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The Sound of the Shofar

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

Reflections on the sounding of the shofar at Selichot services-


Throughout the month of Elul we sound the shofar each morning, awakening our souls to the need for teshuvah, for reflection and repentance, and the need for reconciliation in all our relationships. Now, at the time of Selichot, our efforts take on a new sense of urgency. The rounded shape of the shofar reminds us of the sense of humility needed to undertake these challenging tasks.

We note that the shofar cannot be used in its natural state- it requires much preparation, as do the High Holidays. If we have not yet begun the work of cheshbon ha-nefesh, of spiritual accounting, the Selichot service is the time when we must arouse ourselves. Look at the shape of the shofar- from the narrowest of openings the sound emerges through the largest expanse. So, too, it is within each of us. We must find those places of restriction within ourselves. What is it that is holding us back from becoming who we most want to be in the year ahead?

The cry of the shofar contains a poignant message. We begin with tekia, a strong full note, the sound of whole-ness. So it is in our lives- we begin our lives with the confidence of youth, ready to take on the world.

Next come shevarim, 3 broken notes. We all experience broken-ness in some way- broken dreams, broken relationships, broken bodies. As our journey continues, terua- 7 or more broken notes, symbolizing the further sadness in our lives. The sound of the shofar expresses, for each of us, the broken-ness we feel within.

The paradox is, as the Hassidic saying teaches us: ‘There is nothing more whole- than a broken heart.’ The ability to feel pain is what makes us human, and the more broken we are now the more whole we can become. As Leonard Cohen wrote: ‘There’s a crack in everything/That’s where the light comes in’- if we open up our broken hearts and let it in.

Rabbi Simon Jacobson asks, “Why is a broken wall the holiest place for Jews? Why do Jews stand and pray at a broken wall when there are such beautiful edifices around? Because, Jews know that this isn’t a perfect world. As long as the world in not perfect, Jews cannot stand in a beautiful edifice. Jews can only stand and cry at a broken wall. . .The reality is that the world is a broken place- it’s a broken place full of broken people whose job is to mend what is broken.”

The shofar does not leave us in the place of broken-ness. It brings us back to tekia, to that whole, strong note. And not even tekia- to tekia gedola- to the hope that through the process of our becoming broken we can ascend- healed- to a place of even greater strength and greater peace. In the words of

Reb Nachman of Bratslav- “If you believe breaking is possible, believe fixing is possible.”

Our Selichot service begins now with the call of the shofar- may it enter into the core of our hearts and our souls.

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