In medieval Spain, two of our greatest sages debated the nature of the shofarA ram's horn that is blown on the High Holidays to "wake us up" and call Jews to repentance. It is also said that its blast will herald the coming of the messiah.
ritual. They asked (and I’m paraphrasing): if a shofar
blasts in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make it sound? Over the centuries, our tradition decided that no—a shofar
blast that goes unheard is no shofar
blast at all. The essence of the ritual takes place not in the ram’s horn itself, but rather in the ears of those who hear it.
And so we say—in the middle of p. 142 (of Gates of Repentance):
Leader and congregation: Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh ha-olam, Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lishmoa’ kol shofar.
Leader: Blessed is our Eternal God, Who causes the air to invisibly vibrate and the three tiny bones in our eardrums to quiver, causing us to hear and to feel the blast of the shofar.
Something happens in us that wouldn’t happen if a shofar were to blast all alone in a forest with no one around to hear it. Something happens between the conduction of sound in our ear and that moment when the hair on our neck rises, or the bumps on our arms stand, or the heart in our chest sinks, or the knot in our throat tightens. Something in our evolutionary memory recognizes in the sound of the shofar a language that was spoken before there were words:
T’kiyah: a sound of joy—
Sh’varim: a sound of sorrow—
T’ruah: a sound of warning.
I ask you now, if you’re able, to rise. Hear the voice of the shofar, speaking a language that transcends all words.
[Shofar blower (SB) does blasts]
Tekiyah [SB blasts]; Shevarim-Teruah [SB blasts]; Tekiyah [SB blasts]
Tekiyah [SB blasts]; Shevarim [SB blasts]; Tekiyah [SB blasts]
Tekiyah [SB blasts]; Teruah [SB blasts]; Tekiyah [SB blasts]
Leader: The sound of the shofar reminds us of a language that was spoken before there were words.
But occasionally, our ears fail us. We hear the sound of joy, or the sound of sorrow, or the sound of warning in everyday places—but we’ve grown desensitized to them.
Time to clean out our spiritual earwax. Hear now the everyday voice of the shofar.
[Audio technician (AT) plays audio files]
Tekiyah [AT – track A]; Shevarim-Teruah [AT – B]; Tekiyah [AT – A]
Tekiyah [AT – A]; Shevarim [AT – C]; Tekiyah [AT – A]
Tekiyah [AT – A]; Teruah [AT – D]; Tekiyah [AT – A]
Leader: If a shofar blasts in the forest, and there’s someone there to hear it, it makes a sound. If a fire alarm sounds in the firehouse, and there’s someone there to hear it, it saves a life. If a voice cries out in the night, and there’s someone there to hear it, it lessens suffering.
There is no separation between the sound of the shofar and the sounds of our world. The one doesn’t exist “in here” and the other “out there.” Our work is to learn to hear the shofar “out there” and to learn to hear world “in here.”
Hear now the sound of the shofar—the voice of a world needing to be heard.
[Shofar blower blasts while audio technician plays tracks]
Tekiyah [Blast & A]; Shevarim-Teruah [Blast & B]; Tekiyah [Blast & A]
Tekiyah [Blast & A]; Shevarim [Blast & C]; Tekiyah [Blast & A]
Tekiyah [Blast & A]; Teruah [Blast & D]; TEKIYAH GEDOLAH [Blast & E]
[Audio file fades; SB’s shofar blasts remains]
[E] Tekiyah Gedolah