Shofar Part 1: Hearing the Call

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and the beginning of a liminal period: The Ten Days of Awe. At this time the Book of Life is opened, and we want to be inscribed – for a good year, a healthy year, a year where our prayers are answered, another year of life. We have ten days to reflect, check, and triple check if there is anything we need to clean up in our relationships from the last year, before Yom Kippur, the final Day of Atonement, when the book is sealed.

(Something I really love about Judaism is that the “clean up” is making amends with people. The belief is that when our actions harm people, we need to ask them for forgiveness, not petition God to clear our slate.)

Example shofarIn the Bible, Rosh Hashanah is called “The Day of the Shofar Blast.” One mitzvah, or good deed we can do on this day is to hear the shofar, a hollow ram’s horn blown like a conch or a horn instrument. The blasts of the shofar are calls to wake up. They invite us to shake out of our habitual spiritual slumber, reconnect to our source, and recommit to our divine purpose. (Check out a medley of photos of shofar blowers.)

Here is the wake-up call I received this Rosh Hashanah:

It started with the second aliyah, which is the honor of reciting a blessing over a reading from the Torah. At my shul groups of people are invited up to the front to do and receive this blessing. The first aliyah was for people who had volunteered in the community. The second was dedicated to children, with their parents. (For a perfect visual, see Chochmat Halev’s Facebook page.)

As I witnessed the beauty of the crowd of two generations facing the congregation, the animated innocence and exuberance of the younger ones, I began to feel uncomfortable. When I listened inside I heard these thoughts: “I’m not like them. I’ve failed to become a parent or create my family. I can’t join that group, and I’ve really been wanting and trying to.” I witnessed how bad the thoughts made me feel: tears of disappointment, shame that made me want to hide.

I felt myself hardening and separating from all that beauty. Curious, I wondered, “If this is how I’m relating to people, how am I relating to God?”

Inside I heard blame and victimization: “God, you haven’t answered my prayers yet.” This voice wanted to make a case for opposition, but I also felt how much I don’t want to feed that case and confirm an unhappy ending. I want to trust life and move in harmony with how it moves me. Then came the shofar. Everyone who had a horn to blow was up on the stage blasting away in the call and response of words and sounds. During the service a hundred shofar blasts are sounded, interwoven with prayer.

I prayed to open my perspective. I coached myself, “I am like everyone in this room. Everyone knows the feeling of wanting and not yet manifesting, of disappointment, an unrealized dream.” The plaintive cry of shofar blasts reverberated inside the circular sanctuary, spiraling me open with the healing of sound: “I am no different. We are in this together.” The next round of blasts came: “And it’s not work! We are on this playground together. I am just like them and we are playing together.”