Rabbi Daniel Myers
The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (16a) writes the following:
“Rav Yitzchak asked: Why do we blow Shofar ‘before’ Musaf and then again ‘during’ Musaf? Do we not fulfill our obligation with just one set of Shofar blasts?” The Gemara answers that we blow two times in order to confuse the “Satan”. The Ran writes that this means that we blow a second set in order to subdue the Yetzer Hara, as Raish Lakish says that the Satan, Malach Hamaves (Angel of Death) and the Yaizer Hara are one and the same.
Although this is a most unique and novel explanation of the Gemara, it certainly reflects a well-known theme of Rosh Hashana, as the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 3:4) writes that the blasts of the Shofar should cause us to wake up from our spiritual slumber and return to Hashem. (See the other commentaries on the Gemara for various interpretations of Rav Yitzchak's statement.) We are all familiar with the theme of Teshuva and its inseparable connection to the Yamim Noraiim; however, implementing this noble concept often proves elusive, since “Adam Karov L'azm”, a person naturally assumes that all that he does is fine and good. How can we rise to this awesome challenge, and actually turn on ourselves and reflect upon our lives as an objective outsider looking in? Obviously, we cannot analyze this complicated theme in a few lines - hundreds of works on philosophy and morality (mussar) have dealt with this topic at length! However, I would like to offer one small insight that may be helpful during this most delicate period of the year.
About ten years ago, Rabbi Abraham Twerski told me that I should attend an AA meeting. When I jokingly smelled my breath and laughed at the 'humorous' suggestion, he looked straight at me and said that he was not joking, and that if I want to have a deeper insight into Teshuva, I should take his advice seriously. After all, he related, he himself would still go to meetings when he had a chance, and was consistently impressed and overwhelmed by the real process of change that the AA members were going through. Well, I listened to him and found a meeting, which was open to members and non-members alike, and took my seat inconspicuously in the back of the room. First, one individual presented his story, relating in graphic detail how his illness destroyed his life - he lost his family, job, friends, dignity, etc.; however, due to the help from his friends in the group he was able to battle his Yetzer Hara constantly and overcome his daily struggles. After he presented, each member shared a thought with the group, and the individual that struck me most profoundly was Jon. He stood up and said the following: "Hi, I'm an alcoholic. Because of all of your support, friendship and guidance, I have not taken a drink yet today, and I am continuing on the path of sobriety. Thanks, guys." Everyone gave him a hearty Yasher Koach, and they then moved on to the next member. I looked at my watch and it was 8:30 am, and Jon and the group were so excited about his abstention from alcohol for the past few morning hours! What a level of self-recognition and introspection! What an ability to understand one's inner battles-one's demons, to paraphrase the Ran, and to accept one's inabilities to deal with them without a thought-out, well-executed plan!
As we prepare for the upcoming period of soul-searching and introspection, it may be appropriate for each of us to ask ourselves the following questions: Do I have the desire and honesty - the brutal and unbiased honesty - to search for my flaws and shortcomings, and analyze where I may be deviating from God’s will? Do I treat both aspects of worshipping God, between myself and others, and between my self and God, with the same level of commitment and intensity? In my relentless pursuit of perfection, would I ever be willing and courageous enough, to face a loved one, be it a spouse, friend, Rebbe, etc., and ask the individual to point out my areas of weakness, my failings and limitations? Can I sincerely claim that I have worked on the issue of baseless hatred, not letting differences in philosophies, Halacha, politics, modesty (within the range of Halacha), etc., lead to hatred and vilification?
Some people, tragically, need to hit rock bottom before they face these powerful questions. It is our hope and prayer, that the significance and weightiness of the solemn days ahead of us are reason enough to raise these intense issues and, where appropriate, overhaul our lives, values and commitments, as we strive to get closer to Hashem.