With Rosh Hashanah behind us and Yom Kippur right around the corner I am sure that I am not alone in trying to start this year in a meaningful way. It is hard to escape the haunting language of the un’taneh tokef. There is one line from that prayer that I just could not get out of my head. We read time and again, “uvashofar gadol yitaka, v’kol d’mama daka yishama – The great shofar will be sounded, and the still small voice will be heard.” To quote P.D. Eastman “Big dogs need big beds and little dogs need little beds.” I would have assumed that a big shofar would be used to make a big noise. What are we to make of this little sound that is coming out of this big shofar?
According to Jewish Law, every fifty years we celebrate the Jubilee in which we release all slaves, land, and debts. The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah last week announced the jubilee year, and the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur will proclaim the actual release of financial encumbrances. It would not be so bold to claim that this great Shofar sound itself was the freedom we experience on this Jubilee year spiritually and physically.
And this “still small voice: is an allusion to the revelation Elijah experienced at Sinai. After traveling for forty days and forty nights, Elijah is the first person after Moses to return to Sinai. When he got there he took shelter in a cave and God asked him what he is doing there. Elijah evaded the question. God asked Elijah to go outside the cave and “stand before the Lord.” A terrible wind passed, but God was not in the wind. A great earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. Then a fire passed the mountain, but God was not in the fire. Then a “still small voice” comes to Elijah and asks again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:13)
In many ways the essence of these High Holy Days is our being able to answer Elijah’s question. Why are we here? Whether that is in synagogue, at a family gathering, or on this planet, all of us need to think about why we are here. Even if you do not have an answer to this question, can we imagine what it might feel like to have one? How liberating would that be? Living a life with purpose might not be flashy or make a huge noise, but it will surely free us from a meaningless existence.
Seeing that this is the time of year that we are all doing our personal accounting, I have to ask myself why I work for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. This past summer I asked a camp director how we might measure success for his campers after spending the summer at his camp. He responded, “Well I am not sure this is what you are looking for, but many parents have reported that they are getting more hugs from their children.” As we get ready for Yom Kipper we are all thinking about being accountable. I think we should hear the sound of the great Shofar and listen up for the small stuff. For many campers, camp is the first time in their lives that they have the feeling of belonging. Camp is where they will discover their purpose. While it might seem subtle, as a parent I can tell you that knowing my children live with purpose is profound and resonating sound of freedom.
Gmar Chatima Tova – Have a good and significant ending.