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Thursday
Sep262019

The Great Shofar of the Six-Day-War

By Levi Liberow  •

The Great Shofar is an icon that is associated in our minds as the opening moment of the long-awaited Redemption.  It is usually envisioned as a long shofar blast which we will all hear that will tell us the time has come to return home.

While there is reason to understand this call of “the Great Shofar” literally, we nonetheless mark this year 52 years since the great shofar was sounded in the hearts of millions of alienated Jews rousing them to reassume their fading Jewish identity.

When the somewhat peculiar and later controversial chief rabbi of the IDF Rabbi Goren, armed with nothing but a small Torah scroll and a shofar, marched into Jerusalem’s Old City’s “Lions’ Gate” accompanying Colonel Mordechai “Mota” Gur’s 55th paratroopers brigade at 9:30 am on that fateful 28th of Iyar 5727 (June 7th, 1967), they knew they were making history, but they didn’t fathom the magnitude of it.

Moments after Mota’s choking voice was heard on the radio:  “Har HaBayit b’yadeinu, HaKotel b’yadeinu! – The Temple Mount is in our hands, The Kotel is in our hands!”, Rabbi Goren joined tens of soldiers at the Kotel plaza and took a shofar to his mouth and blasted it loudly with the Torah at his chest as the teary eyes of paratroopers choked with emotion gazed upon the ancient stones. 

Whether Rabbi Goren and Mota Gur knew it or not, these images and sounds of the Six Day War embodied the call of a much greater shofar that silently crossed seas and scaled mountains, reverberating within the hearts of millions of Jews, in Israel and abroad. And they heard its calling loud and clear.

The sounding of the shofar at the Kotel was the climactic culmination of a miraculous Six Day War, but the war itself was the sound of the Great Shofar that signaled the commencement of a new era — the Era of Redemption.

The war broke out not for spiritual-ideological reasons. We did not initiate the war with Egypt, let alone with Jordan. But it turned out that the war had supreme spiritual significance for us as a people. The spiritual consequences of the war continue and intensify to this day.  The conquest of Judaism’s holiest sites – Old Jerusalem, Har HaBayis, the Kotel; Chevron and Me’aras HaMachpelah, Kever Rachel and other sites, brought us back to our past. The encounter with these holy places made a revolution in the hearts of many “secular” Israelis. And not only during this first encounter, but from then on, the visits to these holy places, and especially to the Kotel, evoke an inner spark hidden in even the most distant hearts. From all over the world, Jews are drawn to the Kotel.

But even greater than its impact on Israel’s then nearly 2.5 million Jews, the war impacted many millions more in the diaspora.

***

Most of Iyar 5727 (May 1967) was a sad and frightening time for Jews the world over. The threats and pre-war preparations and maneuvers of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the notorious Egyptian president and self-declared leader of the Arab world, of “finishing what Hitler began,” and bringing a new holocaust G-d forbid upon the small Jewish state in the Middle East were taken seriously. The media was almost unanimous in its opinion that the tiny Jewish state was outflanked and outgunned by its enemies and stood little chance of survival. It was obvious that the world was going to stand by once again and let happen whatever might happen.

Amidst all the fear, one voice radiated hope and proposed a way that Jews worldwide can help their brethren in Israel aside from donations.  At a Lag B’Omer parade in front of the Chabad World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, the Rebbe spoke to several thousand Jewish children saying the following words: “Currently, your brothers and sisters in the Holy Land of Israel find themselves now in a situation in which G-d is protecting them and sending them his blessings, help and salvation in even greater measure to help them emerge successfully from this situation – and they will indeed emerge successfully.  But you have a special role and zechus to help them; by you adding one verse of additional Torah study, and adding one additional mitzvah and another…and influencing your friends and family to do the same, to spread observance of Torah…the promise of the Torah ‘I will reign peace in your land’ will be fulfilled.”

In the subsequent weeks the Rebbe launched a worldwide Tefillin campaign in which Jewish men and boys of all ages lined up to don Tefillin, many for the first time in their life, in order to ensure G-d’s help for the terror-stricken country.

