Share a Prayer: Hayom Harat Olam; Happy Birthday World!

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is among other, things a celebration of the birthday of the world. Unlike our Birthday, which celebrates our becoming one year older, a reality many of us work very hard to hide, on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of a brand new, newly born world. That is to say, according to the teaching of one of the foremost scholars and teachers of our time, Rabbi Brad Artson, the world and everything contained within it that existed the day before Rosh Hashanah no longer exists and a brand new replacement world is created in its place. Thus, Rabbi Artson teaches, that the “you” that existed the day before Rosh Hashanah is only a memory; replaced by a “new you” on Rosh Hashanah. It is in this spirit that the prayer, Ha Yom Harat Olam, today the world is born, is inserted into the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

Ha Yom Harat Olam is an ancient prayer that dates back to the time of the Geonim, the great sages of the Talmud (8th to early 11th century) and can already be found in the prayer books of the renowned twelfth century sage Maimonides (1135-1204). It serves as a leitmotif or recurring theme that punctuates the three distinctive blessings – each reflecting an aspect of our relationship with the Blessed Holy One, that are inserted into the body of the Musaph (additional) service of Rosh Hashanah: Malchuyot (Monarchy,) Zichronot (Memories) and Shofar (Moments past, present and future associated with the sounding of the rams horn in the context of divine revelation.)

Although it is one of the shortest poetic insertions in our liturgy, it is also one of the most impactful. Here is the text as translated by the High Holiday Prayer Book of the United Synagogue, Mahzor Lev Shalem:

“Today the world stands as at birth. Today all creation is called to judgment, whether as Your children or as Your servants. If as Your children, be compassionate with us as a parent is compassionate with children. If as Your servants, we look to You expectantly, waiting for You to be gracious to us and, as day emerges from night, to bring forth a favorable judgment on our behalf, awe-inspiring and Holy One.” (Click here for the Hebrew Text)

Even the first phrase of the text is packed with meaning. The Hebrew term “Harat” implies not birth but rather conception. Rosh Hashanah, then, is seen not simply as the birthday of the world but can also be considered as the moment of its conception. The time of conception is a moment fraught with infinite uncertainty and potential; any direction or occurrence is a possibility.

While reminding us that Rosh Hashanah is also known as the day of Judgment, the text goes on to suggest that each of us has our own perception of our personal relationship with The Creator, ranging from those who see themselves as children of the Holy One to those who view themselves as subjects of a celestial monarch. The author, in either case presents God as a wellspring of favor, loving kindness and light who will be with us no matter what may unfold in the year to come.

Perhaps the most impactful aspect of this poem is the last phrase in which the author refers to God as “Ayom Kadosh.” An insightful essay about our prayer linked in the Israeli News publication, Arutz Sheva from the Aleph Society of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, observes the following:

“We therefore turn to God with the adjectives that are most appropriate to this the day: Ayom, Kadosh; You are above everything, You are the source and holiness to Whom we must all look with awe and also be connected, on all the levels of our existence.”

The placement of Hayom Harat Olam immediately following the rousing tones of the shofar that punctuate the subdivisions of the Rosh Hashanah Musaph, takes advantage of an exquisite moment for the worshipper to contemplate his or her bond with God. In a few short phrases, the poet transports us to the moment of creation; we are present at the nexus of all time, the very conception of the universe.

Hayom Harat Olam reminds us that the future, while uncertain, is marked by infinite possibilities for renewal, growth, change and development. As we sing this meaningful and inspirational prayer on Rosh Hashanah we are invited to examine, strengthen and invigorate our personal relationship with the “Ayom Kadosh” – the “Awe-inspiring Holy One.”

Here is a link to the melody we will sing at Beth El in Omaha. If you are fortunate enough to be able to attend our wonderful Service, feel free to learn this melody in advance so that you will be ready when it comes around. It is taken from a composition by Hazzan Sol Zim.

