Have you ever heard of the Slow Food Movement? Slow Food advocates invite us to move us away from fast food, from factory made cuisine, meals made in a distant commercial kitchen. “Slow foodies” eschew meals packed by machine, frozen, canned, freeze-dried, and sent to us from far, far away. Slow food, by contrast, is made by hand, it is created with care by people who love food and who care about the people who eat it.
The shofar, which we are encouraged to hear in this month of Elul (this year), on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, is the musical and ritual equivalent of slow food. The sound of the shofar is indeed food for the Jewish soul! You might say it is made and played with love, the old-fashioned way. In truth, the shofar is not like most things in our lives. It isn’t made of plastic. It isn’t made in a factory. If it breaks, you can’t look up the item number on the Internet and order an exact copy.
Shofarot are one of a kind – unique – like each one of us. They come from the horn of a real animal – usually a gazelle or a ram of some kind. They are made by hand, and each one is different. The piercing, rousing sound of the shofar reflects its special origins. Its sound is raw, wild, and unnerving. It is a sound we might make if we could combine our most emotional cries of surprise, wonder, pain, excitement, anger and jubilation. The shofar blast rolls all of these into one and then makes that powerful discordance a bit more musical. The shofar blast is our communal “primal scream.” The shofar bleats out the combined screech of all of us, in every situation when we need to empty our lungs to open our hearts, to reach out to each other, and to make a piercing sound that will be heard even in the heavens
If we are searching for deeper meaning in the shofar blasts, we might turn to the teaching of the 17th century Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, related by Rabbi Art Green: “Each group of sounds begins with a teki’ah, a whole note, proceeds to shevarim, a ‘broken’ note, divided into three parts, or even to teru’ah, an entirely fragmented sound, at least seven very brief sounds. But each broken note is followed by a whole note, another teki’ah, This, he [Horowitz] says, is the message of [the shofar blasts of] Rosh Hashanah: ‘I started off whole, I became broken, even splintered into fragments, but I shall become whole again! I shall become whole again!’”
Especially this year, when so many aspects of our lives and the world around us feels broken and disrupted, may those who have taken on the responsibility for giving voice to our communal scream concentrate on this message as you sound the shofar.
And for those who of us who will hear this potent series of notes, may we take to heart in the uplifting and challenging proclamation:
We can become whole again – we can heal the world and heal ourselves! L’Shana Tova Tikateyvu. May you be inscribed for blessing, health, fulfillment and growth in the New Year.
Rabbi David Kudan is the spiritual leader of Temple Tiferet Shalom of the North Shore.