Rosh Hashanah in a small somewhat-old-school synagogue, garbed in a simple tallit (prayer shawl), sharing a humble space with connected brothers and sisters, my thoughts drift in an attempt to connect. I glance across the room, the rabbi pouring his soul into the eternal sounds of the shofar, frames of profound moments flash across my mind and I drift through various experiences of our history in which the very same sounds were heard.
I thought about our forefather Abraham, his copious struggle of choice when tested between an unyielding belief in the Creator over a bonding love for his son, the tug of war at his core, the eventual relief, a sound of ecstasy flowing through the rams horn as he establishes a profound legacy and the beginning of a great nation.
I envisage Miriam the Prophetess in all her magnificence, an inspiring figure nucleus to the freedom of our nation, she strides upright and gracious singing tunes of redemption surrounded in miraculous moments. I wonder, if among the tambourines and the sweet sounds, a shofar blows.
I imagined the sounds of victory when our fledgling nation entered the promised land for the very first time. Joshua, having overcome war and defeating great powers, leading an extraordinary transformation of the Jewish people from wanderers to settlers, from victimhood to fighters and pioneering the beginning of a magnificent future, the sounds of trumpets in all their glory and the shofar in subtle humility.
My mind journeyed to the sights of King Solomon dedicating the first Temple in Jerusalem – a guiding spirit of his father, the great King David, at his core. The magnitude of an eternal edifice, the centrality of everything Jewish in one space, a unified people at a time of great power. At this momentous occasion, surely the blasts of shofar accompanied a trusted king as he led the nation into a new era of independence.
Then my thoughts shifted to moments of upheaval, the commotion and tumult of exile and expulsion. How our nation gasped to remain in the homeland, to serve in freedom, how the broken and fractured foundations of our belief systems were tested to the extreme and in someway, somehow, we managed to keep it alive, remaining true to tradition, the blast of shofar weeping in hiding and scattered among the foreign lands. The many powerful nations with their obsessive need to destroy our spirit, pursued their ambitions century after century in an effort to bring an end to the ‘Jewish issue’ and how we, in our small numbers, never for a moment let go, turning our anguish and broken dreams into real hope, our eyes resting on our children, not for a second questioning the possibility of a robust future – the shofar continuing to miraculously sound.
I contemplated how even in the most inhumane conditions, when a sliver of hope was not in sight – the cattle trains, the ghettos and camps, the labor, the chambers – the shofar physically banished but its sound surely soared in the soul, the mind, the fabric of our people.
Then when the British, with their beatings and their attempt to control the natural and provoking return to our homeland, proved fruitless and we etched our way ever so close to a real return, the shofar began to emerge and quietly return its sounds to the universe and slowly my mindful journey began to turn upward.
It’s the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the mystical day reaching a crescendo through the final blast of the shofar. With triumphal effect, I think of the great believers, the leaders who pioneered to rebuild our nation and the momentous moments of modern day.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, surrounded by elated soldiers, reclaiming our natural right of return, he touches the stones of the Western Wall, embracing the Sefer Torah, victory in hand and the return of our precious place. A fighter sounds the shofar at the kotel, it is reminiscent of the holy Temple.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe blows the shofar in a packed synagogue on 770 Eastern Parkway. He is determined to rebuild, rehabilitate, infuse belief back into a broken nation. An unrelenting commitment to reach out and recreate a powerful Jewish future. The sound of his shofar rings redemption. His followers are infused to the core with tenacious commitment to their leaders revolutionary vision.
I think of today, the incredible existence of the Israeli Defence Forces – some call it the right hand of the Creator – and I remember, never for a moment, to take it for granted. The army of the Jewish people established to defend our future, who yield our self determination, who protect our freedom to believe and who safeguard the promise of ‘never again’. The shofar, symbolic of tradition, its sounds an affirmation that this heroic army is imbued with the ways of our people, a continuous chapter of the great history of our nation and of Israel.
The congregation is singing out loud ‘next year in Jerusalem’ and I realize the significance of the moment. What was once a far away dream is now an ongoing reality. It’s a redemption state of mind.