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Sounding the Shofar

 The sound of the Shofar and what it means to us.

Soon the sound of crickets croaking will be replaced by the sounds of the Canadian Geese gathering en masse to fly south for the winter. Leaves will crackle underneath. Human sounds will change from the ring of the ice cream truck and the splashing in the pool to the sound of school buses.  This leads us to the sound of the Shofar.

As summer winds down and the weather inevitably turns to fall, we know we will be obliged to hear the shofar as part of our New Year’s Celebration.  The shofar, the ram’s horn, is blown every day during the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana.  If you miss it during Elul, you will still be able to hear it during Rosh Hashana, the New Year. It is also the last sound you will hear on Yom Kippur, before you head out of the sanctuary looking for something to put between your lips. 

The shofar reminds us to listen. To listen to our hearts and not always our minds.  The shofar reminds us to listen to our parents and our children. The shofar reminds us to renew ourselves, spiritually and emotionally.  Our well-being in the world starts by taking care of ourselves, and our loved ones.  We also need to tend to our community, whether it is local or global. 

The shofar reminds us to give of ourselves, to take stock of what we have to offer, and to whom we can offer it.  The shofar reminds us to repent, to take stock of what we did during the preceding year, and how we can improve upon it, or make sure we never stray again.   The shofar reminds us that we are human, and that we are fallible.

The shofar reminds us to rejoice.  For 2,000 years, we have maintained our incredible culture despite all odds.   We are celebrating a holiday in the midsts of a country where we are really just a small minority. We have even more cause to rejoice if we will be spending the holiday with family and friends.

Despite all these meanings which we impart upon this small instrument, the Shofar is not a great instrument.  It is simply a horn that was used for communicating before the advent of the modern age.  Its message, however, is irreplaceable by any of our modern instruments. 

The long sounds are mesmerizing.  We know them by heart.  We grew up with the sounds of Tekia, Shevarim Trua, Tekia Gedola.    We hold our breath for Tekia Gedola, praying that the lungs of the person blowing are strong enough to give us a meaningful blast of strength.  We watch the blower’s cheeks.  They are red with exertion.  Will the blower be able to persevere for the whole service.  The sound of the shofar reminds us to be grateful.  Grateful that someone in our community can blow that difficult little horn.

The shofar reminds us that we once lived in harmony with nature, taking what we needed, and using what we took.   Watching the face of the person blowing the shofar reminds us that it is hard work to blow it.  It takes strength, and not everyone succeeds at this task.

The shofar reminds us of the story of the Akeida, where Abraham Avinu bound his son Isaac, and prepared to slaughter him.  Already poised with the knife over his head, the Angel of God intervened and prevented Abraham from sacrificing his son.  Instead he slaughtered a ram.  The shofar reminds us that no one, not even God, should tell us to sacrifice our children. 

The shofar reminds us of our history. The sound of the shofar reminds us of the times when Jewish communities were not allowed to blow the shofar, or gather in a synagogue.  The sound of the shofar reminds us that there have always been times, and there will always be times, when blowing a shofar on Rosh Hashana was forbidden. 

The shofar reminds us to hope for the future.  We hope that our communities will stay strong, and that will be renewed for the future.  The shofar reminds us to think and to listen, to hear our own voice.   And that voice will be represented for all to hear through a ram’s horn, like the one that Abraham took from the animal he slaughtered.  The shofar reminds us that any one of us could need a last minute intervention from one of God’s angels. 

Most of all, the Shofar reminds us to reach out to a friend or neighbor and say, “Shana Tova, Happy New Year.”