This erev Rosh haShana as every year I find myself in the kitchen listening to Selichot at the Kotel making my babushka’s Lekach (honey cake) thinking about her life hoping to become one day as good a cook as she was.
My grandmother’s life was not easy at all. She had to run from pogroms from her hometown of Talne/Talnoe in Ukraine with a one-year-old son (my father), then in just a few short years from Essentuki deeper into the Caucasus from the war. They made it, thank Gd, but so many of my family didn’t.
This year, it seems that every word coming from my laptop speakers brings me to tears. While I usually think about my family during this time, now my thoughts are turned to the fate of the world.
In, possibly, the most famous prayer of Rosh haShana, Unetaneh Tokef we say something very strange:
And with a great shofar it is sounded, and a thin silent voice shall be heard.
How can we hear something so fragile, so fleeting as ‘thin, silent voice’ during the roar of the shofar? How can we, as humanity, see and hear the good of every individual among all the blood, wars, catastrophes, and tears caused and perpetrated by so many?
The Ramban says that the sounds of shofar are giving us the possibility to reconcile such different things when he points out that the very sounds of shofar are bringing together notions of strict judgement, which I see and hear as those short, strong, abrupt even, sounds of teruah and mercy that comes to us in the long crying, yearning sounds of tekiah.
To me this interpretation gives hope. Hope that despite everything the world is going though, we do have the potential to see ‘small’ but very significant things like human life, dignity, love for one another even if all we hear now are the sounds of judgement – not the Divine judgement, but our harsher than the Divine judgements of each other.
This year I would wish for all of us to step away from the judge’s podiums and come closer to our fellow human beings at least trying to listen to their ‘still, small voices’