B”H When a person finds himself in a situation where he may feel exempt from some aspect of serving the Creator, for example if he has an excuse that would prevent him from davening with a minyan, due to fear or other difficulties, if despite this, he musters up the energy to encourage himself to fulfil all of the mitzvos in the best possible manner, this arouses a tremendous merit in Heaven for him.
A story is told about the Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev zt”l, that one Erev Pesach after the time when one is no longer allowed to own any chometz, he asked one of his assistants to go to the homes of gentiles and try to purchase a particular type of imported whiskey that the Russian Czar declared to be contraband throughout his Empire. The black market sales were easy to find, as every gentile told him that they could sell this prohibited whiskey in abundance.
Afterwards, the Rebbe gave a large sum of money to the assistant, and sent him to every Jewish home in town, asking them to sell him a bit of chometz for this large sum. The assistant went to every Jewish home, and he returned empty-handed, because not even one Jewish family had even a small amount of chometz, not even an amount smaller than the size of an olive.
The following Rosh Hashanah, several months later, before sounding the Shofar, the Berditchiver Rov zt”l began his sermon, and he opened with an impromptu prayer, “Ribono Shel Olam! Master of the Universe! The Czar outlawed importing whiskey from this other country, and he hired thousands of officers and inspectors, and he openly punishes anyone who owns it. Yet I found that every home has plenty of it. On the other hand, You wrote in Your Torah that a Jew cannot have a kzayis of chometz in his home on Pesach, and You did not appoint any officer or inspector to find or to punish the violator. Despite all this, I was unable to find even a tiny crumb of chometz in any Jews possession on Erev Pesach! Are they not worthy to be blessed with a sweet and happy New Year?!
This is largely true at all times including ours. People keep the laws of the land for fear of punishment. When there is no fear the laws are trampled upon. The Nations of the world who practice a religion primarily do so when they have no other choice. The minute they have free choice they neglect their religion. Not so the Jews, who have an eternal soul and strive to serve G-d out of deep love and sacrifice. Even when they have a legitimate excuse to go easy, they still strive to do all the Mitzvos in the best possible fashion.
Therefore, our ancestors for over three millennia throughout the chain of generations since Avraham Avinu to our own generation, always engaged in self-sacrifice in order to fulfill the Torah and mitzvos in every situation. Even the simplest Jews in the old days, who needed to work hard all day long in order to eke out a meagre living would always daven with a minyan in shul every day for every public prayer service, in order to hear Kaddish, Kedushah, and Borchu, and to answer Amen, knowing that this brought tremendous nachas to their Father in Heaven Who gives them life.
They also set aside times to study Torah even when this was extremely difficult to fit into their busy schedules. A simple Jew from Russia once told me that he lived in a place where the Communists forced him to work all day long, starting at 5 am, and they could kill someone who arrived late at work, so he would wake up at 3 am in order to learn Torah and daven before work.
The month of Tishrei was full of heroic deeds. Jews would show tremendous self-sacrifice to perform the Mitzva of Shofar, Succah, Esrog,etc. This was done in most trying times such as the Marranos in fifteenth century Spain, in Russia under Communism, and even in the Auschwitz hell.
Along these lines, it is said that Rebbe Shalom of Belz zt”l once sat in his chair before the Shofar sounding with an obvious look of sorrow on his face, and he did not want to go to sound the Shofar for a long time, until suddenly he stood up with obvious joy and sounded the Shofar.
Afterwards, he told the story of how he perceived that there was a tremendous persecution in Heaven against the Jewish community, and he felt that he was unable to sound the Shofar until he was able to overcome this decree. By Divine inspiration, he was able to telepathically see how a group of boys who were kidnapped and drafted into the Russian army by the Czar’s Cantonist decree secretly gathered together to pray on Rosh Hashanah. Even though they were locked away in the army barracks, they decided that they had to do whatever they could to find a shofar, thus they spent a long time searching the entire camp, until they found an animal horn that they were able to get some sound out of with great difficulty, and one of them who had some meagre knowledge of how to blow a shofar got some sound out of this horn. They put in tremendous effort with love of Hashem to sound these notes, and this brought tremendous nachas in Heaven, and the entire Divine persecution was nullified. When the holy Belzer Rebbe was shown this, he was able to sound the Shofar.
This power of faith is our heritage from our holy ancestors, who rejoiced in the ability to pursue the mitzvos of Hashem with love. We found this particularly with the story of the Akeidas Yitzchak, where Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu rejoiced tremendously over the opportunity to offer such a great sacrifice in order to fulfil the mitzvah of their Father in Heaven, to the point where the angel had to tell Avraham that he should not harm Yitzchak in any manner, not even in a slight way to do the mitzvah, inasmuch that they did not feel any joy in being exempt from this, just this opposite, it caused them both anguish to be spared from this opportunity.
For this reason, Hashem sent a ram caught in a bush by its horns, in order that they should, at the very least, offer some form of sacrifice to Hashem, so that they should not be left empty-handed.
Yishmael the son of Avraham also fulfilled the difficult mitzvah of Bris Milah when he was 13 years old, and in this merit his progeny earned the capability to overtake and pain the Jews in the final exile, as the Zohar explains in Parshas Vayera. However, Kabalistically speaking, his merit is limited, because his devotion to God was motivated by fear of punishment and not by love, and he only sought to fulfill that which God commanded him specifically, but in general his behaviour was negative and he was forced to leave his parents’ home.
This is a merit for our community in comparison to the good deeds of other communities, including the Bnei Yishmael, because their devotions are motivated by fear of punishment and not by love like the pious Jews dedicate themselves to demonstrate their boundless love for the Creator.
This is demonstrated by the differences between the two Parshiyos we read on Rosh Hashanah. On the First Day, we read the story of Yishmael, who is called the son of the maidservant, because he and his mother served the Creator like slaves and maidservants who serve only out of fear. On the Second Day, we read the parshah of Akeidas Yitzchak, where we see how to worship our Father in Heaven like a son who fulfills the commands of his father motivated by love.
According to this, it is possible to explain the concept of Tekias Shofar, as Chazal explain that one of the reasons for this mitzvah is to commemorate the ram that was caught by its horns in the bush who was sacrificed in place of Yitzchak, and it is possible to explain that this reminds us of how our holy ancestors desired so much to fulfill the mitzvah from love with self-sacrifice until the point where Hashem had to send a ram in order to allow the Patriarchs to sacrifice something, and this inspires us to accept upon ourselves to continue to follow the ways of our ancestors to run after the mitzvos in every situation, as this is a tremendously great merit, more than any other faith community, and in this merit we will be worthy to be rescued and redeemed from our enemies and from all sorrows.
May it be Hashem’s Will that we should be written and sealed immediately for a good year of life. Moshiach NOW!!!