Against all odds, the Rebbe’s prophetic words indeed materialized, and a wave of spiritual awakening swept over the Jewish nation. The Boston Globe reported that as of November 1967, “more than 400,000 members of the Jewish faith are estimated to have observed the commandment to wear phylacteries — tefillin in Hebrew — at the city’s Western, formerly known as the ‘Wailing Wall.’”

When General Ariel Sharon, the celebrated hero of the Sinai front, lost his young son in a tragic accident a few months after the war, the Rebbe sent some Chassidim to visit him with a personal condolence letter and a gift, – a pair of Tefillin. In the letter the Rebbe wrote: “Another factor that motivated me to write this letter is the tremendous inspiration that you aroused in the hearts of many of our Jewish brethren when you put on Tefillin at the Western Wall…May it be G‑d’s will that henceforth you and your family should know no hurt and pain, and that you should find comfort in your actions in defense of our Holy Land, ‘the land which G‑d’s eyes are upon from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,’ and in your observance of the mitzvah of Tefillin.”

The Rebbe expected this wave of Jewish renewal to be supported “from the top down,” namely that Jewish leaders, and especially Israeli political and military leaders who had witnessed these miracles first hand, should acknowledge G-d’s open hand in the victory and channel this awareness and inspiration towards a more committed Jewish lifestyle.

The Rebbe saw the heart of his nation opening wide. It was an historical moment, an opportunity of cosmic proportions, and the Rebbe urged Jewish leadership to respond accordingly.  Speak about returning to tradition, and people will listen. Ask them to don tefillin and they will eagerly roll up their sleeves. The Rebbe wanted the Six-Day War to be not merely an outstanding military victory, but primarily a Jewish one.

Setting into motion the process of the Geulah

Would this mobilization of Jewish leaders have happened as the Rebbe envisioned, the results  would have been even more dramatic. But even if this did not transpire on a large scale, this historic opportunity was by no means wasted – it simply couldn’t be.  The miraculous victory and subsequent arousal were etched into the national psyche; it was clearly an act of G-d setting into motion the process of the Geulah.

A few months after the war, on Shabbos Bereishis, the Rebbe spoke at length of the underlying historic meaning of this spiritual awakening. He called it the “Great Shofar of Moshiach,” which as described in the sidebar, aside from having a physical sound, also implies that Hashem will bring about an awakening of spiritually estranged Jews in order to bring them back to their roots and to their land.

Ever since the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash in the year 3840 (70 CE), the hope for the complete Redemption of the Jewish body and spirit has been an integral and prominent part of Jewish life. It was installed in the prayers and was commemorated in various rituals and customs in the Jewish year and lifecycle.

The Divinely inspired words of Chazal, based on the Scriptures and recorded in the Talmud and Midrashim (primarily at the end of tractate Sotah and Sanhedrin), preserved a tradition of a series of signs and indicators in the political and moral climate of the world that would herald the arrival of that long-awaited time. While the Redemption itself would be a tranquil and joyous era, the time preceding it, the sages predicted, would be physically and spiritually tumultuous, to put it mildly.

For over 15 centuries world conflict went through the “usual” crises, which of course impacted the physical well-being of the Jewish community.  All the while, however, the spiritual structure of the community, by and large, remained intact and ironically emerged strengthened by oppression and persecution.

But near the end of the 19th century “Enlightenment” philosophy had implanted itself into modern thinking, compelling much of humanity and its Jews to begin reevaluating their morals and principles of belief.  The events of these pivotal decades created a rare consensus among all the Torah giants of the time: we are now in what is called Ikvesa D’Meshicha, the time right before the revelation of Moshiach.

With the widespread secularism of the 19th and 20th centuries having infiltrated deeply into the Jewish nation, many of the Torah’s signs indicating Redemption was near had been fulfilled.  Now it was Hashem’s turn to set the Geulah process into motion.

In his Shabbos Bereishis talk following the Six Day War,  the Rebbe spoke about how all this came about, and illustrated the different phases within the process with actual geopolitical events.

“I was reading”, the Rebbe began, “a ma’amar from my father-in-law the Rebbe, titled ‘V’hoyo bayom hahu yitoka b’Shofar Gadol,’ which was written in 5703 (1943) and published again in 5705 (1945). Studying the discourse, I realized that in it the Rebbe was addressing the events of our times.

