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8 Elul 5783

Teachings from our Tradition

What might our inner ear hear as the shofar is sounded?

The Talmud understands that there are two different kinds of calls that the shofar is supposed to sound: One is the tekiah, the long clarion call, a unitary note; the second is a broken sound, a cry. The Gemara debates whether this latter is meant to be akin to a series of sighs, shevarim, or whether it is to be heard as a shattering series of blasts representing an almost complete breakdown, teruah. We in fact sound both the shevarim and the teruah in order to fulfil both opinions, but we understand that there are essentially only two sounds that are mandated, one broken and one unitary.

Although it is the clarion call of the tekiah which may awaken us, it is with the fragmented sounds that our inner work begins. What we need to listen to, first of all, are the parts of ourselves that are crying, that are hurt, for so many of those acts which we come to regret arise out of our inner brokenness, our inner fragmentation, the parts of ourselves that feel unwanted, unrecognized, unappreciated, unloved. These are the wounds, the split skin scraped while trying to enter the world. It is out of our own hurt that we lash out at the world, it is out of our own sense of underachievement that jealousy overcomes our better nature, and it is our own loneliness that turns us into cynics and gossips yapping at the backs of others.

In one opinion in the Talmud, Rosh Hashanah celebrates the first day of creation. In another opinion it celebrates the sixth day, the creation of human beings. It is the human who is created in the image of God. Each of us carries within us something sacred, a hint of the divine. The call of the shofar can be heard as a call to find that sacred centre again, to remember and reconstitute our inner wholeness. Tekiah, shevarim, teruah – whole, broken, whole – the sounds play within us back and forth – shevarim, teruah, acknowledging the brokenness; tekiah, yearning toward the whole. The tekiah asks us to celebrate God’s great gift, the individual soul implanted in each of us and to see our lives as a blessing. When we
are in touch with that place, we not only experience blessing but become a blessing to the world.

See more Elul Reflections