Last year, on the eve of Rosh Hashannah, my teacher Avraham Leader introduced me to a mystical text from the Holy Ari (Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi, 1534 — July 25, 1572) about the Shofar and Rosh Hashannah. It was succinct and odd: the sounder of the Shofar is likened to the Atika Kadisha – the most Ancient Holy One[i]. What does that mean? That the shofar blower is like the Highest Aspect of the Divine — the creator of heaven and earth? How could that be? And in what way? And what has that to do with the essential elements of Rosh Hashannah, namely, the awesome Day of Judgment, remembering God’s majesty, and God remembering God’s capacity to forgive our forgetfulness?
Now you need to understand that I have been blowing my own horn ever since, as a little boy, my parents brought back a shofar on one of their early trips to Israel. Already as a youngster, I blew the shofar at the children’s service at the Dennington Park Road shul in London. Now I blow at the Leader minyan and Nava Tehila community[ii] in Jerusalem.
When I sound the shofar I put my whole being into it, my whole neshama — soul. I try to bring into the sounds a myriad of emotions and connotations: the wailing of the sirens of Yom Hazikhronot — Memorial Day, the laughter and crying of children in kindergarten, the sigh of the old and dying, the groaning of the stressed-out earth, the raise and fall of the sirens announcing the imminent fall of a missile, the wind blowing in the trees, the deafening sounds of silence, the wake-up call of a desperate alarm, the sound that that was seen growing louder and louder.
Memories upon memories. Memories of the beginning, the middle and the end. To re-member. To gather all the parts (members) and recreate the whole. The whole of Knesset Yisrael. The whole of Michael Kagan. A morphogenic sound wave that vibrates and resonates with all the shofarot that have ever been sounded, that are being sounded, that will be sounded. From the Big Bang, to Sinai, to the advent of the Messiah, to the End of Days. And as listeners of these sounds we too can vibrate and resonate to all these waves upon waves that flow through time and space that carry our collective memories.
But this one was a new one for me: The sounder of the Shofar is likened to the Atika Kadisha — the most Ancient Holy One. I puzzled over this all the way to synagogue. I puzzled over this all the way through the long, drawn out shacharit (morning service) and Torah reading. And then, as I stood ready in my white kittel (pure white caftan) to sound off, I got it. I understood, in a fleeting moment that lasts forever, what the Ari was hinting at by equating that aspect of God that is before All, that is the All, and from which the All emanated with the puny, mortal sounder of the Shofar. At least I think so.
As we all know from watching the film[iii], reading the book[iv], or deciphering the equations, Prof. Stephen Hawking postulated back in the ‘60s that if black holes, resulting from collapsed stars, exist as points of singularity in the universe then perhaps the entire universe started off as a single singularity. Meaning, that at some pointless point before timeless time the entire universe of energy, that rapidly matted into matter, exploded out of a Nothing and expanded and expanded, and is still expanding, filling all of nothing. A variation of this theory states that the universe did not form as yesh m’ayin (something from nothing) but rather poured through from a black hole in another universe that poured through from a black hole in another universe ad infinitum. [Others say not quite ad infinitum but through ten — ten universes or dimensions. But that’s another story, for another time.] And the horizon of that event can still be heard across the entire space/time continuum as the background radiation equivalent to 4 degrees Kelvin.
So from an infinitely small point (a singularity) the universe was born and continues to be birthed. And together with this event came a shattering, a shverah, in the symmetry of quantum states resulting in the non-uniformity of the present universe.
Lurianic Kabbalah describes the beginning wherein the Holy Ancient One passes an infinitely narrow pipe into a vacated space of nothingness and fills that space with allsomeness. And the allsomeness was in the form of Divine Light — read not light but energy, for light is a biblical synonym for energy. And this energy was chaotic and of no form until it began to coalesce and separate out into parts, and parts of parts. And there was differentiation between the mass of waves and the waves of mass, between the quarks and the quirks, between the bosons and the bisons, between the nucleus and its moons, between the hydrogen of water and the carbon of earth, between amino acids and DNA, between the more living and the less living, between you and me. And together with this event came a Shattering of the Vessels, shevirat ha-kelim, resulting in an imperfect world.
And so, in a singularity of awareness, as the shofar came to my lips, I realized/remembered what I was doing or rather, what were doing together. I, the sounder, am recreating, re-membering, that moment of moments when the universe came into being through an extremely small mouthpiece; while you, the congregation, become witnesses to the Big Bang, voyeurs to the Beginning of Beginnings. You are the ultimate hitchhikers to the end of the universe. The baal tokaiya, the Master of the Sounding, is playing the role of the Atika Kadisha in the greatest story of all time. The blast of the shofar is the blast of creation. Through that small hole is born the universe through the energy of sound, expanding and expanding down the inverted funnel until it emanates out to fill all the space in the Beit Knesset (the House of Assembly) where the ב (numerical 2) of the בית is the assembly of dualities.
And again, when a new creation took place upon that mountaintop, when heaven and earth touched forming a temporary singularity, a spiritual wormhole, through which the Torah squeezed to fill the entire people, so too were the sounds of creation sounded as a recreation of creation. Or, perhaps not a recreation, but, as the midrash says, the completion of the original creation. Or, perhaps not a completion, but a continuation of the original creation. And together with this event came a Shattering of the Tablets, shevirat ha-luchot, resulting in an even more imperfect world in need of healing.
And so it is for that singular moment of our birth: Down and down that birth canal, that is impossibly narrow, are we pushed, through that inverted funnel and out into the ever-expanding world that is our lives[v]. And accompanying that birth is the cry of mother[vi] as she too reenacts the role of the Atika Kadisha as she bears down through contraction after contraction, birthing a new world. And accompanying all that is the cry, the wimper of the newborn as she enters the readied space, a fragile vessel, a body of light, a soul suddenly confined to the rigors of time, gravity and three-dimensional space. And accompanying all that are the sounds of joy, and anxiety, of the father who receives that bundle of light and welcomes her into their home, the בית. And accompanying all that are the tears of joy and the tears of grieving of the whole community as they too receive this newcomer into their circle.
Why the grieving? Because they know, we all know, that this vessel inevitably too must shatter (shover) as she gains consciousness and knowing, dispersing her divine sparks into the black hole of forgetfulness until…
…until the sounds of the shofar: the blast (Tekiah) of creation, the three-fold brokenness (Shvarim), the nine staccato (Teruah) of sobs that transform into laughter, and the final blast (Tekiah) of Tikkun – repair; For the sound repairs[vii].
We are the actors and the audience to the great cosmic dramas of the creation of the Universe, the creation of our People, the creation of ourselves; playing out the most ancient, aboriginal, indigenous, native, primitive, primordial of rituals; using one of the most basic of instruments representing the oldest of myths. That’s what we are doing[viii].
So put aside your sophistication and let’s get on with the show!
Shannah Tova to you and all the universes, and to you too Stephen Hawking.
[i] Pri Etz HaChaim, Gate of the Shofar, chapter 1
[iii] Theory of Everything (2014),
[iv] A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking (Bantam Books, 1989)
[v] From the narrows I cried to Yah – I was answered in the expanse of Yah. Psalm 118:5
[vi] That the Great Mother is identified with the blower of the shofar is found in: The Gate of Intentions – Rosh Hashannah, Section 7
[vii] Zohar, Section 3, page 15b
[viii] To understand the secret of the Shofar you need to know: who is the blower, who is the mouth, who is the shofar, and who is the sound. Ref. 1.