Here is a link to a setting sung by the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella, Hazzan Joseph Malovany, is the soloist.

Here is a link to a performance by Cantor Azi Schwartz and the RIAS Kammerchor, conducted by Ud Joffe.

E-Hazzan The Sound of the Shofar

A great silence settles over the packed synagogue as a man cloaked in a white robe with a huge black and white striped Tallit over his head slowly raises and old Shofar to his lips. With majestic fanfare the Rabbi calls out in a rising and falling melodic tone, “Tekiah.” After a momentary, breathless hesitation, a piercing, reverberating blast trumpets through the silent sanctuary… One of my most prominent childhood memories is the sounding of the Shofar during the Rosh Hashanah service. Even today, the blast of the Ram’s horn sends a special kind of electric pulse through my spine. In fact, there are few of us who are not moved by the haunting call of the Shofar.

Sounding the Shofar, an ancient instrument made from the horn of a ram or similar animal is a tradition that dates back to biblical times. Most traditions trace the source of the Shofar to the story of the binding of Isaac, which we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Abraham’s faith in God was so rigorous that he was willing to sacrifice his favorite son Isaac. At the last moment, an angel thwarted Abraham’s attempt to kill his son and a ram, caught in thicket of thorns was sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Thus the shofar reminds us not only of the solid faith and devotion of our ancestor but also of our connection through Abraham to God. We are also mindful that God preferred the sacrifice of the ram as opposed to what might have been an overly zealous, heinous act of child sacrifice.

A.Z. Idelsohn, perhaps the most renowned of all Jewish musicologists, points out that to the primeval Israelites, the Shofar was valued for its rhythmic rather than melodic capabilities. To our ancient ancestors, Idelsohn notes, the blowing of the ram’s horn had magical powers; with a blast of the Shofar, God could be awakened from His slumber and summoned to help His People. Furthermore, the Shofar could be used to frighten off evil spirts and lesser deities of neighboring peoples. Even God, remarks Idelsohn, was depicted as blowing His Holy Shofar in order to “frighten His enemies and to gather the remnants of His people…”

Our Machzor (High Holiday prayer book) cites as the biblical commandment to blow the Shofar a passage from Psalm 81, “Tiku Ba Hodesh Shofar… Sound the Shofar on our feast day, on the new moon when it is hidden. For it is Israel’s law, a decree of the God of Jacob.” According to Biblical and Rabbinic tradition, the Shofar was not only used on Rosh Hashanah but also on the first day of the new month, for the coronation of a new king as well as to proclaim the Jubilee year during which all slaves were freed and all land reverted to the clan that was its original owner. Similarly, a great celestial shofar sound was heard at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shofar blasts were also employed to call the Nation of Israel together for battle. Perhaps the best know example of the latter was the story of Joshua (Josh 6) whose famous resounding shofar blast brought down the walls of Jericho. In times when the Great Jerusalem Temple stood, the Shofar was often used in conjunction with a metal Trumpet and other instruments that served to punctuate the ancient sacrificial service.

Here is an audio recording of Tiku Ba Hodesh Shofar presented by Hazzan Moshe Schwimmer and his magnificent choir through the Judaica Sound Archives of Florida Atlantic University.

Shofarot(pl) are constructed using the horn of a Kosher animal. In recollection of the sin of the golden calf, horns made of cows are prohibited. While Ashkenazim (German and eastern European Jews) prefer shorter Ram’s Horns, Jews of other cultures use longer horns such as those from an Ibex or Antelope. Barsheset- Riback, an Israeli purveyor of Shofarot, describes the process of selecting, boiling, cleaning out and finishing the horns to produce a functioning Shofar. According to Jewish law, nothing, such as an external mouth piece may be added to the horn, neither can holes be drilled to produce variable sounds.

