Yamim Noraim appeared in the Tishri edition for 5741 (1980)THE VOICE FROM WITHIN
RABBI IVOR L. ABRAMS, SHLITA
Amongst the numerous regulations concerning the Shofar. the Talmud states that “if one covered the mouthpiece of the Shofar with a layer of gold, the Shofar is unfit”. A golden layer would seem to be a fine decoration for a religious article, indeed, it is in keeping with the rabbinic tradition to beautify and make attractive, articles used in the fulfilment of our religious obligations. “This is my God and I will adorn Him” prompted the Talmudic advice ‘make a beautiful Succah, possess a beautiful Lulav, a beautiful Shofar,- yet, a gold mouthpiece renders a shofar unfit!
Before suggesting a solution to the apparent contradiction, let me touch upon an unusual expression contained in our High Festival liturgy. Man is compared to a ‘fragile potsherd’ – ‘K’Cherez Hanishbar’. According to Halacha, pottery has different rules from all other types of vessels. All vessels can become ritually impure on either their outside or inside. This is because they have intrinsic value, they can be melted down and used for other things. Earthenware vessels, on the other hand, can only become impure on the inside of their contents. Their only value is that they serve as containers for all substances.
The Sounds of the Shofar represent ‘sighing and sobbing’, signifying a sense of brokenness, a sense of futility, a sense of frustration at not having lived life responsibly. Such emotions if they are genuine, must be natural and authentic, they must emanate from ‘within’ the human vessel. Indeed, the shofar itself should be made to look attractive.
A gold mouthpiece, however, represents artificiality, inappropriate for an instrument which is intended to arouse within us feelings of remorse, coupled with a resolve to restore our sense of values through the disciplines of Judaism. This thought may indeed be applied to those of us who lead congregations, as Rabbis and Chazanim. We shoulder a constant responsibility, one which assumes special significance during the Yomim Noraim, when, drawing on the vast repertoire of cantorial and liturgical music, or the ocean of rabbinic and homiletic literature, we strive to inspire and uplift the worshippers who throng to the Synagogue during this period. It is true that the ‘Kol Orev’ – the sweet voice of the Sh’liach Tzibbur and the oratory of the preacher have a priority, but we must regard these requirements, essential though they may be, as ‘layers’ of gold, in themselves artificial unless the words or message that we produce emanate from ‘within’ the heart, uttered with sincerity, depth of feeling and conviction.
Cognizant of our role as the ‘vessel’ of prayer, coupled with the particular art with which we are blessed, in this way we can hope to arouse our congregations and inspire them towards greater Kavanah, so that our prayers ‘will be accepted with mercy and favour’, and in so doing will strengthen Jewish life, thereby meriting Divine blessing for ourselves, and our families and congregants during the coming year.