so we blow Tekia-Teruah-Tekia, Tekia-Shevarim-Tekiah, and Tekia-Shevarim/Teruah- Tekia.

In the first volume of Igros Moshe, Someone asked Rav Moshe what the halacha would be if a person said Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros but said them out of order. Would he need to repeat the Shemona Esrei?

Rav Moshe quotes the Magen Avraham and the Mishna Berurah that Shemona Esrei must be repeated, but acknowledges that there is no apparent reason. The mitzvah is to contemplate an acknowledge Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros. The order should not be an important factor.

Cryptically, Rav Moshe suggests that the ruling of the Magen Avraham may be related to the Shofar. The Torah gives a specific sequence for the Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah. They may not be blown out of order. Perhaps, Rav Moshe says, the same rule extends to the Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros.

Rav Moshe ends his teshuva with this thought, but leaves us perplexed. The Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah is a sequence described in the Torah for the Shofar blasts sounded whenever the Jewish people travelled.  Why would this be a source for the sequence on Malchiyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros? The Gemara says: “Say Malchuyos before me in order to make me your king, and your Zichronos will be remembered favorably before me. Do this with the Shofar”. If anything, the Gemara indicates that the order is not important.

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Before explaining these two teshuvos, I’d like to share a thought process that I went through recently.

There is a shul that I used to daven in that opened in a new neighborhood and drew up plans for a grand building. They were denied a permit by local zoning board but they repealed the ruling all the way up to the highest court in the state. Their battle to build a shul was so intense and justified that they were featured on the front page of the New York Times. This was fifteen or twenty years ago.

The funny thing is that they never built their new building. Over the summer I had occasion to visit the shul and as I walked through the door, I couldn’t help but notice that nothing had changed. They were still davening in the same garage with the same chairs, the same tables, and the same venetian blinds. All of the same people sat in the same seats and sang the same tunes. They were just a little bit greyer and a little bit bigger.

On one of the walls of the shul was a picture of the projected building. It wasn’t the old blueprint that I remembered from the original building campaign; it was a new and crisp rendering, prepared with the latest in Computer Graphics engineering. The people in the shul had gotten nowhere in the past fifteen years – yet they were still working on the plans for their new building. Their picture was growing sharper and sharper and more and more glamorous.

At first I wanted to laugh out loud, but then I caught myself. ISome respect was in order. These were people who had a picture in their minds and were determined to get there. They had begun with high hopes and they still had a rosy vision of the future. It was only the present that was temporarily bogging them down.

When Rav Moshe was in his thirties and forties he was a Rav in Luban, a city in Russia. When the Bolshevik Revolution came to Luban, the Jewish community began to slowly fall apart. In 1921 there was a pogrom and many people did not survive. Other people left for America, or succumbed to the pressures around them. It was a very hard to be Jewish in Luban. Even those people who were not won over by the idea of Communism abandoned Judaism to put bread on their tables.

Rather than outlaw rabbis, the government pressured them to step down. Every rabbi who left his post would be publicized as an example of the religious leadership crossing over and becoming a part of the communist dream. Rav Moshe refused to step down and insisted on leading his people when they needed him most.

When the shochet in Rav Moshe’s town finally left, Rav Moshe learned the art of shechita himself, when the town had no Mikva, Rav Moshe found a way to make the local municipal pool into a Kosher Mikvah. Everything was a struggle and every religious item was taxed unfairly. At one point they used one Lulav for two years – and shared it with a neighboring community.

In 1929, Rav Moshe spoke to his people about the blasts of the Shofar. He explained that in life we often expect a Tekiah. We expect a clear uninterrupted blast of good fortune and ease. We know that we are on the right path and we expect everything to go easy and unchallenged. We are looking for a long run, a winning streak an uninterrupted play.

Rav mosehe explained that this is not reality. Life is actually a broken up Teruah. We start and stop and start and stop and start and stop again. Like the Teruah, we ourselves are broken up and divided. As a people, we can’t seem to get along and nothing seems to ‘just work’. In the desert, the Teruah was only blown when the people moved from one encampment to the next. It symbolized their broken-up forty-year journey to Eretz Yisroel.

The only comfort that we have in this reality is the assurance that eventually things will get better. Whether it takes a day, a week, or a lifetime, there will come a time when things will work out and we will be able to enjoy success. One day Hashem will blow a final Tekiah. He will give us direct routing to the land of Israel. All of the dead will come back to life, all of the problems will go away and we will finally be unified as one.

The first Tekiah is like the starting trumpet in a race and the last Tekia is the triumphant win. The challenges and interceptions that we experience along the way are the Teruah.

Rav Moshe writes that these three stages are reflected in the three Berachos of Malchiyus, Zichronos, and Shofaros:

Malchiyos – the dominion of Hashem - represents the stark truth and knowledge of Hashem’s will that gets us started on our journey. We are confident and feel like we can’t go wrong because we are doing the will of Hashem. We feel like we are unstoppable.

When we do experience hardship – “the Teruah” – we can find comfort and reassurance in the Zichronos. Hashem is keeping a perfect accounting of every loss and triumph that we achieve and experience. Nothing is unnoticed and nothing is forgotten.

Finally, we are promised that in the end everything will work out. This is Shofaros. Whether it is at the end of a day, the end of a project, the end of our lifetime, or the end of days, everything will work out. Hashem will blow a Tekia that never ends and never fades away. The world will be perfect, we will be one, and the will of Hashem will be fulfilled because the knowledge of Hashem will be everywhere.

Rav Moshe explained in his Shabbos Shuva Drosha that the people in Luban were much the same. Some people lived by the first Tekiah. They believed and understood that Hashem created the world and that He has certain expectations from us. They became flustered when they encountered difficulty. They succumbed to pressure’ but they were still firm in their beliefs. They excelled in Malchiyos – recognizing the dominion of Hashem but had trouble carrying through.

The Communists excelled in Zichronos. They were obsessed with the idea of accounting for all actions and making sure that everybody was got what they deserved. They were caught up in the Teruah of society and did not look for the master plan of Hashem. They were good at Teruah, but their confidence an allegiance to farness and perfect accounting did not have much meaning when it was separated from an acknowledgement of Hashem’s plan.

The final Tekiah was forgotten by all but a few special people. The men and women of Shofaros and the final Tekiah were the men and women who stayed strong in their Judaism with faith and knowledge that one day the sun would shine again. Communism would not last forever and the suffering would come to an end, even if they had to wait for the Shofar of Moshiach.

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Rav Moshe taught his people that everyone is holy in their own way, but our ultimate goal needs to be the mastery of Malchuyos, Zichrons, and Shofaros.

Like the Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah, Malchiyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros are in a specific order because they reflect this world and our lives. If they are blown or said out of order, they must be repeated.

There are many people who become inspired with an awareness of Hashem and a desire to do His will, but that is just Malchuyos and it is not enough. It is certainly a virtue to be convinced of Hashem’s will and desire to follow it, but until someone has actually experienced the Teruah, the challenges, the parts where there is no smooth sailing, he has not truly done Teshuva.

The Shochet in New Orleans was looking for a Tekiah. He was convinced of G-d’s will and of what was right, but he wanted to move seamlessly from one career to the other with no uncertainty in between. He was willing to make major changes, but he was waiting for the free ride. Rav Moshe was not impressed. The Shochet was talking the talk, but he had not yet walked the walk.

May we merit a year in which we achieve a strong beginning, relentless determination, and ultimately, the final blast of the Tekia when everything is perfect and the world is run according Hashem’s Ultimate plan.

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