The Shofar and the Snake

This is a guest column by Rabbi Da-vid Rosenthal, from Aish Minnesota. Read Rabbi Da-vid’s Divrei Torah on his blog.

I remember a terrifying incident that happened to me about 9 years ago in Jerusalem.

I was walking home with my friends from a Friday night dinner at someone’s house, when lurking in the shadows, a figure raised what looked to be a gun and pointed it directly at us. You can imagine our fear at that moment. It turned out to be nothing more than a closed umbrella, yet I recall the thoughts that flew through my mind as I stood there, not knowing what was to be.

“Not yet, there’s so much I still want/need to do!”

Imagine being told you had a month left to live. How would your life change? What would you do differently? Would your priorities change?

We are in the month of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah. During the month of Elul, we blow the Shofar in anticipation of the oncoming “Day of Judgment” (not to be confused with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s version).

The function of the Shofar is to wake us up from our daily habitual existence. The monotonous grind that we tend to slip into over time. What am I here for? Am I living up to all that I can? How can I improve?

Why does it take a life threatening illness to wake us from our slumber?

There is a story told of Rav Chatzkel riding in a taxi.

The secular driver tells him a story that happened in his youth. He and few friends had finished their army service in Israel, and decided to go backpacking around the world. One night, they woke up to find one of their friends being strangled by a boa constrictor. Try as they might, they could not pry the snake off their friend, and they feared the end was near.

“Say the Shema,” they told him. As he finished the words, the snake unraveled itself, and slid silently away.

It was a true miracle! And so, “My friend is now religious, with a wife and children.”

“And what about you?” asked Reb Chatzkel.

The driver looked at him askance, “No no, you don’t understand – the miracle didn’t happen to me!”
We need to take our lives seriously. We need to take the message of the Shofar to heart. How would we wake up if faced with limited time to live? How would we act differently? Why wait for outside stimulus, we have it within ourselves to do it today!

If you had a month left to live, how would you be different?

Let’s use the month of Elul to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. Think of one small thing to change in your day to day life that can be a step in the right direction.

  • Say thank you to someone you take for granted
  • Talk to G-d once a day in your own words
  • Give charity
  • Smile at someone random
  • Give someone a compliment

May we all be written in the book of life.
(Photo: cotinis)