ElulYonatan Sindel/Flash90

Elul: a month like no other on the Jewish calendar. For the committed Jew Elul is a place in time each year when we are blessed with the G-d-given opportunity to take advantage of the tools provided to analyze the world around us and our place in that world. And what is the symbol of this opportunity and what is it meant to tell our people, our nation? Clearly, no physical, tangible symbol of Elul exists that is more meaningful and authentic than the shofar and its sound.

From the start of Elul through Yom Kippur the call of the shofar is meant to penetrate our very souls. The Rambam tells us in his Mishneh Torah that the shofar is meant to wake us up. But wake us up from what exactly? Is the shofar meant only as a tool to aid in the holy process of repentance or is there something more we need to gain from our annual experience with it?

Traditional Jewish thought sources the shofar as a vehicle for introspection. But why should it be used for this task? What is it about the history of the Jewish People that should stand out to us when we are confronted with the shofar’s sound?

Ancient Jewish wisdom demonstrates that there are profound and deep connections between Avraham Aveinu, our ancestor Abraham, the shofar, the City of Jerusalem, and the soul of every Jew. Our very purpose as Jews, especially in our days, can be ascertained if we only take the opportunity presented by the shofar and connect, or rather reconnect, the links.

We have no cause to wait until the Rosh Hashanah machzor is before us to dig deeper into this topic. There should be no doubt that taking the time in Elul to contemplate the messages that the Rabbis embedded in the Rosh Hashanah Musaf Shemoneh Esrei, the Amidah will make this entire month and the whole of the season more meaningful.

The three special sections of Kingship (Malchiut), Remembrances (Zichronot), and Shofar (Shofarot) form a unique tapestry that lays out for us not just the history of our ancestors but also a guide for the future. This is the way it must be: after all, how could the heart of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy just be simple nostalgia?

The Rosh Hashanah prayers are overflowing with images of Avraham and his immediate family. First among these is the story of the "Binding of Isaac," the Akedat Yitzhak.

On a day like no other in the history of mankind, and at a place like no other on earth, Avraham Aveinu and his son Yitzhak ascended to the Temple Mount, Har HaBayit, and according to the Rambam, they used the same stones to reconstruct the original Mizbeach, Altar, that was created by Adam and subsequently used by Cain and Abel and still later by Noah.

Avraham and Yitzhak were directed by G-d to journey to Har HaBayit, Mount Moriah,so that Avraham could be tested for one final time. This test was centered around one issue only—the question of whether Avraham could, and would, subjugate his own needs and desires to see his son happy, healthy, and with a family of his own. Why though at this place specifically? The Temple Mount is the center of the universe and the site of the Foundation Stone, and the Mount is poetically recalled as such in the Hoshano titled "Even Sh’tiya" recited on Sukkot.

Avraham stood on Har HaBayit prepared to offer his son as a holy sacrifice to his G-d. At that very instant, through this act, Avraham crowned G-d as his King, and ours, as it were. Avraham was ready to end the possibility of his own dreams because his King demanded it. This eternal model of reprioritizing one’s personal ideas beneath G-d’s is meant to be a blueprint for us, especially in our day when we possess a Jewish State and yet challenges still surround us.

For the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah the Rabbis, in their unparalleled wisdom, selected this exact episode for us so that we should focus on Avraham’s act and the subsequent use of the sacrificial ram in place of Yitzhak. That ram, “caught in the thicket by its horns,” is the reason we utilize the shofar at this time of year. After all, this episode took place on Rosh Hashanah.

G-d has created all of this so that all the pieces fit for us to better understand His world and our place in it. The shofar is sounded before G-d for our benefit and not for G-d's. Through the shofar, we demonstrate that we are cognizant of the fact that we do not merit His mercy ourselves in our time at all and the only reasons we can justify our pleadings for His mercy because, in the past, Avraham committed himself to G-d’s Kingship and in the future, we will one day rebuild His palace, the Beit HaMikdash. What’s more is that until we do rebuild the Holy Temple, we must always demonstrate our authentic longing for it. Without the Beit HaMikdash we are literally living daily without the ultimate connection to G-d, which is the highest purpose of the Jewish People.

Another part of our history that involves this same theme is when G-d directed Joshua to take shofars and use them as the tool of conquest of Jericho, our first entry into our homeland. The Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish People only because G-d chose Avraham and his descendants to own it and for no other reason. There could be no purpose in conquering Jericho, or settling anywhere in Eretz Yisrael, without the eventual inauguration of the Beit HaMikdash which subsequently happened in the days of King Solomon at the completion of the yamim noraʾim, (Days of Awe) during Sukkot.

A final thought about Rosh Hashanah. The Rabbis also selected for the second day of Rosh Hashanah a Haftarah with the same focus on the theme of the exceptional importance of Har HaBayit. In the reading the Prophet Yirmiyahu fervently prays: “Let us go up to Zion, to the L-rd, our G-d.” Like all such messages from our Prophets that are included in Tanach the words are meant for us in our time as well.

The Jewish holidays---every one of them---are inextricably bound to the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Rosh Hashanah is no different.

As Uri Zvi Greenberg [1896-1981], Israel’s greatest national poet of the modern era wrote:

"Whoever controls the Temple Mount controls all of the Land of Israel."

May this be our last Elul without the Beit HaMikdash, please G-d.

Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a U.S. delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020.