On Wednesday night and Thursday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “Head of the Year.”
What distinguishes Rosh Hashanah from every other holiday is the sounding of ancient ram’s horn, known as a shofar. It makes a scratchy, plaintive primitive sound. To hear it is the primary purpose of this day.
Even people can’t make it to synagogue try to hear the sound of the shofar. Rabbis have been known to visit hospitals and sound the shofar in patients’ rooms.
Is the Alarm Clock Loud Enough?
Why? What’s so important about the shofar? Why must we hear it? The most insightful answer I’ve heard was given by Rabbi Harold Kushner. While the words of this prayerbook are addressed to God, he noted, the sounds of the Shofar are addressed to us.
“It’s a wake up call, an alarm clock; as if God were saying to us, ‘Don’t just plead with me for a year of life. I’m giving you life; what are you doing with it?’”
In other words, the shofar is an alarm clock for our lives. It pierces through our routines and habits. It awakens us from the slumber of everyday living. It challenges us to think, to question, to wake up! What are we doing with the challenges and opportunities life puts before us? What meanings are we making out of the experiences we face?
Answering the questions God is asking
Yet, the shofar does not just present these questions. It helps us answer them. The most frequent sound—known in Hebrew as tekiah—summons us to human connection and community. The Torah itself tells us that the original function of the tekiah sound was to assemble the people.
Summer camps often have a bell that rings when it’s time to gather for a meal or ceremony. The tekiah sound does the same thing: it commands us to gather, to come together, so that we can live more fully.
We need that reminder. In a society that makes us easy to be alone–to entertain ourselves on the computer or with our iPhones–we can forget the richness that comes with living with and for others. Life gains meaning when we share it. Martin Buber, the great theologian of the twentieth century, made this message his life’s work.
When Buber was asked where God was found, he did not say in heaven. He did not even say God is everywhere. He said “God lives in relationships.” May your new year be fulfilled with new and deepening relationships–with God and with one another.