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Let the Shofar Take You Places

September 8, 2010 – 7:52 amOne Comment

By Rabbi Meir Rabi

May this year be a peaceful year.

A year of challenges that prompt us to discover energies that have perhaps hibernated within us and are ready to blossom.

Everyone wants a sweet new year. And everyone is prepared to wish this, even to their enemies, – provided matters can be resolved satisfactorily.

But here we approach the obstacle that is almost impossible to budge. We want the sweet new year according to our dictates of what is satisfactory. We want our proverbial cake and we want to eat it and we imagine we can consume it and yet avoid its calories.

Perhaps this conundrum, this basic human quality is addressed by the custom of blowing Shofar through the month of Ellul. Every morning, but for Shabbat, at the conclusion of the morning prayer service, Shacharit, the Shofar is sounded. The reason for this custom is generally thought to be that it is the sound of the alarm, the sound that urges us and coaxes us to awake from our slumber. However, this is the symbolism used by RaMBaM regarding the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh HaShana. The custom of sounding the Shofar through the month of Ellul is not found in RaMBaM.

The Tur, an early codifier who developed the system of dividing our Law into four sections, which is the foundation of our Shulchan Aruch, quotes a Medrash to support the custom of Shofar in the month of Ellul. When we stood at Mount Sinai awaiting the return of Moses our leader, we failed to properly count the forty days to his return. This was a significant contribution to the accumulation of errors that led to the ultimate disaster of the Golden Calf. When Moses ascended Mount Sinai, for the third time, it was the first day of the month of Ellul. The purpose of these final forty days and nights with G-d on the mountain, was to bring the final indication of G-d’s forgiveness, the second set of tablets. Before he ascended, Moses warned the people to blow Shofar and thus ensure that no such miscount recurs. I presume this means that by sounding the Shofar people would gather and verify which day of the count it was and any problems would be sorted out immediately.

However, it seems strange that a nation that only a few days earlier was facing obliteration for their sin, would be suspected of repeating the identical foolishness.

Besides, in what manner does that Shofar trumpeting as a reminder for the count, guide us in our preparations for Rosh HaShana?

Someone famous said, “An error does not become a mistake until we refuse to correct it.” Perhaps we can dwell on why we refuse to correct our errors.

Children who experiment by swinging a yoyo around their head in the house, and as we expect, inevitably smash something, will often say, “It was an accident.”, by which they mean “I did not mean to smash anything.” Which is of course, absolutely true.

I think it means something else as well. In this persons mind, they were doing nothing out of the ordinary. As far as they see the world every normal person does this.

Lets make a list of things “everyone normal does …”. All normal people talk in shule, speed a little over the limit, drink a little too much on odd occasions, do not return phone calls, drop litter, lose their temper, etc. In fact our lives, other than a few goody goodies, are surrounded on all sides by normal people who live normal lives and who make normal mistakes. These mistakes are regrettable but not a disaster.

The history of the world is replete with such tragedies, normal tragedies. Not so long ago a US airforce fighter plane on a routine flight to simulate deployment of nuclear weapons, in which a weighted dud is attached to the plane, was inadvertently loaded with a live nuclear device. This error was discovered following a long flight across the US. The pilots, returning from their long lunch, were preparing to fly back and discovered that instead of a yellow dot on the warhead there was a red dot. At least 8 safety checks failed for that to happen. And they were all ordinary errors made by ordinary people.

Our Sages describe an array of circumstances that quite reasonably goaded and intimidated the Jews to build the Golden Calf. Any normal person would have succumbed in those circumstances to do what they did.

As long as we view these as ordinary events we remain comfortable that we are sufficiently cautious. Moses taught that something must change. Blow Shofar to devise a new strategy to go beyond what we consider the norm. Innovate a variation to our normal schedule and style. Yes, these too will become in turn an “ordinary” part of our life but life is about spontaneity, reassessment and putting a spark into life so that it becomes a roaring flame.

So summon your family and friends and recount life’s successes and disappointments and plan changes for the future.

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