Choosing Life This Rosh Hashana
Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 )
The shofar wakes us up from living on auto-pilot.
"You should choose life" (Deut. 30:19). The Chafetz Chaim (1933) teaches that most people feel they belong to an exclusive club of people who will never die. One of the ideas of Rosh Hashanah and the shofar is to wake us up from our tendency to live on auto-pilot. We do so many things without even thinking about them, either because they've become habitual or because we are distracted by all the things going on around us.
In order to grow spiritually and morally, a person needs to continually pay attention to his actions and make more meaningful choices. During the Rosh Hashanah prayers, we repeatedly ask to be granted life -- not just in quantity, but also in quality - in order to wake us up to try to live our lives to the maximum. Interestingly, the highlight of the prayers is a line where we all acknowledge that life, in reality, is finite. If we understand that we are only here once, we would seriously think about what kind of a legacy we want to leave behind and live our lives accordingly.
That's one of the ideas behind hearing the shofar: to wake us up from our spiritual and moral slumber and lethargy. The Rambam teaches that the biggest mistake a person can make is to feel he is perfect and doesn't need to improve himself. Now is the time to wake up and choose life.
A NEW HEAD
Rosh Hashanah literally means "head of the year." Rabbi Aharon Soloveitchik (20th century) explains this to mean that Rosh Hashanah is a time to reset our minds, to look back at the past year, to see where we tended to fail, and to establish a new routine, maximizing the opportunity presented to us every day to deepen our connection to God and to life.
This idea is symbolized by the blowing of the shofar. We start off with a long straight blast, symbolizing that "God made us straight" (the Jewish concept of original virtue), followed by two types of broken sounds symbolizing our moral and spiritual failures in life.
Some of us have major failings (symbolized by shevarim, three broken sounds), some of us have minor failings (symbolized by teruah, 9 shorter sounds), and some of us have a combination of both. When we hear these sounds, we should reflect on our shortcomings and resolve to at least try not to be satisfied with our spiritual and moral status quo.
In order to reinforce the idea that we can indeed change, we blow another long blast at the end to show us that it is within our power to straighten ourselves out and overcome and rectify our mistakes and failings. Attempting to rectify our mistakes is one effective way to ensure our year will be good and sweet.
ROSH HASHANAH'S LENGTHY PRAYER
One of the things a person is meant to strive for on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is to become a more spiritual, moral person -- to be less negative and cynical and to become a kinder and more gracious individual. The prayers on Rosh Hashanah emphasize three things a person needs to understand in order to achieve these or any meaningful goal he sets for himself.
The first is called "kingship," which represents the idea that in order to achieve any consistent growth, a person needs to have order and consistency in his life.
The second section is "remembrance," which reminds us of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. This section signifies that in order to achieve our goals and change our habits, we have to be willing to make sacrifices in life -- to let go of our egos and not let most of the petty things that usually throw us off balance affect us.
Finally, "shofarot," ending with a "long, straight blast" to signify that we all have the ability and power to achieve our goals, to "straighten" ourselves out, and to realize that any setback we may experience is only temporary. Our moral and spiritual destiny is in our hands.