This essay of my grandfather rabbi Bernard Poupko was Published in the RCA Sermon Manual 1974 and is a testimony to his deep love of Judaism and the Jewish people.
The Shofar is the central ceremonial object of Rosh Hashanah. Its origin, shape and method of devising it are elaborately described and prescribed by the Halakhah. Even the personal qualifications of the Baal Tekoah are discussed in the Shulkhan Arukh. As to the reasons for the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah Maimonides and Rav Saadia Gaon are quite meaningful and most enlightening. The first reason offered for the sounding of the Shofar by Rav Saadia Gaon is Creation. Clearly, we Jews have our own distinct concept and fundamental belief as related to the very origin of the universe. The Torah teaches that He brought everything into being out of nothingness, Creato Ex Nihilo, Yesh M’ayin, aught out of naught. Certainly, in an era such as ours which is dominated by the endless tremors of Watergate, and burdened by an international morality which reached incredible depths of bankruptcy and shameful retreat from human decency, as attested by the tragic convulsions and aftermath of the Yom Kippur War – certainly, in such an era, more than ever before, must we recognize that if so much can be created of nothing, most certainly we should be able to fashion new possibilities and new opportunities out of something. And who can deny that a meaningful “something” is still within our reach. Within the fear and suspicion of our Torah sages that the pagan may misinterpret the first verse of the Biblical narrative
of Creation, Bereshit, as some supernatural power barah, created, one can discover a valuable truth, i.e., that Bereshit barah, that also the beginning was His creation, which quite obviously indicates that a new beginning is a vital and undeniable feature in the process of Creation. Furthermore, Creation suggests an order of priorities in life as attested by the fact that some things were created on the first day while others on the second, third, fourth, etc. Priorities have always influenced human actions and human achievement. Our generation cannot afford to ignore the undisputed priority of a meaningful and an intensive Torah education for our youth and our adults. Responsible Jewish leaders, representing the entire spectrum of Jewish life, are pleading with Jewish leaders and institutions to recognize this basic priority of Jewish education at a time when only 4 percent of American Jews are observant. The Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, during a conversation in Jerusalem this last July, said to me: “Next to the security and the support of the State of Israel I consider the All-Day Jewish School as the most vital concern of American Jews. Only this type of education can and will guarantee Jewish survival and Jewish continuity – without it our hopes are uncertain.” The gravest danger to Jewish survival, as indicated by the irrefutable facts of our history, is not a burned Talmud by Popes, Kings or savage multitudes in the Dark Ages, or a desecrated Talmud by a Communist and a Nazi – but rather a closed Gemarah with an accumulated layer of dust in a library or a Beth Hamidrash. Nothing threatens our continuity and our distinctiveness as a closed Gemarah! Creation also suggests another very vital factor for our consideration. It reminds us of the various cycles, triumps and defeats, in the long odyssey of man upon earth. History teaches that man is a co-partner with G-d in the ever continuous process of creativity. History also teaches that however serious the reverse may be, we must not give up our determination nor abdicate from our role in this universe. Adam’s banishment from the Garden of Eden followed by his reconciliation with his Maker, the Deluge with
Noah’s Ark and the Rainbow are obviously reminders of the ingredients of salvation within the anguish of disaster. The Ark of Refuge and the Rainbow of Hope as a reassurance are inextricably intertwined with the agony of the flood and sorrow of the Holocaust. Teshuva, repentance, is another reason for the sounding of the Shofar. The computer and automation have done much more to deflate the human ego than we realize. Man has suddenly discovered that he can be replaced not only by another human being but also by wires and bolts. Modern man, with all of his disillusionments and his sense of loneliness craves to hold on to something which is bigger and stronger and is more enduring than he. Thus, a daring and far-reaching reassessment of our objectives and actions is indispensable for a meaningful restructuring of our lives. This act of Teshuva must be genuine, it must come from within and, above all, it cannot be casual or for a fleeting moment alone. Teshuva, among others, implies a turn towards a new direction, a new road, and a new objective to be reached. The American Jew must ask himself quite boldly and candidly: “What have I surrendered and what have I received in return for it? Why have I failed and what can I do to recapture my relationship with the Jewish caravan as it moves through the pathway of history? The Akeda, the Binding of Israel as a reason for the sounding of the Shofar, reminds us that all of man’s lasting achievements, including all areas of human life, necessitated sacrifices. In fact, nothing worthy and nothing valuable in our human existence can be achieved without surrendering something of our comfort and our security. The Jew who observes Shabbat, the dietary laws, sends his children to a Yeshiva and is part of the Synagogue experiences sacrifices, materially and otherwise, of his resources. Yet, he is willing to do it, and his rewards are not connected to the hereafter. The American Jew will have to make a decision as to how much he will be ready to give up in order to recapture his Jewish bearings. Commenting upon the epoch-making landing of man upon the moon, The New York Times stated editorially: “Yesterday, July 20, 1969, will be marked forever as the day
