Rosh Hashanah Essay 5780

Rosh Hashanah Essay 5780

Date: 2019

By Shlomo M. Hamburger

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was the father and teacher of Rabbi Menachem M.  Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.  For about 25 years, the Rebbe lived, for the most part, in his parents’ home where the Rebbe and his father developed a close personal bond.  The Rebbe and his father last saw each other in the fall of 1927 (29 Tishrei 5688) and would never see each other again in the physical world.  During 1928, and pending the Rebbe’s wedding date, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wrote a series of letters to his son all related to the Rebbe’s upcoming wedding.  Four of the letters were written on the eve of Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Sukkot.  In each letter, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak tied the holiday to his son’s upcoming wedding through explaining the Kabbalistic significance of each holiday and how it relates to different aspects of marriage.  These letters show not just Torah insights but also very personal insights into the close connection between Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (the then 50-year old father) and the Rebbe (his then 26-year old son). 

In her memoirs, Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother, expressed her desperate wish that her husband’s writing would be published: 

Something ought to be published from such a personality, such a flowing “wellspring” of incessant Torah thought, never ceasing even a moment, who, when he had no one to address, would write down his thoughts on paper in installments.

Certainly I am entitled to hope for this, after all that I have witnessed in my life.  In any event, it is something that ought to come about.  I can do nothing to help it happen, but my desire for it is strong and I hope it will happen.[1]

Similarly, the Rebbe wrote: “It is my obligation and great zechus to suggest, request, etc., that everyone study from {my father’s} teachings…” From a letter of the Rebbe, Motzaei Tisha B’Av 5744 (1984).

In that spirit, following essay addresses topics based on Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s letter from Erev Rosh Hashanah, 1928 (5689).  This essay is part of a larger publication entitled Unlocking the Code: The Letters of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson by Shlomo M. Hamburger. For more information on this publication, please contact Jewish Enrichment Press at or


Heeding the “Sound” of the Shofar and

Listening to the “Voice” of your Children


One key practical lesson we can learn from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s letter on Erev Rosh Hashanah relates to communication; specifically how we can communicate better with our children by considering the lessons of the shofar.[2]

As the letter explains, blowing the shofar is not simply about the mechanics and making the proper sounds.  The key principle of the shofar relates to “hearing.”  To have the sound of the shofar heard “on High,” the one who is blowing has to be properly prepared and understand the purpose of his act.  Even assuming the sound ascends, the question to ask is whether it will send a message worthy of receipt. 

These same concerns arise with regard to communicating with our children.  When we speak, do we really have something to say worth hearing?  Or do our children think of us like a “robocall” – something to listen to for as little time as possible and then add to a “do not call” list?  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s letters teach us some skills to help facilitate parent-child communication. 

To maximize the communication opportunities, we need to consider several things:

1.) Do you have something to say? The blessing for the shofar is לשמוע קול שופר /to hear the sound/voice of the shofar.  We praise G-d as the one who commanded us to hear the “sound” of the shofar.  The word “קול”/(kol) actually means both “voice” and “sound.”  We can readily understand the use of “sound” as a translation. After all, through the mechanics of concentrated air forced through the lips and then into the small hole on one end of a shofar, a sound will be emitted from the other end.  But does the shofar have a “voice?” 

The “voice” of the shofar actually comes from the soul of the person blowing the shofar.  Preferably, the one who blows the shofar should be married.  Why?  Because the person can then have the “voice” of life experience come through the prayer expressed with the shofar.

A sound on its own can stir one to action.[3]  But a voice has something to say; there is a message being sent which is supposed to be communicated.[4]  When we communicate with our children we might just be making a sound or a command.  “Work harder!”  “Clean up your room!”  These tend to be “sounds” that may (or may not) cause some reciprocal reaction; but are they likely to reach a level where true communication resides?  Using a voice could mean talking with your child to find ways to work through these issues.  Is your child really not working hard enough?  Or, is your child not understanding the material and in need help or support?  Talking through the issues can help identify and solve possible problems.

The lesson here is: when speaking with your children, make sure you have a message to convey and not just a sound to emit.

2.) Are we communicating at the child’s level? Rabbi Levi Yitzchak could write incredible and incredibly deep letters to his son, the Rebbe, because he knew his son’s level.  For years as he grew in his father’s house and under his father’s tutelage, the Rebbe was able to demonstrate the breadth and depth of his knowledge (and ability to recall that knowledge).  So when it came time for Rabbi Levi Yitzchak to communicate to his son, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak knew exactly what level to reach.  That is undoubtedly part of what made his letters so valuable and meaningful to the Rebbe.  Similarly, we need to tailor our message to the age, education, and personality and/or temperament of our children if our message is to be meaningful to them.

