The soul-searching cry of the shofar
REBBETZIN WENDY HENDLER
The true definition of man is his moral centre, his essential self, which is divine connection with G-d. But has that centre eroded or got lost? Are we able to come back to our guiding core?
We may feel removed from any connection with our soul. And yet, there is a way to reconnect and listen to the still small voice within us. By listening deeply to the sounds of the shofar, we are able to hear the cry of our soul, and return to our source.
The long tekiah blast represents our optimistic and confident vision for the coming year, a world of peace, justice, and G-dliness. It’s also a vision of our own contribution towards bringing about this ideal. This is our wake-up call to our own potential greatness.
Then the blowing turns into the wail of the shevarim, and the broken, heartfelt sobbing of the teruah. A cry elicits emotion in us. When we hear someone cry, it often evokes our own tears.
It’s not easy to hear someone cry as it makes us feel their pain. A cry demands our attention, our response.
Very often, we are faced with a situation in which we give our opinion on an important matter and another person disagrees vehemently and attacks us. A verbal slinging match ensues, bringing in its wake damage and destruction.
Before this cycle sets in, can we take a step back and ask ourselves, “What button is being pressed in this person? What hurt and pain lies beneath their visceral reaction? How can I hear the cry of their soul?”
We can see this dynamic operating in our children. When a child feels misunderstood, his negative behaviour escalates, and he shouts louder and louder. If only we were able to listen to and hear the feelings of hurt and sadness underpinning the screaming, and say, “I hear you. I understand, and I will help you”. If we could extend this to the adults in our lives, particularly those with whom we fundamentally disagree, how much pain and heartache could we dispel?
How closely this relates to how we treat the victims of abuse. When a victim cries out for help, be it loudly or through their actions, we find it extremely painful to hear them and acknowledge their suffering. How much easier is it to deny their story, to paint them as liars or over-exaggerators, to tell them to get over it.
We do this because it’s hard to carry another’s pain, particularly regarding experiences we would rather not think about. And so we turn our backs on the victim, and retreat to the safety of our own lives.
But G-d looks down and hears the cries of the victim. G-d wants more of us, and knows we are capable of more than this. G-d expects from His children that we take care of one another, that we reach out with kindness and love to people in pain.
On Rosh Hashanah, the nation of Israel as a unit is judged according to how we have lived up to the divine task of caring for one another. On Rosh Hashanah, we address G-d as, “Our Father, our King”, and we beg G-d to judge us with mercy, as a father would be merciful to his child.
The Jewish people are one unit, part of the same body. What more does a father want than to see his children treat one another kindly and compassionately? What greater nachas (pride) can any parent feel? And what greater sadness when children deny the pain of their brothers and sisters, and turn away from them.
Sometimes our own souls cry, but we fail to hear them too. The shofar takes us on an inward journey, in which the cry of our soul can be heard. How have I utilised the gift of life in the past year? How much G-dliness could I have expressed that I haven’t?
Could I have been kinder, more tolerant, more giving, and more compassionate? Where have I refused to listen to the messages from my soul, and missed opportunities for greatness? The fragmented sounds of the teruah are the sounds of your soul sobbing for the missed opportunities, the lost greatness.
And then the sobbing lessens. Your soul has been heard, and attended to. You have come back to your centre, ready once again to be guided by divine essence, to commit to changes which will bring you closer to realising your vision. The long tekiah reinforces this sense of optimism. You feel comforted and hopeful, reinvigorated and full of purpose.
May we all be inscribed for a sweet New Year!
- Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler is a director and co-founder of Koleinu, an organisation opposing abuse in the Jewish and wider community.