by B. Moskoff
Many years ago in Moscow, in pure Russian tradition, the government enacted decrees against Jewish practice, culminating in the expulsion of all Jews from the city. All Jews – except those needed by the regime for their special skills. The vast majority left the city, but Rabbi Chaim Berlin, the city’s Chief Rabbi, refused to desert his flock. He remained in Moscow, seeing it his duty to assist his fellow Jews in whatever way he could. Of course, religious practices had to be carried out with extreme discretion. The Rabbi and his diminished community went to great lengths to continue their devoted Jewish life.
Rosh Hashanah is Coming
As Rosh Hashanah was approaching, Rabbi Berlin went to take the Shofar out of its place. To all the onlookers’ shock, the Shofar was cracked all along one side, deeming it pasul – unfit for fulfilling the mitzvah of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
The community was profoundly disappointed, particularly the Rabbi, who could not imagine Rosh Hashanah without the traditional blowing of the ram’s horn.
When Rosh Hashana came, the Rabbi faced the realization that this year, he would not be listening to the Shofar blowing. Not one to wallow, the great rabbi sat down to contemplate what to do.
“What does G-d want from me now? True, I cannot hear the Shofar, but I can study the laws regarding the Shofar.”
So, that was what Rabbi Chaim Berlin did that year. He stayed up the whole Rosh Hashanah night researching all the ins and outs of the Shofar.
An Unusual Sight
Just before dawn Rosh Hashanah morning, the rabbi headed towards the synagogue. As he quickly made his way, he saw something unusual in an approaching wagon. Incredulous, the rabbi got closer, just to make sure his eyes weren’t fooling him. But it was really true! The wagon was decorated with all kinds of interesting ornaments, and hanging just above the wagon driver’s head was a genuine Shofar!
Rabbi Berlin asked the driver where he had obtained the ram’s horn. The eccentric driver hastily blurted out, “I’m sorry, Rabbi. I didn’t know it was yours!” After more prodding, the driver admitted that he had an obsession with trumpets and horns, and when the Jews had been expelled from the city, he grabbed the opportunity. He stole into the synagogue and snatched the Shofar that he had been eyeing for years.
Certain that Rabbi Berlin was the rabbi of that synagogue, the wagon driver quickly handed him the Shofar, before the police would throw him into jail.
Rabbi Berlin’s joy knew no bounds. His devotion to the mitzvah of Shofar, his willingness to stay awake all night to at least study its laws, even if he couldn’t actually carry them out, earned him this amazing miracle. Surely the Shofar in Moscow that year sounded sweeter than any melodious trumpet or clarinet ever blown. Because it was a blast of devotion to Rosh Hashanah, to Jewish tradition, and to God.
(Adapted from Aleynu Leshabeiach, Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, Vol. II, p. 343)