Delving Deeper: the month of Elul

  • Rabbi Shmuel Bloch
A different take from Rabbi Shmuel Bloch who, with his family, lived through the entire seven weeks of Operation “Protective Edge”
by RABBI SHMUEL BLOCH | Sep 03, 2014

It is one thing to read about it and another thing to live through it.

For the past seven weeks, Israel has been at war. However due to 21st century technology, this was a war unlike Israel’s wars of the past. The reason for this is that when an event happened, it was reported by the news virtually minutes after it occurred. Thus, millions were glued to the news almost 24 hours a day waiting to hear what the latest update was.

A frequent item on many newspaper headlines were the sirens that sounded when rockets were fired. The sirens were an early warning system that gave a person a minute and a half in Jerusalem and as little as 15 seconds in places closer to Gaza to find secure shelter before the rocket exploded. With an average of 100 rockets a day, every day for such a long period of time, a person reading the news and even living in Israel could become habituated to the knowledge of daily rocket fire. Human nature being what it is, one could become desensitized and numb as to the true terror of hearing that siren go off.

Yet there are no words to adequately describe the horror and dread that we felt when that siren started wailing.

My family and I were in Israel for the entire duration of Operation “Protective Edge”. Each day brought fresh challenges and we had to adjust our mindset accordingly.  It was an emotional rollercoaster. Two weeks ago, the day before we left for South Africa, all was still and quiet at around midnight.

I was awake, working on the computer and everyone was asleep. Everybody thought the war was over, the ceasefire would hold and life could finally get back to normal.

"You have to move. Fast." 

Then, as if from nowhere, that siren started wailing, getting louder and louder. Shock and trepidation set in. The lesson we had learned from previous sirens is you cannot stay still. You have to move. Fast. So even though this was in the middle of the night, clad in pajamas, I grabbed both sleeping kids and together with my wife, we ran to the stairwell with the rest of the inhabitants of our building. A neighbor said he heard the booms in the distance and as soon as it began, it was over. We went back in to our apartment dazed and confused, still shaking and bewildered as to what just happened.

No newspaper article, however illuminating and informative it may be, can fully convey the multitude of emotions that we all felt on that night. It’s just not the same. Multiply this scenario by the number of rockets that fell and you will begin to understand what Israelis were really going through.

A few days later, analyzing and reflecting upon what we experienced, I finally understood the deeper meaning of the month of Elul and the blowing of the Shofar. The Rambam, Maimonides, in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4) tells us that the shofar is saying “Wake up you who are asleep and in slumber. Search through your actions and do teshuvah.”

"No time for deep contemplation" 

Reliving Operation Protective Edge, I realized how powerful and life changing a siren can be. In a few short seconds, the siren transformed our thoughts, actions and speech. As it began, we knew something was happening and a missile was on its way to our vicinity. It could explode anywhere in seconds. Time was of the essence. We had to move with speed to a safer place. There was no time for deep contemplation. Immediate action had to be taken despite the discomfort and embarrassment of what others might think. A frightening eventuality is about to happen and we needed to prepare as best we can.

The siren was in essence a gift to forewarn us to do something. When rockets fell and there was no siren, the situation was infinitely more alarming and scary since you never had time to prepare. The siren was our lifeline to make an informed decision to change our routine, to take action and not to be paralyzed by our habits and our usual behavior.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are fast approaching. Hashem will judge us on what we have done in the past year but we also need to plan and strategize as to what we want to achieve in the forthcoming year. Our future is on the line and we decide our own fate with our free choice. The enormity of what is going to take place is overwhelming and scary.

However, Hashem in his infinite mercy, sends us a siren to prepare. This is the call of the shofar.

The shofar, like the siren we heard during Operation Protective Edge, is a call to wake up, to action. To do something that will generate a year full of blessing and success that we so desperately seek. Two weeks ago, when we heard the siren, we ran for safety. When we hear the shofar, we should run to discover our real Jewish identity which will protect us spiritually in so many ways. Two weeks ago, we did not care how we looked or what others thought of us as we made our way to the bomb shelter. When we hear the shofar, we should not worry as to what others will say when we start discovering the beauty of Shabbos and appreciating what a privilege being Jewish really is.

"Too easy to become desensitized"

Two weeks ago, we knew our lives were at stake and we acted swiftly, with incredible speed. When we hear the shofar, we need to decide to alter our goals and ambitions and implement our decisions and not wait for tomorrow.

It is all too easy to become desensitized to the sounds of the shofar. After all, like the person reading about the rockets every single day, habit can set in and the stark reality and urgency of what is happening can get lost through its sheer repetitiveness. So too, we have all heard the shofar for many years. We know what its sound like and we know what we should be feeling. Yet we have heard it so many times that we can forget its powerful and potent message. Nevertheless our challenge is to overcome this monotony and hear the genuine message of what the shofar is trying to convey.

Hashem sent me a tremendous message in hearing those sirens in Jerusalem. Let us all appreciate the deeper meaning of those wailing sirens during that tumultuous time and heed its call. If we really want to, we can utilize this 30 day period of Elul and accelerate in our understanding and appreciating of being Jewish like never before.

The shofar siren has begun. Listen closely and become the person you want to be.

Wishing you a fantastic Shabbos and month of Elul packed with spiritual growth - Rabbi Shmuel Bloch

  • Rabbi Shmuel Bloch has just returned to Joburg from Israel after serving as the Rabbi of the PE Hebrew Congregation for the past three years. He is a graduate of the Ohr La’golah Rabbinic training program which is run under the auspices of Ohr Somayach Israel. Rabbi Bloch is passionate about enabling people to discover and explore the wonder and beauty of being Jewish. He is a popular speaker for businesses and corporations where he presents the “Rabbi Secrets” seminar. “Rabbi Secrets” provides transformational tools for companies to harness and increase their creativity and productivity. He can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. 1 Isaac Karpas 04 Sep
    i WOULD LIKE TO MAKE CONTACT WITH RABBI BLOCH. MY AUNT JESSIE KARPAS MARRIED A BARNEY BLOCH AND LIVED IN KOFFIEFONTEIN. ANOTHER REV. BLOCH WAS ALSO IN KOFFIEFONTEIN ABOUT 80 YEARS AGO. IS THERE ANY CONNECTION ????????? 

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