man transcended the bonds of his nature and his environment, and the human race entered a new era leading to realms beyond comprehension and even beyond imagination. Man has realized the unrealizable because he dared to conceive the inconceivable; now one can believe that the limitations to the accomplishments of man are set only by the limitations of the human spirit.” To “conceive the inconceivable” and to realize this most fantastic and incredible achievement the scientist, technologist, engineer and astronaut were faced with a challenge of coordinating millions of mechanical parts and scientific methods and theories. The mortal dangers facing the astronauts were numerous and frightening. Yet, “man has realized the unrealizable” and we entered a new era. During these solemn days we are especially mindful of the fact that the average American Jew prefers the role of a spectator rather than that of a performer. When he is confronted with the scandalous permissiveness amongst our youth, the campus disorder, the breakdown of the family, the alarming rise of inter-marriage and the general collapse of law and morality in society, he is ready to admit that only a full and meaningful Jewish life with personal religious involvement, with Shabbat, with kashrut, taharat hamishpakhah, Torah education, etc., can offer to our generation a safe landing on the Sea of Tranquility. Yet, for some or other reason, the modern Jew does not seem to be able to harness and coordinate those generous and basic resources and those skills which are indispensable for this safe landing. Thus, during these solemn days of earnest soul-searching, introspection and retrospection into our Jewish lives let us resolve to make prudent use of the four millennia of accumulated wisdom, scholarship, martyrdom, defeat and triumph so that we may achieve also in the genuine and fundamental areas of Jewish life a new era based upon the centrality of Torah law in our total human experience.
Aware of the irrefutable truth “that the limitations to the accomplishments of man are set only by the limitations of the human spirit,” let us strengthen and expand our spiritual horizons so that we may link not only the planets but also the generations. Aware of the inherence of the Day of Judgment, the Messianic Age and Resurrection within the mystical sounds of the Shofar, even as we stand on the threshold of a New Year let us so ordain and so direct our Jewish life so that future generations will view us as the blessed generation which heralded the ultimate redemption of man from spiritual bondage and ushered in the Messianic Age which marked a new beginning for Israel and all mankind.
not an end in itself. Searching and finding the hametz without disposing of it is meaningless and merits no berachah, no blessing from us. Hardly ever before in the annals of history was there such an urgency to achieve a seder both on the international and national scene. People of goodwill throughout the world are clamoring for a better order, for a better day. Legion are those amongst us who recognize the perilous challenge of the hametz within our society which causes bloodshed, waste of enormous resources and human misery. As Jews, many of us view with pain and alarm the hametz of religious illiteracy, spiritual complacency and the lack of enthusiasm for Jewish living which has made deep and devastating inroads amongst large segments of our Jewish community. We can see this hametz even by the flickering flame of a little candle. No torchlight is necessary to reveal to us the massive religious disaster facing our thousands of Jewish boys and girls on campus and the thousands of newly married couples who have moved to the suburbs of our metropolitan areas. One need not resort to the use of a huge searchlight. to see the grave threat of religious and cultural extinction which is facing the three-and-a-half-million Jews who are languishing in the shadow of the Kremlin, all but severed from their brethren in the Free World. The bedikah, the search, and the investigations are unquestionably performed in good faith. Yet, the biur, the prudent solution of these problems remains to be accomplished. Let us then take to heart the lesson of Pesach and resolve to achieve a better seder, a better order in our world by culminating our Bedikat Hametz with a meaningful and realistic Biur Hametz so that a better world with a glorious Seder shall be ours to enjoy, and a heritage for generations to come.