Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Shofar of Rav Kook

[Below, Rav Kook speaks of sleeping in galus. On that theme, see this at Life in Israel, on kosher hot dogs at Seven Eleven in Monsey. The location "makes sense", the reporter says, for "Kosher Heaven". Oy.]

For me, Elul is timed fortuitously. My last Shabbos in the pulpit was Parshas Eikev, and every year, at this time, I feel the pain that came with leaving it. Three years later, I understand the benefits I now have and I am at peace with the move, but I still miss it... until, not long after Parshas Eikev, along comes Elul, and I remember what Elul meant in the rabbinate. And that makes the decision to leave it much easier.

In any case: A week from Monday night, I will present a "yahrtzeit shiur" in memory of Rav Kook, Gd-willing. [Yes, the yahrtzeit is this Monday night, the third of Elul, but the scheduling did not work out.] I'll be looking at a poem which has obvious Elul resonance, titled "Shofar". It was written in 1912/1913, soon after he made aliyah.

In the poem, he puts the return to Israel in terms associated with the ultimate Resurrection of the Dead, and he calls upon the reader to be moved by the visible effects of our exile and catalyze this redemption.

The poem is not particularly "poetic" in the original Hebrew; there is a rhyme, but only a simple meter with abbreviated lines and spare imagery. I think the focus was more about the message than the aesthetics. (Although with Rav Kook's writing, the aesthetics are never far behind.)

Here is the translation I have drafted, followed by the Hebrew. Footnotes to the English refer to the pesukim I believe were his sources for certain phrases:

Ascend to the top of the mountain
and take up the great shofar,1
and lift your eyes and see
the suffering of the lowly nation.

And blow the great shofar,
tekiah, teruah, shevarim,
and pound with your foot,2
and so the graves will quake.

And these sounds will ascend through passages,3
to the very roots of the souls,
and those who roll will be set into motion
to build up the ruins.

And those who sleep will be roused,
the descendants of the lions,
who play in streams,
and wander in sprinklings.4

And those who sleep will awake
from the slumber of the exile,
and those who stray will be roused,
those of uncircumcised ear.5

And they will rise and ascend to the land
in which their forebears did reign,
and they will put an end, an abrupt halt,
to the exile in which they had been dispersed.

אֶל ראשׁ הָהָר עַלֵה
וְֹשוֹפָר גָדוֹל קַח
וְשָׂא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה
עֶנוּת הָעָם הַדָךְ

ובַֹשוֹפָר הַגָדוֹל תְּקַע
תְּקִיעָה תְּרוּעָה וּשְׁבָרִים
וּבְרַגְלְךָ רְקַע
וְיִרְעַֹשוּ הַקְבָרִים

וְהַקוֹלוֹת יַעַלוּ בְּלוּלִים
עַד שָׁרְֹשֵי הַנְֹשָמוֹת
וְיִתְגַלְגְלוּ הַגִילְגוּלִים
לִבְנוֹת אֶת הַֹשְמָמוֹת

וְיִתְעוֹרְרוּ הַנִרְדָמִים
נִינֵי הָאַרָיוֹת
הַמְשַׂחַקִים בִּזְרָמִים
וְֹשוֹגִים בַּהַזָיוֹת

וְיָקִיצוּ הַיְֹשֵנִים
בְּתַרְדֵמַת הַגוֹלָה
וְיֵעוֹרוּ הַזוֹנִים
בַּעַלֵי הָאוֹזֶן הָעַרֵלָה

וְיָקוּמוּ וְיַעַלוּ לָאָרֶץ
שֶׁהוֹרִים בְּקִרְבָּה מָלָכוּ
וְיָשִׂימוּ קֵץ וְקֶרֶץ
לַגָלוּת שֶׁבָּה הוּדָחוּ

[1] This is likely Yeshayah 18:3, but note Shoftim 3:27.
[2] Yechezkel 6:11
[3] Melachim I 6:8
[4] This is an important verse; he uses Hebrew terms which can refer to streams and sprinklings, but can also refer to ideological streams and errors. Rav Kook is referring to Jews who have naively strayed.
[5] Yirmiyah 6:10


  1. Yasher koach. The question remains why do millions of Jews continue to slumber in the galut. Do they sleep so soundly that they cannot hear the shofar of redemption? It is not the "sprinkling of the aberrant streams" which bothers me. Where are the mainstream MO-Zionist Jews. What did you say to them in your Monday night shiur. Maybe you can help them awaken from their slumber and come home like R' Riskin did in his community.

  2. This is actually a community that is fairly awake, I'm glad to say; the number of families who make aliyah every year is very impressive. But yes, there is room for growth, as always. (The shiur is next week.)