September 2, 1999
The Sound of Yontif
Parashat Nizzavim-VaYelekh (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)
I forgot to blow the shofar this morning. No, it's not quite Rosh Hashanah and I haven't missed this year's round challah or apples dipped in honey. But there is a tradition of beginning every morning during the month of Elul, the Jewish month preceding Rosh Hashanah, with the sound of the shofar. Last year, I decided I wanted to practice this tradition in my home, but I realized my plan had two problems: I didn't own a shofar, and I didn't know how to blow one.
I went to a local Judaic shop, hid in a corner and timidly picked up one shofar after another trying to get any sound I could out of those stubborn horns. I couldn't, but I was determined to buy one and learn. I figured this was one of those enjoyable mitzvot, and how could I pass up the opportunity? Sure enough, within a few days, I was following my husband around the house, proudly blowing the shofar wherever he happened to be -- the kitchen, bedroom, courtyard or living room.
But today I forgot. I was so busy preparing my sermons and teachings for the High Holidays, I forgot to blow my shofar. My mind caught up in work, I had neglected my heart.
There are many reasons the shofar is sounded during the High Holidays. It's our connection to the Akaydah (Genesis 22), when Isaac was saved by an angel of God who ordered his father, Abraham, to sacrifice a ram instead. It's an audible symbol of the coronation of God as the Ruler of the universe. It reminds us of God's revelation at Sinai, which was accompanied by the sounding of the ram's horn. The Torah itself calls Rosh Hashanah "Yom Teruah" -- "day of the horn blast" (Numbers 29:1).
But every morning of Elul when I hear the shofar, I think of Maimonides, the 12th-century scholar who taught that the shofar calls out to us as if to say, "Awake, awake, O sleepers from your sleep; O slumberers arouse from your slumber; and examine your deeds, return in repentance, and remember your Creator."
The sound of the shofar beckons us to make an internal spiritual and emotional inventory. By forgetting to blow it this morning, I had neglected the most important work we are called upon to undertake during the High Holidays.
In this week's Torah portion, the word "turn" (or shuv in Hebrew) is repeated seven times in Deuteronomy 30:1-10. It's there to remind us that we only have one more week to turn toward God and ourselves. We have just one more week to open up our own private emotional closets, assess what we need to discard, what we need to patch up and what we need to examine more carefully. We have one more week to approach those we have hurt and admit our wrong. One more week to clean up unfinished business. One more week to look into the mirror and confess that there is still some bottled-up anger, impatience or disillusionment that we need to face within us.
Just one week -- with not a morning to waste.
As we finish Elul and enter 5760, may the sound of the shofar continuously ring in our ears, and may our struggle lead to growth and greater happiness.
Michelle Missaghieh is rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.