Rabbi Moshe Ḥayyim Efraim of Sudilkov (ca. 1740-1800) was a grandson and disciple of the founder of Ḥasidism, Israel Baal Shem Tov, and an innovative thinker in his own right. Published in 1810, his collected sermons would become, in Eitan Fishbane’s words, “one of the most popular and influential works of ḥasidic thought.” In a sermon for the Sabbath preceding Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi explicates Psalms 89:16, the verse recited in the synagogue immediately after the holiday’s central ritual, the blowing of the shofar: “Happy is the people who know the blast, Lord; they will walk in the light of Your countenance”—the word rendered here as “blast” (t’ruah) being the standard term for the trumpeting of the shofar. Fishbane explains the theology animating the homily:
At the heart of . . . ḥasidic teaching is a radical conception of God in which the Divine Being is held to be literally present in the ordinary objects of the material world—as being within the material “garments” and “shells” of apparently mundane things. Thus, the divine life force, by which the world is sustained, is to be found in every aspect of life, “in eating and drinking and business and the like.”
Precisely because God was believed to dwell within all things, including those of this lower world, the task of the individual was to uncover the spiritual inwardness that is “clothed,” or hidden, by the “outer garments” of existence.
Moshe Ḥayyim Efraim concludes his exegesis by arguing that the shofar could strip off this clothing, playing on the Hebrew term for a specific kind of shofar blast, sh’varim, which derives from the word meaning “to break.” As he puts it, Fishbanes’ translation:
The meaning of “Happy is the people who knows the blast” is that they know how to break apart [l’shaber] the natural realm so as to cast away the outer garments. Then “they will walk in the light of your countenance”—in the inner light, which is the Name of God, which is the meaning of the phrase (Proverbs 16:15): “In the light of the King’s face is life.”
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More about: Hasidism, Judaism, Kabbalah, Rosh Hashanah, Shofar