Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Sound of the shofar

Recently, I came across a teaching by the Sefat Emet, explaining what the shofar means, and why we sound it on Rosh Hashana. I've been using this teaching a lot this year, and wanted to share it here. Here's a quick version I used when I was asked to give an opening d'var torah on a Rabbinic conference call last week:

We are here to learn about data from recent studies on the American Jewish community, and what those data can teach us. But, as we listen to the breakdown and analysis of numbers, I think it's important that we also remember the larger gestalt. The numbers are important—terribly important, because they tell us a lot about our community. But, we have to remember that they aren't our community.
The Sefat Emet, like so many of our sages, teaches that, in our world, God is differentiated. God exists, from our point of view, in discrete, knowable ways. What we see, what we encounter, isn't God, in God's true form, but rather a mediated, attenuated version of God. But, not on Rosh Hashanah. What's so special about Rosh Hashanah is that, on Rosh Hashanah, God begins to enter our world anew. And, when that happens, it's pure. For a moment, we have the chance to encounter God on God's own terms.
That's why, he teaches, we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is undifferentiated sound. And so, it's a kind of a pure, perfect prayer. Speech, our usual method of prayer, is sound, and thought, broken up and put into useful, but limited, boxes. It expresses an inner truth, but never perfectly. The shofar is a prayer, before were able to put it into words. And so, when we hear it, we're hopefully drawn towards God, not just our own limited conception of God.
So, again, there's nothing wrong with our discrete analysis. It's the only way we can work in this world—none of us can exist on that high, theoretical plane, all of the time. But, we have to remember that as we work with our details, we are always aiming at something higher, and something holier.
Shana Tova.

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