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Sounding of the Shofar

Posted on September 5, 2017 by Rabbi Jim Bennett

Ever since I was a little boy, I have loved the sound of the shofar. When I was a young teen preparing to become a Bar Mitzvah, my grandparents gave me the gift of a shofar; that small, black and white ram’s horn still sits on my shelf in a place of honor. Not only does it have powerful sentimental meaning for me, but it is also the easiest shofar to sound that I have ever found. When I make the sounds of Tekiah, Teruah, Shevarim and Tekiah Gedolah on it each year, I cannot help but think that my grandparents would be proud that this shofar still rings true so many decades later. Perhaps they can even hear it in the “synagogue on high!”

The shofar originated in ancient times as a simple “announcing tool.” Shepherds and priests alike would use this primitive horn to call attention to important moments in their lives: time to gather, time to celebrate, time to protect one’s family and community, time to bring offerings, time to pray. As our people’s religious life evolved, it was natural for the shofar to evolve as well, becoming a central place not only in our civic life (warning or announcing important moments) but also calling us to spiritual attention. The sound of the shofar became a reminder to pay attention and come together, with one another, and with God.

Our new Holy Day prayerbook takes this ancient practice of sounding the shofar on the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah and infuses it with new meaning. We will hear the sounds of the shofar multiple times during our service, first calling us to spiritual attention and then recalling the ancient sounds that call to mind God’s ultimate reign and universal majesty, God’s deeds of kindness towards humanity and God’s promise of redemption in the future. Each time we hear the sound of the shofar during our Rosh Hashanah morning service, we will be reminded to come close to our own spiritual selves, to each other and to our human community, and to God. And hopefully, each sound of the shofar will remind us that we have so much work yet to do to bring about the sound of the ultimate “Tekiah” – the one that may someday sound the true unity and perfection of our world.

We are all potentially like the shofar. For it is not merely our duty to hear, but to act, and then to sound the sound of justice and peace and love and blessing with our actions and our very lives.

The beloved Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai reminds us in his poem, “As for the World:”

. . . . As for the scream, as for the silence,
I am always a shofar:
hoarding, all year long, its one blast
for the awesome Days of Awe. . . .

From The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai translated by Chana Bloch & Stephen Mitchell

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