It came in a long blue velvet bag, with my Hebrew name in gold lettering. I still remember how, a few weeks short of my thirteenth birthday, I was so excited that my sisters had cared enough to buy me a present. Not a ram’s horn, it was the horn of a Greater Kudu. I loved the shape, the color, the size of the mouthpiece and the sound that emerged as I blew it like my trumpet. I couldn’t wait for Sunday morning minyan; maybe Rabbi Sosland would permit me to sound the shofar at the end of the service: tekiah, shevarim, teruah, tekiah.
Thirty seven years later, almost to the day, I unzip the blue velvet bag and slide the twisting shofar from the sack. I blow into the mouthpiece a steady stream of air, just to remove the imaginary cobwebs and to clear the pathway that the sound will eventually travel. Now I purse my lips and press them against the round mouthpiece, not too tightly, and push the air out. The sound emerges always as a surprise, a cross between a trumpet’s call and a cry for help. Thirty seven years later, I continue to discover new meanings in the craggy screech, the staccato siren, the triumphant call. If I close my eyes tightly enough, I can feel the many yearnings of my heart emerge from the end of the horn. I am simultaneously saddened and gladdened, remorseful and hopeful, broken and resolute.
Thirty seven years ago, my rabbi, teacher and mentor wasn’t so thrilled about a twelve year old boy blowing a shofar that was almost as big as he was. Rabbi Sosland took great care to teach me the proper method for the ritual and the appropriate length for each of the sounds. He asked me to sound the shofar facing the ark; he asked me not to hold the final blast so long. He even asked if I would consider blowing a smaller horn. My teacher taught me that those hearing the sound should not be distracted by what they might see: the red face, the puffed cheeks, the winding horn. The only thing that matters in hearing the shofar is the ability to hear with the proper intention. Any visual or aural distraction only serves to diminish that intention and the potential impact of the ritual. In those days leading up to my thirteenth birthday and Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Sosland was trying to teach me humility.
Close your eyes and let the primal cries enter your ears. If we experience the sounds as entertainment, we are not allowing the reverberations to reach our hearts. But if we listen to the sound of the shofar the way it was meant to be heard, we will learn to hear its call every day: in the still, small voice of God within.
Rabbi Craig Scheff