The Ba'al Shem Tov tells the story of a king who sent his son to a distant land in order to become wise. The king supplied his son with generous quantities of silver and gold to afford him every opportunity to succeed, and told his son that he would write him every day. Far away from home, the prince squandered his father's money, and bandits intercepted his father's letters. Alone and destitute, the prince forgot all about his royal heritage and because he never received any letters, he even forgot his native language. One day, the prince, now a poor wanderer, happened to arrive back at his father's palace. Instantly the prince recalled his former life and wanted to go back home, but because of his disheveled appearance, the palace guards did not recognize him and stopped him at the gate. When the palace guards questioned him, the prince could not answer because he could no longer speak his native language. The guards would not let him through to see his father, the king. In his utter despair, the prince fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice. The king heard this cry from his innermost chamber, and recognized the weeping as that of his son's. The king ran outside, embraced his long lost child, lifted him up, and took him back into the palace.
The Ba'al Shem Tov explains the meaning of this parable in the following way: God is the King Who sends souls out into the world in order to fulfill their missions. But with the passage of time, the soul becomes distant from its Creator and forgets all about its mission, it even forgets its own spiritual language. So the soul utters a simple cry to its Heavenly Parent, which is instantly recognized and received, just as we instantly recognize the cries of our own children, no matter where they are or what they look like. This is the cry of the shofar. It is the cry of our souls which have been separated from their Source for too long. It is a cry that God, as our Parent, immediately understands, eliciting His mercy and love for us.
Returning to our Source through the process of teshuva, repentance, is no easy task. Sometimes, we do not even have the words to express our feelings of remorse and yearning to be close to God. Sometimes, the wanderings of our exile, in both a physical and spiritual sense, can take such a toll on our spirits, that all we can do is cry out. The idea of crying out to God and being returned to Him from a state of exile is discussed in this week's parsha, Parshat Nitzavim, as it says "It will happen that when all these things come upon you- the blessing and the curse...then you will take it to heart among all the nations where the Lord, your God, has dispersed you; and you will return unto the Lord, your God...Then the Lord, your God will return you from your captivity and have mercy upon you and He will gather you in from all the peoples to where the Lord, your God, has scattered you. If your dispersed will be at the ends of the heavens, from there the Lord, your God, will gather you in and from there He will take you" (Devarim 30:1-4). According to Rashi, "So great is the day of the ingathering of the exiles, and [it will come about] with [so much] difficulty, [that it will be] as if God Himself must actually hold each and every person with His hands to take them [them] from [their] place [in exile]" (Rashi on Devarim 30:3).
Returning to God from exile - from physical, emotional and spiritual exile - requires us to cry out to our Source, and when we do, God will hear our cries, and like the king in the Ba'al Shem Tov's parable, God will "hold every person with His hands and take them from their place in exile."
This Rosh HaShanah, may we all hear the cries of the shofar as the cries of our hearts seeking to return and reunite with God. No matter how far away from our spiritual source we may have wandered throughout the year, Rosh HaShanah presents us all with the opportunity to return. Let us take this sacred and special occasion to express our longings, take hold of the hand which is extended to us, and return to our Source, so that we can have the strength, the confidence and the faith to continue on our journey in the year ahead.
Shabbat Shalom, and Shanah Tovah u’Metukah!
May you and yours be blessed with a good, sweet, safe, happy and healthy new year!
Shabbat Morning Drasha: "Try to Stand Still: Dealing wit Transitions"
Shabbat Afternoon Shiur: "Learning Tefillah with Rav Schwab: Morning Blessings Part 4"