|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Rochel Bina Bas Yehudit Yeta
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
“U’Nesaneh Tokef Kedushas HaYom Ki Hu Nora V’Ayom”-“And we shall ascribe the power of the holiness of the day, for it is awesome and frightening.”
What exactly is the role of this prayer?
Background: “U’Nesaneh Tokef Kedushas HaYom”
“Kedushas HaYom,” in Tefilah, refers to the section of the Amidah or the Shemonah Esrei which attests to the unique quality of the day, a section which is featured, for example, on Shabbos and Yom Tov as well. Thus, this prayer, although a monumental and awe-inspiring prayer in its own right, is the introduction to the Kedushas HaYom of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. The very insertion of such a prayer already attests to a particularly unique “Tokef” or gripping power that overwhelms us on these Days of Awe.
But what exactly is the nature of the “Tokef” of the unique Kedushas HaYom, the holiness of the day, which surrounds us on the Yomim Nora’im? There is much to be said on this subject, but the Paytan or composer, according to ancient tradition, R’ Amnon, begins with the fair summary that the Kedushas HaYom, whatever it is, is something truly awesome and frightening.
With that, we enter awesome and frightening domain of this piece.
“The Great Shofar & the Thin Still Voice”
In one of the most mysterious lines of this most awe-inspiring prayer of the Yomim Nora’im service, the piece declares as follows:
“U’BaShofar Gadol Yitaka U’V’Kol D’mamah Dakah Yishama”-“And the great Shofar will be blasted and the thin still voice will be heard.”
What exactly is the message of this audio-imagery? We are presented with the dichotomy between two sounds, the “great Shofar” on the one hand, and the “thin still voice,” or a whisper, on the other. What is the meaning of these two “sounds”?
Sounds at Sinai
The Shofar is the obvious icon of Rosh HaShannah. The Torah tells us that Rosh HaShannah is a “Zichron Teruah,”1 a commemoration of the Shofar blast. But, what exactly does that mean? Although there are various answers to this question, the first appearance of any Shofar in the Torah can be found at Har Sinai during the climax of Kabbalas HaTorah, where the Torah describes the “Kol Shofar”-“voice of the Shofar,” which was accompanied by an entourage of thunder, lightning, and dark clouds.2 This origin of the Shofar would lead one to believe that Rosh HaShannah, in some vein, commemorates Kabbalas HaTorah.
If the above is true, the connection which the Shofar shares with its counterpart, the “thin still voice,” is stunning. The first and only time in Tanach that we ever find a “Kol D’mamah Dakah,” or a “thin still voice” is in the era of the Melachim, but at the same exact location, Har Sinai, referred to there as “Choreiv.”3
The location is not the only variable that the “thin still voice” shares with the Shofar of Sinai, but this particular scene, like the one at Kabbalas HaTorah, featured a private meeting between Hashem and one of the greatest prophets of Israel’s history. In the scene of Kabbalas HaTorah, it was Moshe Rabbeinu, while in the times of the Kings, it was Eliyahu HaNavi.
Moreover, in both scenes, as the existence of the B’nei Yisrael hanged in the balance following their betrayal of Hashem, each of these prophets refrained from eating and drinking for forty days and forty nights before standing in a cave or cleft of the rock at Sinai to engage in the great court procession. However, that is just about where the parallels end.
Moshe Rabbeinu vs. Eliyahu HaNavi
As G-d prepared to wipe out the entire nation in an instant after their worship of the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabbeinu beseeched G-d for mercy in a prayer session which would become the basis for a great deal of our Yom Kippur liturgy, for example the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.4
This was a bold move on Moshe’s part as Moshe had to work against the Divine Attribute of Justice which overwhelmed the entire atmosphere of Kabbalas HaTorah, symbolized by the “great Shofar.” Eventually though, Moshe succeeded to pull through and secure G-d’s mercy for the nation.
On the other hand, Hashem and Eliyahu HaNavi met each other at the fallout of another sin, Israel’s worship of Ba’al, the false “rain god.” However, Eliyahu HaNavi was not present as their defense attorney, but as a prosecutor, having declared a drought against them in his zealous defense of G-d’s honor. And yet, as Eliyahu stood his ground, Hashem proceeded to demonstrate that His Attribute of Mercy would prevail, against Eliyahu’s expectations.
