Archive | September, 2010

Listen to the voice in the shofar

7 Sep

What is it about the shofar that draws us near, that pierces our hearts, that moves us to silence?

In 2007 I offered the suggestion that the shofar is a national call to action. This year, I would like to offer an alternative image – one that I find to be extremely powerful.

Throughout the month of Elul, we conclude the weekday morning services with a number of blasts from a shofar. At times I have been the designated shofar blower, at times other members of our community. I took note that while we are all blowing the same pattern of notes, we all sound the shofar quite differently….some louder some softer, some higher, some lower, some faster, some slower – each has his own preferred instrument – some longer, some shorter, some black, some beige – each his own preferred tilting of the head – some up, some down, some straight ahead – each his own positioning of the shofar on the lips – some left, some right, some center. For some it seems like hard work to get the sounds to come out, while for others it seems to be effortless.

I realize that the sound is technically the vibration of the air as it runs through the horn; however, I could not help but think about it differently based on an incredible idea that I read last year – an understanding of the sound of the shofar as suggested by Theodore Reik, a close disciple of Sigmund Freud.

Take a look at the following verse, describing the experience of revelation on Mt. Sinai:

And when the voice of the shofar waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice. (Exodus 19:19)

Based on this wording and a number of other proof-texts, Reik suggested a simple but profound notion – the sound we hear when we blow on the shofar – voice of the shofar – is the sound of the voice of God….that is to say, if you were standing at Sinai on the occasion of the giving of the Torah – the bellowing sound of God’s voice would have sounded to you like the sound of the shofar.

And therefore, on Rosh HaShanah, we pray our hearts out to God –  and then we stand in His presence and await His answer…..so convinced we are that our prayers will be answered, we ourselves play back the sound of that voice through the use of the instrument that most closely resembles what it would sound like to our hears, as described in chapter 19 of the Book of Exodus.  In fact, perhaps it is for this reason that the mitzvah associated with shofar is to hear it’s blasts, rather than to blow on it – even though the former cannot be achieved without the latter.

In the years of the British mandate in Palestine, young men and teenagers would risk imprisonment to make their way to the kotel – the Western Wall – and blow the shofar at the conclusion of neilah on Yom Kippur – an act that had been made illegal by the British for fear that it would arouse the ire of the local arabs.

Perhaps what drove these Jewish “rebels” year after year to defy the British and sound the shofar at the kotel was the deep-seated Jewish yearning to return the voice of God to Jerusalem – “For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem.”  (Is. 2:3)

May we blessed with an inspiring new year. And might I add, despite what the editors of Time magazine might think – this Israeli citizen is praying for and cares a lot about bringing peace to the Middle East – and I know that practically all Israelis are praying for the same.