Sound Bites: The Dual Message of the Shofar of Elul
We are taught in the Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer that on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the Holy One, Blessed is He, summoned Moshe to climb up Sinai and ascend to receive the Second Tablets. They blew the Shofar throughout the camp to remind the people not to fall again into sin, and that God rises with the sound of the Shofar. Therefore our Sages decreed that we should blow the Shofar each Elul so that we will remember to do Teshuva – Restore our relationship with God – as it says; “Will a Shofar sound in the city and the people not tremble?” (Tur, Orach Chaim, 581)
The Beit Yosef asks why the Tur closed with the idea of Teshuva and the verse if he already explained the Shofar of Elul based on the Midrash? He answers, “The Shofar they blew in the desert only explains the Shofar as an instrument to prevent us from sinning. The Tur quotes the verse to explain that the Shofar also serves to remind us to repent.
The Shofar of Elul serves two distinct purposes: It prevents us from sinning and it stirs us to restore our relationship with God. (Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop, Mei Marom, Ori V’Yishi, Chapter 11)
Rabbi Charlop continues in his inimitable way to elaborate on these two ideas: The Mishna in Avot (4:2) teaches that one sin leads to another. Each sin creates distance between our Creator and us. The distance makes it easier to create even more distance from God. The process almost feeds itself. The first gift of Elul, the Shofar that was blown in the desert when Moshe went to receive the Second Tablets, is that the process of “Aveira Goreret Aveira” – “One sin leads to another” – is broken. We can stop the distance we already created from leading to further distance.
Once we break the process, we can then hear the second message of the Shofar: We can restore and repair the relationship with God.
We must first identify the areas where we feel disconnected from God. We should listen to the Shofar of Elul remind us that we are not sliding down a slippery slope. We can stop the process.
Once we sense that we have successfully broken the cycle, we can then hear the second message of Teshuva – return. The distance is easily bridged during this month of intense expressions of God’s love for us.