By Rabbi Uri Topolosky
Our rabbinic tradition explores a variety of questions we may ultimately face in front of a Heavenly Tribunal. It is worth prepping answers to all of them, but let us consider just one of these inquiries for the moment. The Talmud in Shabbat 31a lists six questions, including, ״צפּית לישׁועה?״ - "[In your lifetime,] did you hope for salvation?"
At first blush, the question seems to be of a religious nature, but perhaps it can also be read as a measuring stick for optimism. Are you the type of person who generally hopes? Or laments? Are you forward thinking, or focused on the past? Do you envision a better future, or can you only see over your shoulder? The implication of the Talmud is that an optimistic spirit is central to one's spiritual fulfillment, and even the key, quite literally, to our future.
Optimism is a value that resonates not only in our holy texts, but also in our holy melodies, including the resonant sounds of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The first note of a traditional shofar blast is the Tekiah - a single, strong tone that projects our hopes and dreams. The second note is the Shevarim/Teruah, a broken burst of notes that seem to mimic a whimpering cry. Coupled together, as they always are, the first two notes acknowledge that there is no such thing as "only simchas," and that the normal rhythm of life includes both ups and downs. However, even as we listen to both of these notes together, the shofar offers one final blast for the High Holiday season - the Tekiah Gedolah. This "Great Tekiah" is our optimistic answer to the Talmud's inquiry. Each New Year, we reaffirm our hope for salvation and our belief in an even better tomorrow.
For many, the High Holidays help to restore the optimistic human spirit and energize us to renew our dreams. But every year, I ask my community to pause before that final Tekia Gedolah and consider those that might not be able to hear its hopeful cry. One year, we paused for Gilad Shalit. Another year, we called out the names of loved ones struggling with illness. A third year, we stood up for our easily distracted selves, to internalize just one promise we had made in our holiday prayers. Perhaps this year we should invite a meditative moment for victims of abuse and violence.
When the Heavenly Tribunal asks, "Do you hope for salvation?", we would like to think that anyone could cry out in the affirmative; that our capacity for optimism can be recharged year-to-year. However, we know that some have been mired for so long in the brokenness of the Shevarim/Teruah, that they no longer bear the belief or strength for a final Tekiah. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us, before we sound our own Tekiah Gedolah, to look around the room and take stock of our community. Let us consider who could use our prayers, and our helping hands, to better hear their own hope for salvation.
Rabbi Uri Topolosky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Joshua of Aspen Hill and the Rav HaKehillah of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy.