|Stone Age ram figurine (Yael Yolovitch/Israel Antiquities Authority)|
There was a time I would have been concerned when I missed one of the hundred shofar blasts - if say I had to leave the room or if the Baal Tokea wasn't blowing properly. Again, it wasn't out of a concern over "aveira (sin)" - it was that this special yearly "treatment" was being compromised.
For me, it was never about Hashem scrutinizing my every move to see if I was listening to the shofar, that somehow I'd be in the celestial doghouse if I failed to comply with Halacha. My conception of Halacha was as a how-to guide for maintaining/repairing our "energies," albeit on subtle, hard-to-detect level. (Indeed, extremely subtle. So subtle as to perhaps be... pure self-suggestion!) I saw Halacha as the physical instruction and Kabbalah as the explanation. All the stuff about the shofar "confounding the Satan" in order to arouse the "compassion of the King," so as to give us a good "judgement" - I never bought into that. It always struck me as a mashal, a metaphor for certain mysterious, nonphysical processes at work, ones which are particularly "active" at the time of Rosh Hashana.
And I reveled in the idea that Judaism possessed such a technology, that for millennia it has known the "secrets" of life and inner workings of the universe, and that some day - after we reached a degree of maturity, understanding and tikkun, when we were "ready" - this system would be fully "revealed" so that all of humanity could benefit.
All very beautiful and exciting, yes - but also, as I woke up to eventually, completely and utterly deluded. Sure, if you had to pick between a delusion that's creative, forward thinking and benevolent, and a delusion (like say, on the part of "ISIS") that's barbaric, psychopathic and destructive, you'd certainly choose the former. However, all things being equal, why not be benevolent and non-deluded? That's my earnest goal, at any rate.
So this morning I heard someone blowing the shofar in a nearby house. And it struck me - wow, what a crude and almost prehistoric custom, blowing through a ram's horn. It's basically a throwback to an ancient world rife with tribal genocide, witchcraft medicine, animal smells everywhere, and a notable lack of plumbing. We're talking about an instrument used to assemble the masses, march the men off to war, etc. Why the heck are we doing this now? Why is this so "precious" to us? Because it ain't a "technology." And it ain't, by any stretch of reason, the "will of God."
And I thought: Yes, all that is true. Yes it's all rather crude. But it's our bit of crudeness. It's our weirdness. It's strange and out of place - but in a kind of quirky, meaningful, distinctly "Jewish" way. It's part of our national memory. It's part of our personal memory. It's one of many pieces in the fabric of our identities as Jews. It's something the kids look forward to on Rosh Hashana. It's a "live performance" that by nature has some excitement and drama to it, since it doesn't always go as planned, and everyone is there quietly "rooting" for it to go well. And there are of course some interesting and even useful associations we can attach to hearing the sound of the shofar, such as:
- The idea of being jarred from the quasi-slumber of day-to-day existence, pausing for a moment to focus on those things that truly matter to us, reflecting on what we're doing with our lives and recommitting ourselves to the path we think we ought to take.
- The fact that life is short, unpredictable, and to a large extent outside our control, and that we stand in awe, trepidation and hope at what the year to come may bring.
- The notion that we have certain feelings and experiences that are impossible to fully express in words, and which in an odd way we feel we can give some sort of voice to in this unique and wordless "sound."
And that's all the shofar needs to be, all it needs to "do." Which is plenty. I think it's a shame when we're made to believe it's not, that our human experience and Jewish experience are somehow lacking, deficient, even worthless, unless we see them as also doing something of "mystical" or "cosmic" significance.
To me, this is a type of "spiritual sensationalism," getting people hooked on the idea that if it's not "magical," it's boring. If it's not "larger than life," it's all kind of "meh." That's why I prefer more of a humanistic approach. Whatever is going on "out there," in some otherworldly sense, is an interesting subject to ponder over a beverage, but back here on the planet Earth it's about people - us and our experiences together.
To quote yesterday's parsha, "It is not in the heavens... neither is it beyond the sea... for the matter is very close to you."
And with that, I wish everyone a Shana Tova.