3.) Are we communicating at the right time? Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wrote the holiday letters specifically on “erev chag” (on the evening before each holiday). Evidently, this was the specific time that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak felt was important in order to tap into the spiritual energy behind the blessings he wanted to share with his son, the Rebbe.  When it comes to communicating in a meaningful way with our children, it is important to find the right time. 

In Pirkei Avos,[5] Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar teaches “Do not try to appease your friend during a time of anger.”  When our children are angry or upset, it is likely the time to listen with our ears open and our mouths shut.  Separately, there are times when a child specifically wants to talk.  It might be a regular daily time (e.g., on the way to or from school) or it might be a spontaneous opportunity.  When those times come, take advantage of them, put aside whatever else is on your agenda, and have the conversation your child is looking for.

Remember, the time also has to be the right time for the parent. To follow up on the lesson from Pirkei Avos, when it is a time of anger for the parent, that is not the time to appease the child. Our words, however well-intentioned, can do real harm to our children if they are colored by our own anger or frustrations, having nothing to do with our children.  If you aren’t prepared for a proper conversation, explain why and find another time to communicate.

4.) Less can be more. The shofar is a very simple “instrument” and we communicate via three very simple sounds – Tekiah, Shevarim, and Teruah. Yet, as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wrote in his Erev Rosh Hashanah letter, these simple sounds when properly conveyed have the ability to impact the spiritual worlds and arouse mercy. When parents and children are nagging, yelling, interrupting, criticizing, threatening, demeaning, or being sarcastic, there is a lot of sound and fury but very little communication. In the book of Melachim,[6] we read about the prophet Eliyahu.  He encountered a great and mighty wind, an earthquake, and fire. Major natural events were taking place and G-d was nowhere to be found other than in the “still small voice”/קול דממה דקה.   If our child is yelling, we cannot yell.  If our child sees that we are not yelling, they can learn by example that this is not the way to communicate.

5.) Look at it from the child’s perspective. In the Erev Rosh Hashanah letter, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explained what we can learn just from observing a shofar.  According to Halacha (Jewish law), a shofar cannot be broken.  At the same time, it sends a two-fold message of “brokenness” – the sounds are able to break through barriers in the spiritual worlds above and arouse Divine mercy and the sounds also express the cries of a broken heart.[7]  When it comes to communicating with our children, especially when they are in need of our help, it is important to remember that they are not broken.  Our children might at times express brokenness and they might even feel broken or lost and just do not know how to fix their situation.  But they are not broken.

Parents must heed their call and listen to their message to help the healing process.  Teach them that they are not broken.  Give them tools to help address their situation and if those tools don’t work, help them find other ways to manage the issues.

I realize that communication is not always easy.[8]  In this respect, we are reminded of Psalm 135 which says, in reference to idols, that they have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.  What is true of idols is often true of each of us.  We indeed have eyes; but do we see each other the way we should?  We have ears; but do we hear what the other is saying?  Communication means smashing these idols and concentrating fully on the other person.

Interestingly, when we block out distractions and focus on what our children are saying, we grasp the message and are prone to saying something like: “Oh – Now I see what you are saying.”  Actually, we heard what our child said; we didn’t see anything.  Yet through our concentration and understanding we could “see” quite clearly and our child’s perspective comes through loud and clear.

Sometimes by listening very carefully, we can see things from a different perspective.

The author gratefully acknowledges the comments and edits to this essay provided by his son, Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.  Dr. Hamburger is a clinical psychologist who is licensed in California and New York.  Currently based out of Los Angeles, Dr. Hamburger provides therapy to children, adults, families, and couples.

[1]           Kehot Publication Society.  Memoirs of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson.  Brooklyn, New York: 2011, installment 35.

[2]           Admittedly, the same lessons could apply to any type of communication. However, because the letters are written from a father to a son, the focus of these lessons is on how to apply the message to the father/son, parent/child relationship.

[3]           Amos 3:6 (“Can a shofar be blown in a city and the people not tremble?”). 

[4]           Rambam, Laws of Teshuvah, 3:4 (“It is as if the shofar is saying ‘Arise from your slumber! Examine your actions, do teshuvah, and remember your Creator.’”).

[5]           Pirkei Avos, 4:18.

[6]           1 Melachim 19:12.

[7]           See also Psalms 51:19 ((לב נשבר ונדכה אלקים לא תבזה/“G-d does not despise a broken heart.”

[8]           Also, there are times where professional help is needed to facilitate parent-child communication. In an appropriate situation, that is the best way to go for everyone.