Posts Tagged 'Shofar'

A Mother’s Cry: The Sound of the Shofar

We have been blowing Shofar since the advent of Elul, and on Monday we will have a ton of Shofar blasts. Why do we blow Shofar on Rosh HaShanah? There are a number of reasons. One of the more interesting one comes from a discussion in Gemara of Rosh HaShanah where the Rabbis were trying to determine the length of time a shofar blast should last. The Mishnah suggest  that a terua should be equal to the length of three whimpers. There we learn:

Isn’t it taught in a baraita that the length of a terua is equal to the length of three shevarim, i.e., broken blasts, which presumably are longer than whimpers? Abaye said: In this matter, the tanna’im certainly disagree. Although the first baraita can be reconciled with the mishna, this second baraita clearly reflects a dispute. As it is written: “It is a day of sounding [terua] the shofar to you”(Numbers 29:1), and we translate this verse in Aramaic as: It is a day of yevava to you. And to define a yevava, the Gemara quotes a verse that is written about the mother of Sisera: “Through the window she looked forth and wailed [vateyabev], the mother of Sisera” (Judges 5:28). One Sage, the tanna of the baraita, holds that this means moanings, broken sighs, as in the blasts called shevarim. And one Sage, the tanna of the mishna, holds that it means whimpers, as in the short blasts called teruot. (Rosh HaShanah 33b)

To quote Numbers and say we blow shofar on Rosh HaShanah because it is the day of blowing shofar is simply a tautology. In comparison it is interesting to make the connection to the wailing of  Sisera’s mother. As we learn in the book of Judges, Sisera commanded nine hundred iron chariots and oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. After the prophetess Deborah persuaded Barak to face Sisera in battle, they, with an Israelite force of ten thousand, defeated him at the Battle of Mount Tabor. After losing the battle, Sisera fled to a settlement where he was received by Yael. She brought him into her tent with apparent hospitality and gave him milk. Yael promised to hide Sisera and covered him with a rug; but after he fell asleep, she drove a tent-peg through his temple with a mallet, her blow being so forceful that the peg pinned his head to the ground. After this we read:

Through the window peered Sisera’s mother, Behind the lattice she whined: “Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why so late the clatter of his wheels?”  (Judge 5:28)

It is strange enough that the Bible depicts this general’s mother there at the window watching her son die, but it seems even more peculiar that we evoke the sound of the mother of our enemy on Rosh HaShanah. Why?

In my mind if Rosh HaShanah is the Day of Judgement, the sound of the mother of an enemy’s general is the foundation of our empathy and possibly God’s lenient judgement.  Every child regardless of what they do has a parent who loves them. If we can hear that voice we can build on that love. If it works for the enemy, how much more so for the friend or family member?

I pause this year to consider the mental health and substance abuse crises affecting our communities. These are issues that we either do not talk about or talk about as if we are at war with an enemy. There are people struggling with mental health issues or drugs in our communities and they are surely not our enemy. They are people we need to empathize with and help. It has been an honor to help the Blue Dove Foundation this year with their effort to encourage Synagogues and their Rabbi’s to strongly consider Quieting the Silence (aka. #QUIETINGTHESILENCE) and discussing the struggles of mental health and substance abuse taking place in our communities. Education and dialogue will further the conversation and help eradicate the shame and stigma.

The Jewish High Holidays, is a perfect place to start. With your assistance during the high holidays, using the information provided here, we hope that Jewish Communities will:

  • Start a community wide conversation during the Jewish High Holidays.
  • Have an open and honest conversations about the challenges we are facing as a community related to mental health and/or substance abuse.
  • Learn about trainings and educational opportunities in the upcoming year.
  • Learn about available resources as well as organizations available to assist with mental health and substance abuse struggles.
  • Be introduced to ways individuals can get involved.

These tools and resources are meant to help you include this very important topic in your words and thoughts during the upcoming Jewish High Holidays. If you have any questions or if you have something you’d like to contribute to the resources, please send to info@thebluedovefoundation.org

If we can connect to the wailing of Sisera’s Mother in the blast of the Shofar, we might be able to connect to other voices of pain and suffering in our community that we might not be hearing. And if we can do that we might even be able to connect to quieting the silence around talking about mental health and/or substance abuse in our community (#QUIETINGTHESILENCE). Let’s make some noise. Shanah Tova U’Metuka.

 

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The Subtle Sound of Purpose

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.

-See Foundation for Jewish Camp Blog

The Ruckus of Rosh HaShanah

blog shofarAs we get ready for Rosh HaShanah (FYI-it is this Friday night), we get ready to hear the blasts of the Shofar, which is associated with the Jewish New Year. In comparison, we make a lot of noise on Purim to blot out the name of the wicked Haman, but it does not come close to significance of hearing the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah. What is the meaning of all of this noise on the Jewish New Year?

For some of us, it might be a new thing and strange sound. For some it might remind us of growing up and hearing it at synagogue. For some it might remind us of the way we aspire to live our lives. Some might hear the walls of Jericho tumbling or the coronation of the King. For some it might be a blast to the past hearkening back to the ram at the binding of Isaac when Isaac was almost killed by his father Abraham. For some it might be the sound of Sisra’s mother at seeing the death of her child. And yet for others, it might just be an annoyance. I imagine the Shofar blast is supposed to evoke a combination of all of these feelings and more. In my mind the noise is supposed to comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the comfortable.

Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of the Mussar Movement, commented that the loudest sound in the universe was the breaking of a bad habit. If we listen closely to the sound of the Shofar this year we might just hear that we are indeed ( and in deed) in a groove or a rut. While on Purim we were trying to blot out the name of the wicked Haman, on Rosh HaShanah we are trying to blot out the wicked associated with our own names.

Gmar Chatima Tova– May your name be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good. After all of the Rosh HaShanah ruckus, I hope that you have a wonderfully harmonious New Year. For me it will be filled with the sweet sound of our new born daughter Emunah.


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