It has been a difficult month of Elul. Natural disasters engulfed the U.S. in the form of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; man-made difficulty haunts us as we see a resurgence of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. It seems that the time is right for moments of reflection, for increased self-awareness, for re-committing to give of ourselves to promote the well-being of others.
How fortunate that Rosh HaShanah looms. How appropriate that the sound of the shofar rings out daily to call upon us to pay attention, to plan, and to move and to expand our world-view to include those far away as well as those next door.
According to the Talmud, the sound of the shofar represents the sound of our tears, of our crying out to God in the face of our troubles on earth. At the same time, it is a call to action; crying out is only the first step – then we must do something that will make a positive difference in the world. Whether it is giving your time or your money to those in need, or eradicating hateful graffiti in your neighborhood; whether it is becoming more generous and thoughtful, or performing new mitzvoth that put into action our Jewish values, the way we respond to the shofar’s call reveals our willingness to play a part, no matter how small, in perfecting the world.
Interestingly, however, the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides views the sound of the shofar as God’s cry to us. What have you done with your lives, asks the shofar’s blasts? Like the Biblical prophets, he writes, the sound of the shofar is an appeal from God to change our ways, working to become better people who reflect the goodness that God instilled in us. That is why, he writes, the mitzvah is the hearing of the shofar, not the act of blowing it.
In a real sense, the importance of the shofar as a major part of our Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur experience is our response to the sounds it makes. Will the sounds be for us, as they were meant to be, a challenge to each of us to act with courage, dignity, generosity, empathy? Will we accept this challenge with a whole heart, and keep true to this commitment for the year? How can we translate these lofty thoughts into real actions for us and for our children? These are the questions we should be asking, and answering, as we approach the Days of Awe.
Interim Head of School