The Purpose Of The Jews


What is the purpose for which the Jewish people have been placed in the world? The answer is to be found within the Massif of Rosh HaShanah: the three blessings of Malchuyot (kingship), Zichronot (remembrances) and Shofarot (the essence of the shofar), each punctuated by the sounds of the shofar; each containing the essence of our faith.

The first blessing, Malchuyot, begins with the Alenu prayer, teaching that God will eventually be accepted by the entire world. This axiom of our religion, this prophecy of the ultimate endgame, is especially comforting in the face of the dangerous global village in which the specter of nuclear proliferation and annihilation looms.

Malchuyot affirms that it is the God of compassion, righteousness and moral justice who will eventually emerge supreme. Our broken world will eventually be perfected under the kingship of the God of righteousness. Through the teachings of Abraham “all the families of the Earth will be blessed” [Genesis 12:3] with a world of peace.

The second blessing, Zichronot, opens with: “You remember the activities from the beginning of the world, and you are mindful of the deeds [or the potential functions, from the Hebrew tafkid] of every creature from earliest times.”

Here is a ringing declaration of faith in the process of history; the clear sense that historical time is on the side of humanity, that individuals and nations have a unique role to play in the cumulative march of history toward Redemption. Israel, alone of the nations of the world, enjoys a special relationship with God, a covenant that ensures our eternity and defines our mission as the messenger of ethical monotheism to all humanity.

Zichronot guarantees that there is an overarching purpose to history, which it is not a cyclical, repetitive cycle leading nowhere, but rather is a linear pathway leading to peace. Redemption will come about in the fullness of historic time as a result of the cumulative merits of all preceding generations.

How will we carry out our covenantal task of imparting our message to the world? This is told to us by the third blessing, Shofarot, evoking God’s revelation and presentation at Sinai, the 613 commandments that God presented to Israel and the seven commandments of morality, centering around “Thou shalt not murder.” Maimonides, the great codifier of Jewish law, insists that just as God commanded Moses to bequeath 613 commandments to Israel, “similarly did He command Moses to coerce the nations of the world to accept the seven laws of morality” [Laws of Kings 8:10].

This is an immensely significant message, especially in our postmodern, relativistic, “everything goes” society, which denies any absolute concept of morality.

“Situational ethics” dominates our conventional wisdom, and the most heinous crime can become transformed into a sacred act when seen from the perpetrator’s point of view (as when a suicide bomber who murders innocent children is called a “freedom fighter.”) Shofarot tells us that the seven laws of morality, which must be accepted by the nations, are not options but absolutes, since — especially in our global village — the lives of all humanity hang in the balance of their acceptance.

Rosh HaShanah’s Massif Amida explains that the nation of Israel must and will teach fundamental morality, or ethical monotheism, to all the nations of the world. Only when this message is accepted, when “this Torah comes forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem,” only then will “nation not lift up sword against nation, nor learn war anymore” [Isaiah 2:4], and “everyone will sit under his vineyard and fig tree and no one will have reason to fear” [Micah 4:4].

Each of these blessings is punctuated by the sounds of the shofar. After Malchuyot, declaring God’s kingship, we sound the shofar, the means by which the king in the ancient world was crowned. Take note: It is we, the Jewish people, who must bring God down into this world and crown Him.

After Zichronot, we sound the shofar as a reminder of the aborted sacrifice of Isaac — replaced by the ram whose horns were caught in the thicket. Isaac, the future of the Jewish people, was slated for slaughter but set free. The blowing of the shofar after Zichronot reminds us that the Jews will continue to live despite exile and persecution. We must live so that we may remain God’s witnesses and "a light unto the nations of the world” [Isaiah 42:6].

Finally, we sound the shofar after Shofarot since the method by which we must reach out to the world is by teaching our Torah — a teaching revealed at Sinai amid the sounds of the shofar.

And it will ultimately be that when the Almighty Himself will sound the shofar that all of the dispersed will return to Israel, the Temple will be rebuilt and the nations will come to learn from us to beat their swords into plowshares and live together in peace.

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom. 

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chief rabbi of Efrat and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone.

Shabbat Shalom


Candlelighting, Readings:

Shabbat candles: 6:28 p.m.

Torah: Deuteronomy 32:1-33:52

Haftarah: Hosea 14:2-10; Micha 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27

Havdalah: 7:27 p.m.