A day of Blowing [the Shofar] is one of the ways in which the Torah refers to Rosh Hashanah. As we usher in the New Year, the shofar is literally a wakeup call to our Jewish Soul. In fact, it is customary to begin the daily sounding of the shofar at the beginning of the month of Elul, the last month on the Hebrew Calendar, to awaken the listener to the need for undergoing the process of Heshbon Ha Nefesh, the accounting of the soul.

We are jolted into the reality of the High Holiday season – the need for self-examination and introspection in order that we can enter the New Year with a clean slate and a renewed spirit.

During our Rosh Hashanah liturgy the shofar is sounded in the context of the Shofar service that comes just after the Torah reading as well as to punctuate the three unique sections of the Musaph (additional service.) Please see my post on Rosh Hashanah Musaph for more details.

There are three distinct calls that are made on the shofar; each has its own significance and meaning. Noted authority on Jewish Liturgy Abraham Milgram traces the source of these distinct shofar blasts to the biblical book of Numbers (10:5-7) which defines a “Tekiah” – a solid sound and a “Teruah” – a wavering or broken sound. Because the Rabbis of the Talmud (R.H 34a) could not agree on what constitutes a “broken tone,” they mandated the “Shevrim,” a sound comprised of three medium length notes and the “Teruah” a blast consisting of nine short individual blasts. A “Tekiah Gedolah” or longer Tekiah is also used. The skill of the Ba’al Tekiah (Master Blaster) or one who blows the shofar, determines the quality and duration of each type of sound.

Here is a video of the four types of Shofar sounds:

Deep meaning can be found in each of the types of shofar blasts. The website Mazornet, a traditional site that focuses on resources and explanations for Jewish celebrations, posts an interesting understanding of the shofar blasts: Tekiah, is a regal sound appropriate for Rosh Hashanah which celebrates God’s coronation as Ruler of the Universe. Shevarim is compared to the sound of sobbing; the heart cries out for strengthening the relationship between God and the worshiper. Teruah is an alarm, the challenge to wake up to the call for Teshuvah, or return to a path that leads to a meaningful and fulfilling way of life.

This explanatory reading by Rabbi Milton Steinberg, the great Conservative theologian appears in Machzor Hadash, published by the Prayer Book Press:

For untold generations, on this day, our ancestors listened to the sound of the Shofar. What did they hear in its piercing tones? What solemn truths did they detect in its calls which stirred them so profoundly each year?

And what does the Shofar say to us today, as we stand at the dawn of the New Year, groping for a light to guide us and a faith to sustain us?

Tekiah! Awake! Let not habit dull your minds, nor comfort harden your hearts. Examine your deeds, look well into your soul, mend your ways, turn to God.

As we hear the sharp Tekiah blast, let us rouse ourselves from smugness and self-satisfaction, from callousness and self-righteousness.

Shevarim! The broken refrain! Listen to the staccato cry. Hear the echoes of sighing and weeping. The deprived and the distressed, the neglected and the enslaved, the bruised and the broken-all cry out for relief from their pain, for release from their torment.

As we hear the anguished wail of Shevarim, let us open our ears to the cries of the afflicted and the oppressed, and let our hearts respond with compassion and love.

Teruah! The call to battle is sounded: Join the struggle against evil and suffering. Give of your bread to those who hunger; give of your strength to those who stumble; give of your time to the lonely and forsaken; heal the wounded, comfort the bereaved.

Let us hearken to the Teruah’s call to action.

For in our hands, in our hearts, and in our minds

Are the means for building a better world,

For fulfilling the promise of peace and justice,

And for hastening the day when all will hear

The sound the great Shofar of liberation.

Hopefully, the blast of the Ram’s horn will send a special kind of electric pulse through your spine and reverberate in your soul this Rosh Hashanah so that you too will moved by the haunting call of the Shofar. May you be inspired by the sounds of the Shofar to strive for a Shanna Tova, a year of Blessing and Goodness.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at part of our prayer service. If you have a suggestion, comment or question, please fee free to leave a comment below or to email me at michaelkrausman@gmail.com.

Take  Care

Hazzan Michael Krausman