Saturday, August 25, 2012

#BlogElul Day 7: Shofar

A story: when I was a student, one High Holidays at my pulpit in Muncie IN, the ba'al T'kiah, the shofar blower for the congregation, gave me a head's up. A surgeon (and someone who rarely attended shul), he was on call for Rosh Hashanah that year, and couldn't get out of it. I reminded him that pikuach nefesh--the saving of a life--took precedence, and both I and the soloist were capable shofar blowers. Sure enough, he had surgery that day, early in the morning, and I prepared to sound the shofar at the appropriate time. As we reached that part of the service, the doctor arrived from surgery--still in his scrubs!--with a tallit over his shoulders and shofar in hand. He was exhausted, he was filthy, with another person's blood upon him, he was not a regular synagogue-goer; he had every excuse in the world. And he came to blow shofar for his congregation. He had to be there. 

The Shofar service, as my teacher Michael Marmur reminded us 15 (!) years ago, is made up of three parts: Zichronot, Malchuyot and Shofarot. Zichronot--invoking God's memory of our patriarchs (and matriarchs) and invoking their zechut, their merit, on our behalf. Malchuyot, a proclamation of God's majesty and sovereignty, a reminder that we are not in fact, in charge, no matter what we may think. And Shofarot: the primal sound of the Shofar hearkening to a time before time, invoking no logic or rationality, but pure Mystery, the essence of the Sacred unfiltered, shaking us, disturbing us, freeing us in that moment from what binds us. That is the power of the shofar; as Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us: not a symbol, referencing something else, but a mitzvah, an act of holiness that elevates and sanctifies our lives. 

What will you be thinking as you hear the Shofar's sound? 

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