(Published in the High Holiday Edition of the New Mexico Jewish Link.)
One of the most iconic images from the High Holiday season is the shofar. While we wait for the Ba’al Tokeah, shofar blower, to sound the first blasts, silence fills the synagogue. And when that first tekiah rings out, the sound is, for many, the apex of the High Holiday service.
Why is it that the shofar sounds resonate within us, deep in our souls?
Three verses in King David’s Psalms, read after the first blowing of the shofar, give us our answer: “Praiseworthy is the nation who knows teruah, Hashem; they walk in the light of Your countenance. In Your name they rejoice all day long, and in Your righteousness they will be elevated. For You are their praise and their might, and Your desire is that they should be elevated” (Psalm 89:16-18).
These verses teach us that there exists an elevation and a closeness to Hashem (God) that He desires for us to attain, and this lofty reality can be achieved through hearing the shofar.
New Mexico is blessed with much natural beauty and many incredible phenomena. During our summer monsoons, the rainy downpours are often accompanied by incredible lightning shows. The lightning dances across the sky, illuminating it with white flashes of crackling lightning bolts. The thunder that accompanies the lightning storms has many different sounds: long and rumbling, a sharp staccato, and sudden mighty claps. Observing these phenomena can at times cause fear, but can also make a spiritual impression, with their immense grandeur.
The sound of the shofar contains a similar raw power that brings these feelings into the synagogue, into the service, and into our souls. We have a long tekiah, broken shevarim, and the staccato teruah. While listening to these blasts, absorbing them, an impression is made on us that brings about a closeness to Hashem, our King, our Father, our Lord. The blasts uplift us with the power to change and to grow as a People; this is a central theme in Judaism.
This connection and closeness to Hashem is expressed through our emulation of Him, and through the fulfillment of His mitzvot. The word mitzvah literally means commandment, from the Hebrew root of tzav; however, when Hashem commands the Jewish People to fulfill a certain act, it is to elevate our soul, connecting it to its source. Whenever we emulate Hashem, with good deeds or improved character traits, or whenever we fulfill a mitzvah, no matter how small the deed, a connection is made and both we, and our world, are elevated.
At times we may feel this more and other times less, but an impression is always made. The main difference in the feeling of closeness we experience can be dependent on how much we have prepared for the particular mitzvah. The effort we invest when we do an annual mitzvah (like shofar) is often more than the preparations for a daily mitzvah (such as blessings before eating), and therefore the impression made by a yearly mitzvah can be greater than by a deed performed by rote.
This year, when listening to the shofar, we again have the opportunity for connection, which in turn facilitates growth in all areas of our lives. The shofar stirs our emotions, and arouses elevation; bringing up our personal prayers and services during the High Holidays. And this is what King David tells us: through the sounding of the shofar, and knowing it (i.e., experiencing it personally) we merit to walk in His light and increase our connection to Him.