“At the time that the discourse was delivered its visionary message was not appreciated, as is often the case. But now, in perspective, when we witness current events and look closely at his words, we can see the amazing prescience of the discourse, how it foretells of things to come and sheds light on the deeper meaning and significance of global affairs and shifts.”

In this discourse published in Yiddish (to make it accessible to the masses) during the inferno of the Second World War, the Frierdiker Rebbe expounded on two similar prophecies, both associating the start of the Redemption with the sounding of a shofar.  By pointing out the differences between the two prophecies, one by Zechariah and the other by Yeshayahu, there emerges a “game-plan” of the progression of events to take place at the start of the Redemption. The Rebbe sees these two shofars as each having a distinct mission.  In the Previous Rebbe’s own words (all emphasis are by the editor):

STAGE 1: The “regular” shofar – punishing evil nations and shaking up the Jews

[The verse from Zechariah:] “The L-rd G-d shall sound the shofar,” alludes to the shofar which will announce the battle that G-d will wage against the nations that were very sinful, especially those that dealt wrongfully with the Jewish people. The sound of this shofar will be heard when G-d goes forth “in a southerly storm wind,” i.e., when G‑d does battle and destroys the sinful nations.

Though battle and destruction are matters of stern justice, [the merciful name Havayah is also mentioned, since] in truth, stern justice is also an act of mercy.  A battle and its concomitant destruction does more than cleanse sinners; it also serves as a form of preparation for the complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach.

In the Rebbe’s sicha, he expounded on this theme and gave a historical context to the above statement:

“Till this day no one can truly understand how events erupted into the explosive World Wars. First, World War I – sparked by the assassination of an individual in Sarajevo – disintegrated the entire world order, bringing on the demise of centuries-old empires, not to mention the death of over 9 million people.

“The storm of World War II was far worse and far more shocking. Who could have imagined that an incapable and incompetent social misfit would rise to power, bring on a reign of terror to the world never before seen in all of history, kill millions upon millions, to the point of threatening to swallow up the entire world with his demonic drive of global domination?

“What conditions allowed for such a horrific storm to destroy hundreds of millions of lives and drive fear and dread into the hearts of nations, leaders and millions of world citizens – something so irrational and unpredictable?

“According to the prophet Zechariah, the ‘storm-winds of the south’ are a result of the dissonance between the nations of the world and their Divine calling.  G-d created the material universe in order to give us the opportunity to recognize the Cosmic Hand at work and do everything in our power to reveal the spiritual within all matter, to sublimate our worldly existence into a civilized home for the Divine.

“When a schism develops between existence and its purpose, between matter and spirit, between form and function – an inevitable storm will break out, demanding that the deep rift be repaired.  In order to pierce the armor of this dissonance – the divide between a material universe that has lost touch with its higher purpose – the sound of the shofar rang forth and it brought on the ‘southerly storm-wind’ which drove dread into the hearts of nations in the two World Wars.

“The shofar is a wake-up call, beckoning us to recognize that something is terribly wrong. Without accountability to a higher purpose, humans can turn into beasts, destroying everything in their path – as the world wars demonstrated with such devastating impact.

“The ‘southerly storm-wind’ caused by the shofar’s call is meant to make us aware. By learning the proper lessons of the World Wars and rectifying the causes, the nations of the world can become refined and prepared to create a peaceful world – aligned with the Divine mission statement.

“The sounding of the first shofar – the war that punished evil nations – seems indeed to have occurred quite accurately in the first and second World War (there seldom has been a European nation that has not ‘dealt wrongfully with the Jewish people’…)”

STAGE 2: The “Great Shofar” – a loving call of return

The second stage of preparation for the Redemption will not be a terrifying tempest, but a gentle awakening, like the loving call of a father to his child. This stage is described by Yeshayahu (27:13) in the verse that the discourse is based upon, “And it shall be on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those who were lost in the land of Ashur and those who were banished in the land of Mitzrayim shall come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

In the Previous Rebbe’s words:

The “Great Shofar” [however] shall fan the essential Jewish spark within all Jews, so that each one, in accordance with his or her spiritual standing, will become better and more spiritually elevated in the life of Torah and mitzvos.  When Moshiach comes, there will then be fulfilled that which is written: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” For the birth-pangs of Moshiach will have cleansed the Jewish nation from all our accumulated [corporeal] grime.

