In shul this morning we began the custom of blowing the Shofar, after morning prayers. This ancient custom coincides with the new Jewish month of Elul. (However you will not see this moon-related custom discussed on CNN, as we are a measly statistical error in the world’s population count.)
Why do we begin blowing the Shofar – traditionally heard on Rosh Hashanah – a whole month in advance?
There are several reason that resonate with me: The Shofar is likened to a spiritual alarm clock. The 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur are to be a time of soul-searching, and repentance. The Shofar’s sound reminds me that I have to do the spiritual and humanitarian work needed before the Day of Atonement.
The Shofar is also a signal of victory and freedom. I am pretty confident that if I do my job of seeking forgiveness from people I have wronged in the previous year, that God will forgive me. All these efforts to redress wrongdoing in the previous year are taken into account before we enter the New Year.
The Shofar is also a call to assembly for the entire community of Jews. Wherever we are on the Jewish spectrum of observance and identification, Rosh Hashanah serves to bring us together. No one is too removed to hear the sound of the Shofar, and no prerequisite is mandatory. The Shofar’s sound on Rosh Hashanah doesn’t distinguish – it works on all of us and ideally brings us all together.
So if you have not participated in the custom of hearing the Shofar blown in the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah — my advice to you is not to miss this chance. You can go to a shul where they blow it – or blow your own shofar. Personally, there is nothing prepares me spiritually and emotionally for the work needed to be done at this junction in the year more than the simple, piercing, haunting and beautiful sound of the Shofar.