“It seems like making a shofar out of an animal is creepy and gross in the 21st century. Why do we do it? Is it OK to use some other kind of instrument instead?”

Currently, we find ourselves in the days of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar year. This is a month chosen for introspection, reevaluations, correction and, of course, Return. The goal of Elul is to complete the year on a positive note, and to repair any last cracks that may need filling to allow ourselves to be completely ready for the blessings and potential that are to come for the new year, Rosh Hashanah!

Rosh Hashanah is symbolized by one item: the shofar.

Photo credit: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection of the Library of Congress

The shofar, and the sound that is makes, is used to effectively help all of us reach a new state of awareness and awakeness. It is said that through the Shofar we have the ability to anoint Hashem (God) as our King and accept our role as His partner in fulfilling His mission in this world: to express his oneness that lies hidden in our lives and the world at large.

So why the shofar? Why not the best, most expensive violin? Why use an animal’s horn? Could we not come up with anything more sophisticated? We know that in temple times the Levites used all kinds of great instruments, constantly belting out amazing tunes. Kabbalah explains that the world is broken down into four parts: the human being, the animal, vegetation, and the inanimate. Why, or better yet, HOW can we expect the lowest of the four categories (when the shofar is removed from the animal, it is considered an inanimate object) to inspire the highest of the four, us, the human beings?

The answer lies in the fact that the human being has a part of him that can be inanimate and distant. For whatever reason, this part of our lives seems locked and just beyond our reach. In order to resuscitate this sleeping part of ourselves, we need to go beyond the sophistication of speech, or the ornate, expensive instruments; we need to draw from a source which is basic, uncomplicated, simple, pure, and unaffected by the context of any individual that may put their bias or influence on it.

Rosh Hashanah is the time to awaken all of our spiritual senses. The call of the shofar gives us confidence, and a sense of pride that may have been lacking, to reconnect in a simple yet perfect way. The shofar does not ask that we commit to do every mitzvah from now on; in fact, it is the simple cry in us that yearns to reconnect to and advance whatever level you’re at. The shofar has the power to reach and affect those potential spiritual heights that we didn’t know even existed.

This Rosh Hashanah, when we hear the shofar, and we all (God willing) get that special feeling of connectedness again, let us ask ourselves what basic action we will do to answer the call of the Shofar!

May you all be blessed for a happy healthy and sweet new year.

created at: 2012-09-04

Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz is the rabbi at The Chabad Chai Center of Brookline.

Learn more about the shofar and watch a demonstration of how it’s sounded at InterfaithFamily.com.