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When a shofar’s blast fell on deaf ears

A unique attempt to bring Rosh Hashanah cheer to a needy man evoked a storm of emotion

I had a very emotional experience yesterday. Every once in a while, the intercom of my house rings, but when I call for identification nobody answers. Inevitably it rings again and still no reply to my shouts of: “Who is there?” Is the damn machine broken again? Is it kids playing annoying dares? And then I remember. I go out of the front door from where I can see over the top of the front gate and, sure enough, I can see this kippah bobbing up and down and these arms waving in the air. It’s the deaf man coming round asking for financial help.

He’s tall, with a sweet face, a permanent smile and a lovely countenance. He also has a powerful hug. And he’s stone deaf from birth. He can make sounds and can sign, but I can’t. It is impossible to put down in writing what he sounds like when he tries to tell me that he misses me and that he blesses me and my family, and enquires after the kids and grandkids.

I used to give him money in return for a little receipt that had the rudimentary sign language on it and a thank you. When I say I used to, I mean that I used to give him money and insist on a receipt until I was told that he only gets a percentage for each receipt and someone else gets the rest. So I give him and refuse to take the piece of paper in return. Let him keep it all for himself.

Yesterday, the doorbell rang again while I was working and when nobody answered my calls, I started getting angry at the interruption. And then I remembered who it might be. And it was. I confess that he is the only alms collector that I am genuinely happy to see. We hugged on the street. He made some noises that seemed to indicate that he was suffering from the heat so I invited him in for a drink. I poured him some juice and he grunted a bracha. Then I had an idea. I ran into the living room and brought out my shofar and pointed it at him. He shook his head and made it clear that he couldn’t hear it, couldn’t hear anything. I point to his heart — what if I were to put the end of the shofar against his heart, what then? He agreed. So he stood up and I placed the wide end of my shofar against his chest and blew as hard as I could. He stood there with his eyes clenched tight. When I finished a set I looked up (he’s much taller than I) and he shook his head — nothing, nada. He looked so sad.

Then I had another idea. I took his hand and placed it over the end of the shofar, not so as to block it but just above it. He nodded his head enthusiastically. I took a deep breath and blasted the loudest tekiah. He jumped, he literally jumped backwards exclaiming, gesturing that he heard the sound travel up his arm all the way to his shoulder, up his neck and into his ears. He could hear the sound of the shofar! He could feel the sound! He was smiling all over — glowing. I placed his hand over the exit again, hovering there like a bird over its nest. This time I blew an entire set: tekiah, shvarim, teruah, tekiah (wholeness, brokenness, crying, back to wholeness). He stood next to me shaking. His eyes glistened over. But as the second tekiah was reaching its crescendo, he pulled his hand away abruptly. He put his hands over his ears and started to shout as if the sounds had been too strong, as if they had threatened to deafen him. He grunted a quick something that I took as “Shanah Tova”, opened the door, and hurriedly left.

What had he heard?

About the Author
Michael Kagan is the author of the Holistic Haggadah (Urim), God’s Prayer (Albion-Andalus) and The King’s Messenger (Albion-Andalus Books). He is a scientist, entrepreneur, film-maker and teacher of Holistic Judaism. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan.