We live in a noisy world.
Each one of us is surrounded by the noise and stress of a lingering pandemic, mask, and vaccine questions, along with the accompanying social tension. The air is filled with the noise of a partisan political landscape, the loss of life, and those still stranded in Afghanistan. It is all quite simply too much to handle at times. We are in the midst of tumult and often catch ourselves reacting to the crises around us – the noise can be deafening.
Our tradition has the antidote – functioning as figurative earplugs – that I am going to try to tap into this year more than ever.
While all of the noise and challenges and conflict whirl around us – Rosh Hashanah peers its head quietly around the corner. One component that makes this Holiday so different, is that although most of our holidays have many mitzvot, on Rosh Hashanah there is only one mitzvah for us to follow. The mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is to “hear” the shofar, not to blow it; “hear the sounding of the shofar” are the words of the bracha recited before it is blown. Rosh Hashanah is called יוֹם תְּרוּעָה Yom Teruah, the “Day of Blasting” (Bemidbar / 29:1) reminding us of the mitzvah of the day.
The shofar is significant, as it also captures the human range of emotions. It can be made to produce sobbing, wailing, and sustained sounds in sequences that are varied strictly according to ritual. It also does something else that is relevant in today’s noisy and stressful climate.
The exact same noise that our ancestors heard thousands of years ago is the sound we hear today in our shuls on Rosh Hashanah. That sound takes us back in time and yet transports us to the future with one single “Tekiah”! With each sound, we are reminded of our past and what was important to Jews hundreds of years ago. I charge that we must remember that what was important then, is still important now and will remain important hundreds of years from now. The shofar brings us meaningful “noise” – a reminder of perspective and focus.
Our sages teach that the sound of the shofar is a call to action and time to reflect. I also embrace the Kabbalistic view of the shofar that it is all about breath. That it represents G-d breathing life into creation as G-d did on the first Rosh Hashanah – and breathing life into Adam and Eve. All the required blasts Tekiah, Shevarim, and Teruah can only be made by breathing air-breathing life – through the shofar.
Our Sages have taught that the creation of man can be compared to the process of glassblowing. The first step in the process is when the breath is still in the mouth of the glassblower. Next, the air enters into the blowpipe, then, according to the will of the glassblower, the air exits the blowpipe into the glass and spreads out until the glass is made. Think of us each as a glass G-d made by infusing breath into us. Our responsibility is to recommit to fill the glass with air and keep expanding it. How do we achieve this when the noise is surrounding us and we feel (literally and figuratively) out of breath?
At Rosh Hashanah, we must block out the noise and use this time to reflect on how we can fill our world with what we are charged to do by Hashem. That charge, which has been constant for hundreds of years, is to fill the world with mitzvot, to treat one another with care and empathy, and to deepen our spiritual connection with G-d.
When I sit in shul for יוֹם תְּרוּעָה the “Day of Blasting”, I plan to silence the noise that circles around me, truly hear the shofar, and listen to the breath. I hope you are each able to dull the noise around you and remember that G-d gave us breath on this very day.
L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem,