Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
    who walkin the lightof your presence, Lord.
Psalm 89:15

Jews around the world are entering the most holy time on the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, this season is marked by intense reflection and repentance. This is one of 18 devotions focused on this holy season, exploring its meaning and the many lessons we can learn from this biblically mandated observance. To learn more, download our free study on the shofar, ram’s horn, that ushers in this holy season.

My friend Jonathan had been pulled over by the police for talking on the phone and driving at the same time. The officer immediately started with his diatribe, scolding Jonathan and explaining to him that he had earned himself a sizeable fine and points on his license. Jonathan’s wife tried making excuses. The officer seemed to anticipate an argument and only got louder and stronger.

Finally, Jonathan said something that stopped the officer mid-sentence. He said, “You are right. Hand me the ticket.” The officer’s mouth hung open as if he had suddenly forgotten how to talk. He obviously didn’t hear that too often!

Jonathan continued saying how wrong and dangerous it was to talk and drive at the same time and even thanked the officer for calling him on it. It was a lesson that he needed to learn. The officer walked away for a moment and when he came back, his demeanor had totally changed. He handed back Jonathan’s license and registration with a smile and a kind warning – but no ticket.

Tradition teaches that when we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, God our King, who is sitting on His throne of judgment, gets up and takes the seat of compassion. With just one piercing sound, the day is transformed from a day of stern judgment into a day of merciful compassion. Why?

These days, at the start of a trial, the judge bangs his gavel in order to bring the court to order. But in the olden days, a Jewish trial began with the sounding of the shofar. So when we blow the shofar, it is as though we are willingly starting our trial. We initiate the judgment. It is as if we are saying to God, “hand me the ticket – give me my penalty! I know that I am guilty.”

We recognize that we have done things wrong and we accept our verdict, acknowledging that it is for our own good. In response, God switches his mode from judgment to one of compassion. 

The psalmist writes: “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you . . .” The Hebrew for “to acclaim you” in this verse is teruah. As you may recall, teruah is also the name of the nine-note shofar blast. So the Jewish sages interpret this verse to mean: “Blessed are those who know the secret of the shofar blast.” The secret of the shofar blast is that it unleashes God’s mercy.

Jewish tradition teaches “when there is judgment below, there is no need for judgment above.” In other words, when we are able to take responsibility for our shortcomings on our own, God doesn’t have to correct our behavior for us. Instead, He hands out His love and mercy.

Learn more about the traditions and rituals associated with Rosh Hashanah in this free issue of our Bible study series, Limmud (“study” in Hebrew), “Shofar: The Sounds of Repentance.”

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