The questions we ask ourselves on Rosh Hashanah are some of the most difficult, piercing ones that we raise all year: What kind of person am I? What kind of spouse? What kind of parent? What kind of friend? What kind of Jew? What kind of human being?
Answering these questions honestly is difficult, and recognizing the need to make changes and improvement is even more challenging.
Fortunately, Judaism provides a spiritual navigation system that can help us on our journey to become the people we want to be: the progression of the sounds of the shofar, which represent the ongoing process of teshuvah.
These shofar blasts begin with an ordinary sound, the tekiyah; representing the daily routine and the humdrum reality that we all become accustomed to.
This leads us to the next sound: Shevarim, whose broken blasts ask us to break the routine- the need for reflection and cheshbon hanefesh – soul-searching.
The Shevarim then give way to the staccato urgency of the Teruah, confronting us with the pressing need to shatter the barriers that separate us from our true self and from truly positive interaction with our family, our community and the world around us.
The progression of the shofar sounds simply – yet poignantly – mark the phases of the teshuvah process, awakening us from a spiritual slumber to an active re-engagement in a relationship with God.
This idea is reflected in a ruling in the Rambam & Shulchan Arukh:
לא נתכוון השומע לצאת, לא יצא ידי חובתו
If one hears the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah without having kavanah – intent to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar – then he or she has not fulfilled the mitzvah.
Why would this be? After all, the unmistakable sounds were heard whether or not there was intent.
The answer is that a person may have physically heard it, but when it comes to the mitzvah of shofar, more than just hearing is required. The crux of the mitzvah is to consciously internalize the sounds..
The process of introspection may not be perfect which is why the halakha states that EVEN if one hears the blasts from a stolen shofar one fulfills their obligation. It may be that the reconciliation with GOD is not completely personally authentic. It may be that we are borrowing sounds or actions to engage with God that are artificial for us – “stolen”; a sound that is not me is not completely authentic.
But that’s OK: we don’t expect that the sound will be completely authentic and perfect. The crux of the mitzvah is about the intent to consciously hear and respond to the sounds being emitted, asking us to break the barriers and ponder the hard questions that we mentioned in the beginning:
What kind of person am I? What kind of spouse? What kind of parent? What kind of friend? What kind of Jew? What kind of human being?
Yes, honestly answering these questions is difficult, and recognizing the need to make changes and improvement is even more challenging.
This is why we must remember that the sounds of the shofar are part of a progression, a spiritual navigation system that symbolizes our ongoing commitment to working towards a renewed relationship with God.
I want to wish each and every one of us a meaningful Rosh Hashana – a new year, of new beginnings.
To find a few moments of personal reflection … especially in these turbulent times, may we truly have the power to internalize the sounds of the shofar so that we can succeed in becoming the people we have the God-given potential to be.