The Blast of the Ram’s Horn

Posted on September 1, 2017

I’m running my fingers along the smooth polished ram’s horn. I can feel its ridges and see the shades of onyx, sand, and specks of amber. Raising the narrow aperture to my pursed lips, I take a deep breath and then struggle to make a sound. After some false starts, a high pitched shriek echoes from its tusk.  How do you feel when you hear the shofar sounded at Rosh Hashanah? On the one hand, it is joyously primal. Seeing a man or woman standing in front of a crowded sanctuary, blowing the ram’s horn, feels exciting. However, when its screech pierces the sanctuary, everyone falls silent. The Baal Tekiah, calls out, “Tekiah,” and a single uninterrupted sound ensues, “Shevarim,” followed by three broken sounds, “Teruah,” nine short blasts, and then at the end of it all, “Tekiah Gedolah,” a long, enduring blast that resonates throughout the sanctuary.

While the New Year is a celebration of new beginnings, it is also very solemn. The Talmud describes that the sounding of the shofar mimics the sounds of crying. Debating whether the Teruah is a whimpering or Teruah is a moaning sound, our ancient text imbues a seriousness to these blasts. We know that Rosh Hashanah is a time of judgement on the past year, and we are called to account for our acts, words, and the choices we have made. Some of our decisions were good ones but others maybe not. And even if we have done everything to the best of our ability, there can still be hardships, challenges, and sadness.

Have you experienced loss this past year? Did your bodies show signs of age or illness? Did loved ones disappoint you? None of us gets to escape hard times and even as we hope that these are as fleeting like the sound of the shofar, we still feel the painful echo within us.

The choice we always have is how to respond to such challenges. We can decide how to react, what to say, and what we can do even under the worst of situations. As long as there is life, there are moments of decision and every single one of us can choose our attitude, perspective, and subsequent response. There can be empowerment even at times of limited choices. There can be strength even at weak moments. And even in grief, there can be a deepening of faith and relationships with people around us.

Interestingly, the shofar is never blown in isolation but rather in a sanctuary filled with people. As Jews, we are never alone. We are part of a community. We are part of history.  Whether you hear the shofar in joy or in sadness, may your year be a good one, a better one, and one filled with meaning.