The “Great Shofar” shall awaken [within all the ability] to truly perceive G‑d’s holiness. Even “lost and banished” Jews who have fallen so low that they are ashamed of the name “Jews” and are angered when reminded of their Jewish ancestry, doing everything in their power to distance themselves from Judaism, even such Jews will come to recognize, through the sound of the shofar and the “southerly storm winds,” that they are Jewish.

We readily observe that this is so. The “birth-pangs of Moshiach” have already had a moving effect on all, and to a certain degree have brought Jews closer to Judaism.  We will become closer still.  These tribulations are all categorized as afflictions preceding the coming of Moshiach. However, the “Great Shofar” is a manifestation of G‑d’s fatherly and loving call that will reach all Jews, even those who are “lost and banished.”

The First World War was certainly a shaking experience for the Jewish people – 100s of thousands killed and countless more displaced. But the aftermath of World War I, especially in Soviet Russia with it’s close to 3,000,000 Jews, proved not to be good for Judaism. Even in countries that didn’t oppress Jews, Jewish observance was in decline.  Jews looked for solutions for the antisemitism everywhere else besides for the right place. It’s almost as if G-d’s “wake-up call” went unanswered…

World War II, even more shaking and devastating for world Jewry, didn’t either bring better results for Judaism.  During the World-War II years, the previous Rebbe launched a campaign to try to make this happen. While the campaign reaped significant successes, and a teshuva trend did begin (“the birth-pangs of Moshiach have already had a moving effect on all, and to a certain degree have brought Jews closer to Judaism”), the desired results, mass return to Judaism, didn’t materialize.

General world Jewry, besides the faithful few (in relative terms: religious Jews after the war were, and still are now, only a small percentage of the general Jewish population) showed a decline in Jewish observance which naturally caused a decline in the second generation’s Jewish identification, some out of anger at Hashem’s concealment during the Holocaust and others out of a lack of willingness to belong to a persecuted nation.  The vast majority did so not deliberately, but out of underlying subservience to a general society which became more and more distant from the religious values of the “old world.”

This is not to say, G-d forbid, that Judaism was in danger of becoming extinct.  But there was a legitimate fear that countless of its members were in danger of losing touch with their Jewish roots.

Most of world Jewry then could be divided into two general categories alluded to in Yeshayahu’s prophecy: “lost in the land of Ashur” and “banished in the land of Mitzrayim”.

Lost in Ashur – American Jewry

“Ashur” (Hebrew for Assyria, a Mesopotamian kingdom to which the ten tribes were exiled by Sancheriv in the year 3205 – 555 BCE) is also the Hebrew word for pleasure, referring to all the material pleasures in which people indulge. Prosperity and success are blessings.  However, when they lead to self-indulgence, they can cause a person to become “lost in the land of Ashur” – becoming spiritually insensitive and complacent, immersed in self-interest.

This was the bleak picture of American Jewry in much of the first and some of the second half of the last century.  By 1970 U.S. Jewry numbered some 5,400,000, many of whom had emigrated to the shores of the “goldene medineh” – the golden country – mainly to flee financial oppression in the “old country”.

They left behind the tzores and unfortunately also the Yiddishkeit.  Though they struggled initially, most eventually prospered and calmed their Jewish conscience by building beautiful shuls and donating generously to the Joint and other charities assisting needy Jews throughout the world.

American Jewry became so alienated and submerged in their pursuit of “the good life” that even the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel (an open miracle which became a necessity in the political climate of the later 1940s), to which American Jewry greatly assisted with funds and political support, did little to create major spiritual shockwaves.  The aliyah from the US and other prosperous countries such as Canada, the UK, Australia and South Africa is an indicator for this:  it comprised less than 1% of the aliyah from European, Middle Eastern and North African countries!

This wasn’t surprising: why would they want to go live in a young, threatened and financially struggling state if the greatest Jewish value to them was to escape the sorrows of being a Jew in the “old country” and to make money and enjoy life?

