Rabbinic Reflections: Awaken hands and feet

The shofar is calling. Each morning for the entire month leading up to the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah, the shofar (a hollowed out ram’s horn) makes its siren song. The shofar is blown that we might hear and heed it.

What is the message of these daily blasts that usher in the Jewish High Holy Days? Typical of Jewish tradition, there are many interpretations of which I will review a number. This year, though, I am finding that the deeper messages in each of these interpretations correlate in a resounding call to action.

Primarily, the shofar blasts are understood as an alarm, calling on Jews to get ready. We should get ready for the New Year. We should get ready for the season of repentance. We should get our house in order, apologizing to those whom we have wronged and trying to forgive those who have hurt us. The shofar reminds us that time is limited and that, at least annually, we should seek to heal wounds.

This alarm idea ties into the notion that God will be judging us in the New Year. We have to set ourselves straight with our fellow human beings so that we can then get straight with God. In the prayers recited again and again over the High Holy Days, we envision ourselves as troops being reviewed by the general, as sheep passing before the shepherd’s staff, and as defendants in the court of the Almighty. The shofar reminds us to repent, to pray, and to act righteously in order to avert the severity of God’s decree.

A popular interpretation of the shofar’s call during this month is that it keeps the prosecuting angels from knowing the exact day on which God will hold court. Instead of announcing Rosh HaShanah by blowing the shofar 100 times, we blow four notes daily for 30 days beforehand in order to confuse the prosecution into showing up on the wrong day or getting frustrated and missing the real day. The shofar here reminds us that we are accountable for our deeds.

On a spiritual level, the shofar is also understood to awaken our soul. Perhaps we have not been our best selves. Perhaps we have become disconnected, disenchanted, or dissolute. Perhaps we have turned from being partners with God in completing creation and instead have become angry, embittered, or festering. The shofar reminds us that our soul contains good and evil and that we must control the proportion.

I mention being partners with God in completing creation because the shofar is also understood to announce God as Monarch. We crown God on Rosh HaShanah. In doing so, we momentarily turn the tables from being God’s creatures to being God’s anointers.

In other words, the shofar awakens us not only to the season, to repentance, or to better behavior. The shofar awakens us to action beyond ourselves. The shofar calls on us to do much more than listen. The shofar calls on us to make our world better, to fight for justice not wait for it, to create change not just vote for it, and to make our world a proper throne for God.

The deeper message of the shofar is to awaken our hands and feet to be where God is not yet or is absent. This year, I hear the shofar imploring us to get beyond introspection or self-concern and to take the new year head on. The shofar is calling; what will you do right now to make the new year good in God’s eyes?

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to: editor@chaddsfordlive.com


About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hillel Network, responsible for West Chester University, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and other area colleges. He is the former head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington and was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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