As a group of congregants gathered for a morning class, a few participants were startled by a jarring sound in the synagogue. Puzzled, someone asked, “What was that strange noise?” I thought for a moment, smiled and said, “Don’t worry. That was the sound of the shofar.”
Blown every day during the Hebrew month of Elul, the shofar’s blasts are meant to feel strange, designed to make us feel out of place. We often compare the shofar to an alarm clock, but the image is a bit misleading. The 21st century alarm clock has a snooze button, giving the impression that life can wait, that we can pause our troubles, or take a break from that which worries us the most. But for those immersed in struggle, snooze buttons don’t exist. Pain for the sufferer is often chronic…like the long, lingering, reverberating pierce of the shofar.
The shofar isn’t just a wordless cry. I can so clearly hear the questions the shofar pours out into the world:
Dear God, why is this happening? Why now? Why this illness? Why this relationship? Why this frustration? Why this job? Why this time? Why me? The shofar’s questions elicit such wonder and shock because we can’t claim to know the answers. So, we stare at the ram’s horn and pray for the ability to live through the sound. To wade through the shrills of disbelief.
It is no question that the shofar “wakes” us up. We’re awake.
Rather, when the shofar blasts, we remind ourselves of what we hear but sometimes, are afraid to name: intermingled cries, voices of self-doubt, the pain of the suffering, questions of belonging and queries of searching.
And just perhaps, this Rosh Hashana we might admit…that sound that won’t go away… is our own voice yearning to be heard.