As the pasuk suggests, no one is “banished” to Ashur, to material pleasures, they simply get lost in them…as the previous Rebbe writes in his discourse:

The Jews isolated in remote areas, especially if they’re living without the company of any other Jews, will be very coarsened and sunk in worldly matters. They will be estranged from Judaism, and may be unwilling to leave their well-established homes and go with Moshiach to Eretz Yisroel. They may not even want to hear of the Redemption. Under the influence of evil friends or leaders, they will have become assimilated into the populace of the lands in which they are found. Some of them will have forgotten, or will have lost all desire to remember, their Jewish heritage.”

It should be noted that since the Holocaust there has been a small but not insignificant number of American Jews returning to their roots. This minor Ba’al Teshuva movement enjoyed a surge in the 1960s as part of the widespread counter-culture.

But the Six Day War was an event so powerful and miraculous that hardly a Jew could remain indifferent to it.   Thousands (if not more) took those initial feelings of Jewish concern and then Jewish pride, and channeled these emotions into what became known as “the Teshuva Movement” — people making a complete lifestyle change to the way of Torah and mitzvos.  Baal teshuva yeshivas sprung up in Israel and the U.S., many forming the basis for new thriving communities. And some baalei teshuva were fortunate to bring along their families. 

Even those who didn’t make that leap often became more involved in Jewish life.  Increasingly, being Jewish in America and in the Western world was no longer something to hide or to run away from.

In the coming article we will discuss the second group — the people “banished to the land of Mitzrayim” — Soviet Jewry.

“The Great Shofar”

“The Great Shofar”:  A powerful symbol associated with the opening moment of the long-awaited Redemption.

A long blast which we will all hear that will tell us the time has come to go back home.

Though it sounds like taken straight out of a legend, the “Great Shofar” originates in a prophecy from Yeshayahu:

“And it shall come to pass on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those exiled in the land of Egypt shall come and they shall prostrate themselves before the L-rd on the holy mount in Jerusalem.”

The reason why this particular prophecy is so well known and more iconic than the fantastic miracle of the Euphrates river being split into seven (Yeshayahu 11:15) or Zecharia’s prophecy (14:4) of Mt. Olives splitting when Moshiach’s feet will step upon it, is probably because the “Great Shofar” is mentioned in our daily prayers, in the tenth blessing of the Shemone Esreh:

Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.”

There are quite a few sources that let us understand this shofar as a physical one:

• This shofar is the second horn of the ram that was offered instead of Yitzchak at the Akeida.

• The first horn was sounded at Matan Torah, which was clearly an actual event, not only metaphysical.  Although Hashem sounded the shofar, we were able to hear the sound with our physical ears. 

Yet, as is the case with these sorts of prophecies, the literal interpretation is one of many, and even if the literal meaning is accepted, it doesn’t mean that the allegorical one isn’t true, and they can both manifest in different stages.

What is the allegorical interpretation?

The allegorical explanation sees the sounding of the Great Shofar strictly within the context of the prophecy — communicating the magnitude of the ingathering of the exiles at the time of the Redemption:

Radak, the Metzudas David, and Don Isaac Abarbanel (in Mashmia Yeshua prophecy 3 of Yeshayahu and in his commentary on Yeshayahu) all see it as an expression used to highlight how the ingathering will draw people from all corners of the world just like the call of a shofar in a specific location pulls people toward it. 

It isn’t befitting for one to understand the sound of the Shofar that he mentioned here literally, since it is impossible that a banner raised by the sounding of the shofar taking place in one location will be seen and heard all over the globe, both in near and far places. It should, however, be explained in one of these two ways. The first: it is an allusion to the [method of] ingathering of the exiles and the salvation of the Jews that will appear in our eyes to resemble one lifting a banner and sounding a shofar which are [used as common practice] to gather people and assemble them.”

Or as Radak (paraphrased by the Metzudas David) writes:

They will gather [to Israel] as if a shofar great enough to be heard all over the world was sounded.”

The prophecy about “the Great Shofar” is mentioned also in the prophet Zecharia (9:14):

The L-rd G-d [Havaya Elokim] shall sound the shofar and go in a southerly storm wind.

The differences between these two prophecies are explained in the Frierdiker Rebbe’s discourse quoted inside this article as alluding to two stages in the awakening of the Jewish people in preparation for Moshiach.

 

Primary sources for this article are:

Translation of the previous Rebbe’s discourse in Chassidic Discourses vol. 1

Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s rendition of the Rebbe’s address from MLC.org

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