Wisdom of Kahana:Yom Teruah
It's that time of year again when all Karaites and Rabbanites focus on the Holy Days and prepare for that most important of days when we are held accountable before God. But inevitably a time once again when inquiries come from all directions asking exactly what does a Day of Loud Shouting or Trumpets have to do with anything. And that sadly is how far we have distanced ourselves from our past that we can't even recognize the importane of a day that was decreed by God. A day which sadly has been obscured by borrowed Babylonian traditions by the Rabbis and has now mistakenly been assumed to be the New Year, when clearly God ordained that the first month, or Nissan according to its Babylonian name, was to be the month of the new year. Which also makes a lot more sense since it occurs in the Spring, when the year actually blossoms and comes to life. Understanding how this misconception arose also explains how significant Yom Teruah had been once upon a time. The issue that we must deal with is why would we perpetuate the mistaken identity when we know from the Torah that YHWH specifically instructed us to keep the Day of Trumpets as one of His Holy Days. And the answer is because over the last 2500 years we have forgotten the meaning of the day.
To appreciate the true significance of the day I need you to imagine yourselves living in the lands of Judea, Samaria and Galilee over two millennia ago. I need you to see yourselves working in the fields or in the markets, without your radios, your cellphones, or even a wristwatch. Every day looked like the last one except you knew it must be the autumn because the weather is cooler and its beginning to be a lot wetter than the previous season. And then you hear it. Coming from the hilltops, the city towers, the crossroads, a sound so overwhelming that you stop in your footsteps. You can barely catch your breath. Not from one ram's horn or trumpet, not from ten, or a hundred, but thousands. Thousands of horns blowing simultaneously across the country. Sound moving like a tidal wave, North, East, South and West, but also causing the earth to tremble as it stikes against the ground and vibrates the stars as it penetrates through the clouds and rises up to the heavens to let the Lord know that once again we are coming. We are coming in our hundreds of thousands, from the Golan to the Negev, from the Mediterranean shores to the Dead Sea valley. You are enthralled and mesmerized at the same time by the cocophony that electrifies the air. And you know that when you hear that sound it is time for you to prepare for the pilgrimage so that ten days hence you will stand before the God's presence and atone for your sins. You will assemble at the Bais Hamikdosh in your tens of thousands and you will pray as a single people to the one God, most high. So you run to your homes as fast as you can, stopping everything that you were doing, praising the Lord as you pack your bags and close up your house for you have been granted another year in which to stand before God, one to one and be judged according to all your deeds. And now that God has heard the summons, He will descend in ten days to bring his presence to the Holy of Holies and He will deal directly through the High Priest and either we will be permitted to atone for our sins, or He will pass judgment as to our punishment.
We will probably never hear the sound that our ancestors would have been accustomed to. Never appreciate the sensations of knowing that we have been summoned. Having been to an Islamic nation I can only think it would have had some similarity to when I would hear the muzzain calling the followers to prayer from the minarets. An overpowering sound and feeling that even to a non-Muslim left an everlasting impression. I can only imagine what that would feel like if it was magnified to the Nth degree as it would have been long ago on Yom Teruah. Unfortunately we are now living in a world where that's no longer possible. Not that it is the fault of today's society as the loss of the significance of this day began long ago with the return from Babylonian exile. In Babylon the people learned to live without the need for a central holy place. For seventy years they failed to hear the trumpet's call. When they returned from exile, the reconstruction of the Temple was a priority but the need to do the pilgrimage was replaced with the concept of the synagogues. People no longer had to travel the hundreds of kilometers to Jerusalem but instead could hold their services in the comfort and leisure of decentralized houses of prayer. The need for ten days to be travelling on the road was gone. The desire to raise our voices in a single prayer from a single site were no longer required. And without the urgency to assemble, the trumpets and horns were slowly silenced over the intervening 2500 years from then until now. But that is not to say that it certainly isn't required. Because sadly, this Rosh Hashannah of the Rabbanites is merely a pale imitation of what the day was intended to be. Having been educated in the Rabbanite system for much of my early studies I know exactly what their New Years has become. A fashion parade of the self-indulgent, where more concern is placed on whether the very expenisve hat and dress purchased for the occasion match with the purse or shoes than whether one's sins have become the material which now clothes them from head to toe. A day where those with the most money can buy a seat closer to Ark so they can impress everyone else with how close they can come to sitting near YHWH. And those without the money to purchase a seat can be refused entry and denied the privilege of feeling God's love because their lack of wealth made them a target for ridicule and disdain. The day has become a forum for business and transactions because more deals are going on outside in the halls than the actual original transaction that God had assembled them all for. A day when you can park your car around the corner so everyone will see you walk to the synagogue and not think that you were too lazy to make a fraction of the effort our ancestors did on their annual pilgrimage. See what the day has become and then know that the Yom Teruah is needed now more than ever. We are desperate to hear the sound of the trumpets, to hear the voices raised in unison until they shake the mountain tops because now more than a "summoning" we need an awakening. An Awakening before it becomes too late and we will not find forgiveness in the eyes of the Lord, ten days afterwards.
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana