By Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum
In a recent interview, Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, revealed a key secret to his success – he knows how to prioritise. His achievements are as much about the projects and ideas he has chosen not to focus on, as on those that he has. Buffett understands that the greatest commodity we have is time. In his words, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything”.
The third section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf Amidah (standing prayer), referred to as the Shofarot section, is an object lesson in the value of prioritisation and what it can achieve. Focusing on the scriptural verses describing the shofar, the section concentrates on two key themes: i. the shofar blown at the Revelation at Sinai when the Jewish people received the Torah, and ii. the Shofar of Redemption that will be blown at the advent of the future Messianic era. What is the connection between these two sets of shofar blasts?
With Warren Buffett’s life lesson in mind, perhaps we can explain that the message of our prayers is that the single most important factor in bringing about the shofar of Redemption is developing an ability to focus on what really matters in life, to the exclusion of all else. The sound of the Shofar at Sinai signalled a calling to the Jewish people, a direct moral message to our nation. Throughout our lives there will be endless things flying in our direction. Yet it is remaining focused on saying yes to those things that really matter, to the Torah values which guide us, which will ultimately enable us to merit the Redemption itself.
A story is told of an impoverished man trying to sell food at one of the ancient archways in Jerusalem’s Old City. As he places his heavy baskets by his side, he hears a tour guide say to his group, “You see that man with baskets? To the right of his head is a beautiful arch from the Roman period”. In a moment of clarity, the poor man thinks to himself, when will the final Redemption arrive? When tour guides arrive at this spot and say, “You see that arch from the Roman period? That’s not important. What really matters is that just to its left is a man doing everything he can to help feed his family”.
On Rosh Hashanah, the sound of the shofar calls to us to prioritise correctly in life. As powerfully reflected in the twin themes of the Shofarot verses, when we do so, the journey from the Shofar of the Revelation at Sinai to the Shofar of Redemption is one that we will help to accelerate.