In this process, Hashem produced strong winds, an earthquake, and a fire, however, the Navi relates, Hashem’s Presence could not be found in these wonderous, booming elements. Only when Hashem produced a “Kol D’mamah Dakah,” the whisper, could His Presence be found residing therein, to Eliyahu’s utter dismay. This whisper represents the sound of Divine Mercy.
Reverence to Repentance
Indeed, the display of Kabbalas HaTorah highlights G-d’s Attribute of Justice and it was designed specifically to inspire a sense of fear. Indeed, the Torah tells us that Hashem emerged from the clouds in a frightening display “in order that His awe be on your faces so that you do not sin.”5
In this vein, Chazal teach us that Hashem often sends us thunder, and perhaps other such terror-striking sounds and forces which may shake us to our core. But those are not the ultimate manifestation of Hashem’s Essence. They are merely tools to move us to true reverence and repentance.6 Indeed, in His Essence, Hashem is a Giver of goodness. Perhaps greater than G-d’s justice is His love for His creations and His will to forgive them.
Day of Judgment to Day of Atonement
The transition from Divine Justice to Mercy was not only on display at Har Sinai, but it is a sequence that repeats itself every year during the Yomim Nora’im, as these two elements of Divine Justice and Mercy are the main elements of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur respectively.
Rosh HaShannah is the Yom HaDin, Day of Judgment. It is marked by the terrifying blast of the Shofar which is meant to awaken that reverence for Hashem.
Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is the Day of Atonement on which that newfound reverence can inspire true repentance. It is the day on which we can hope to hear G-d’s voice as it manifests itself in the “thin still” whisper. It is a day of Rachamim, Divine Mercy.
Yearning for that Whisper
In this vein, the unique atmosphere of the Days of Awe is simultaneously comforting and bone-chilling. It is comforting as it reveals the softness and compassion that is Hashem’s greatest desire to bestow upon us, the closeness He yearns to have with us. Indeed, a whisper that is to be heard must necessarily take place in the thin space between the speaker’s mouth and the listener’s ear. It is the indoor voice of such a closeness that can only be most appropriately simulated by the image of a father embracing his son.
And yet, it is bone-chilling as it is demonstrative of what tough love it sometimes must take for the distant, Almighty King to be able to become that loving Father to us. It is revealing of the patience that He wants to have with us, the patience of which we take advantage regularly.
This haunting reality is perhaps the meaning of “Ki Imcha HaSelichah L’ma’an Tivarei”-“Forgiveness is with You so that You will be revered.”7 Intuitively, one might think that it is our reverence that leads to Hashem’s forgiveness. But, apparently, in a certain respect, it is the opposite; His patience and constant desire to forgive us, despite our constant blowing of that opportunity, is meant to evoke from us a palatable sense of awe which would prevent us from taking advantage of His kindness.
Thus, it is during the Yomim Nora’im that we have the opportunity to become reacquainted with Hashem as Avinu, our Father. But, we first have to pay close attention to the sound of the Shofar and respect Him as Malkeinu, our King. As we introspect, we must wonder:
Who is the mighty but generous King Whom we’ve betrayed, Who merely seeks a closer relationship with us? He is waiting to express love for us and whisper in our ear that everything is going to be okay. What will it take for us to hear that “thin still voice”?
May we all be Zocheh to hear and respond appropriately to the sound of the “great Shofar,” be awe-inspired to return to Hashem with true repentance, and we should merit to hear Hashem’s comforting whisper ushering in Divine Mercy and the coming of our Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! L’Shannah Tovah Tichaseiv V’Seichaseim! Have a Great Shabbos, a Chag Samei’ach/Gut Yom Tov and a Shannah Tovah U’Mesukah!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Vayikra 23:24
- Shemos 19:16
- Melachim Aleph 19:8-12
- Shemos 34:6-7
- Ibid. 20:17
- f. Brachos 59A
- Tehillim 130:4