Beit Midrash

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The 4th Shofar of False Redemption

Back in 1934, Rav Kook delivered a famous speech in which he described the various motivations of Jews to return to Zion – and compared them to three different shofars. I would opine that today, a fourth shofar has been added, one that is actually dangerous for the process of the national return to their holy homeland, even as it is disguised by its proponents as part of the Redemption process...


Elul 27 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Back in 1934, Rav Kook delivered a famous speech in which he described the various motivations of Jews to return to Zion – and compared them to three different shofars. I would opine that today, a fourth shofar has been added, one that is actually dangerous for the process of the national return to their holy homeland, even as it is disguised by its proponents as part of the Redemption process.

To set the stage for this discussion, we note that the basic assumption of the mainstream movement called Religious Zionism is that we are privileged to be living in the period of atchalta degeulah, the "beginning of Redemption." This approach is strongly based on Jewish sources; the return of the Nation of Israel to its Land has always, throughout generations of Jewish tradition in the Bible (chiefly the Prophets) and in the Oral Law, been depicted as part of the Messianic redemption.

However, just as we don't find in our sources the possibility of a return to the Land outside the framework of Redemption, we similarly do not find a scenario of the national return to the Land under the leadership of Jews who have turned their backs on Torah and mitzvah observance. [Translator's note: This is an arguable point.As is known, the Zionist movement was not headed by Rav Kook or people of his ilk, but rather by men like Herzl, Nordau, and Ben Gurion. Important rabbis joined the movement, but they were unable to actually change its secular character, even if they had local and occasional successes.

Amid this great tension between the Prophetic vision and its secular manifestation, the religious-Zionist movement has sought to make its ideological and pragmatic way ever since its inception.

Let us now return to Rav Kook's "Three Shofars" speech. We must introduce it with a quick review of some of the Halakhic requirements of the shofar blown on Rosh HaShanah. Three types of shofars may be blown on this day to fulfill the Biblical command. The optimal shofar is the horn of a ram; if none is available, the horn of any kosher animal (except a cow) may be used. And if no nominally kosher shofar is available, one may blow the horn of even a non-kosher animal (without reciting a blessing).

In his speech, Rav Kook essentially laid out the complexity of the situation by showing that, just as there are three different shofar types that can be blown on Rosh HaShanah, there are three different levels of motivation to return to Zion. The basis for this comparison is the verse in Isaiah that foresees a great shofar that will be blown to signify Redemption: "On that day, a great shofar will be sounded, and those who were lost in Assyria and Egypt will return." We also mention the shofar of this prophecy in our daily Shmoneh Esrei prayer: "Sound a great shofar for our freedom and raise a banner to ingather our exiles."

In both cases, a "great shofar" is involved. Rav Kook says that the Jews who come home to the Land out of a desire to live lives of sanctity and spiritual/national redemption, of the type that can only occur for the Jewish Nation in the Jewish Land – they are those who heard the "great shofar," corresponding to the top-notch shofar, that of a ram.

Most unfortunately, this was not the motivation of most of the new immigrants to the Land in his times. Rav Kook understood from the wording of the blessing that there exist other possibilities of Geula. He saw secular Jews returning to the Land not because they heard the "great shofar" of a national life of holiness, but rather a "medium shofar" of normal nationalism. Rav Kook says this shofar expresses "healthy human nature" that wishes "to live simple lives of freedom" in their own homeland "just like the other nations." This approach also has a measure of sanctity in its bid to seek goodness for Israel, according to Rav Kook. In this way he filled in the missing link in Jewish tradition, by granting a type of legitimacy to the ingathering of the exiles that does not follow the Prophets' outline.

This type of return corresponds to the second, less optimal, Rosh HaShanah shofar. It is certainly a kosher one, but signals a national awakening somewhat less sublime and holy than the first type.

But Rav Kook did not stop here in his reading of the Jewish spiritual/national map. With tears in his eyes, he said there is also a third shofar, a very undesirable one: the horn of an unclean, impure animal. This shofar, he said, corresponds to the third motivation for Aliyah: anti-Semitic persecution, violence, and hatred, warning Jews to escape while they can and flee to their own land. When our enemies blast the trumpets of war and bombard them with deafening threats of torment, this third shofar – polluted and corrupted – serves to herd the Jewish People back to their home, albeit in a most negative manner. Just as the shofar from an impure animal cannot accept the recitation of a blessing, so too we are not very proud of those who come for reasons of persecution – but at least they are home.

To paint a clearer picture, in the year of this speech, shortly after the Nazis' rise to power in Germany, some 60,000 Jews made Aliyah, many of them for fear of what would happen there and all over Europe. Rav Kook made clear that even these were contributing to the national redemption, if just barely.

Much water has flowed in the Jordan River ever since Rav Kook delivered this speech. The second shofar, that of secular Zionism nourished by "healthy nationalist spirit," is still quite loud, and its call is answered by unobservant but proud Jews who give their all for the sake of Jewish existence in the Land of Israel. At the same time, regarding the tarnished and degraded third shofar, we have been privileged – undoubtedly in the merit of the establishment of the State of Israel – to see its call of persecution and hatred be largely silenced, though it is still heard here and there.

Jewish Only on the Inside

Very sadly, it seems that nowadays we are witness to a fourth shofar blowing in our Land – even more debased than the third one. It is sounded not by our enemies, but by Jews, our own brethren. Those who sound it do not even regard it in a negative light; they see it as a shofar of a type of Redemption that will free them of Torah restrictions and values and bring a new dawn to mankind. This shofar demands deafeningly that we build, here and now, a "new Israel."

Nearly 30 years before the above speech, just two years after his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Kook warned loudly [in one of his published letters] of the dangers of this fourth shofar: "The raised hand, armed with lawlessness and Gentile manners, with no trace of the true holiness of Israel... which dresses life Jewishly on the outside, but on the inside is entirely non-Jewish" will become "a destroyer and a monster, and in the end, also [a vessel of] hatred of Israel and of the Land of Israel… If/when this impure hand takes the lead, the greatness of the catastrophe will barely be able to be told."

This type of wretched shofar blast ascends and emerges from the self-righteous search for the hidden desires of each person, especially with regard to his passions and lusts, and the uncompromising demand to allow him to realize them. All these are now defined as a person's "real me." Thousands of years of civilization in which mankind learned, step by step, to tame his physical desires and actualize his spirit, via a host of religious and philosophical methods, are now over. Anything a person desires or lusts for has now become legitimate and possible, for how can we oppress the "real me" wherever and however it is found? Public figures, judges, and others vie with each other in seeking to take part in and complete this revolution demanding official recognition in our holy land of every possible sexual variant and deviation.

This shofar passes from mouth to mouth, and even some rabbis are willing to blow it. This involves also "upgrading" the Jewish family – the very basis of our nation – and restructuring it with models that never before existed in the history of humanity. And they further claim that this will be a harbinger of Redemption. They demand that the values of sanctity in our individual lives, irreplaceably manifest in our family structure, retreat before the deafening blast of this fourth shofar.

The sound of the shofar, any shofar, is shocking and is meant to awaken us. The Prophet Amos asks, "If a shofar is sounded in the city, will the people not tremble?!" As the new year of 5783 comes upon us, let us hope and pray that this fourth shofar now being loudly sounded will in fact awaken us and shock us out of our slumber, to find our genuine "real me" as traditional, loyal Jews – the "me" that ascends from the truly great shofar: "Blow a great shofar for our national freedom." 

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