The Call of the Shofar

August 23, 2023
By Rabbi Ita Paskind
Category: Rabbi’s Table

I’m so pleased to be back in town and at our synagogue following my incredible Sabbatical in Israel, and I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with you over the upcoming holidays.

We’re just about halfway through the month of Elul, which means that our shofarot have been getting some exercise.  Those whose spiritual practice includes morning prayers, Shacharit, have heard tekiyah, shevarim, teru’ah, tekiyah gedolah each weekday for the last 2 weeks, and these blasts will take us right until the day before Erev Rosh HaShanah.  We’ll then sound 100 notes during the morning service of Rosh HaShanah (but only on the 2nd day this year, because we don’t use the shofar on Shabbat), and we’ll get one final blast at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

We’re familiar with this pattern.  It accompanies us each year.

I have to tell you, though:  I got surprised by a shofar in July! And I’m not talking about someone trying to sell me one in a gift shop in Jerusalem, although that also happened. This shofar, tooting loudly and rather angrily, was part of the nightly political protests in Israel.  Amidst chants of “de-mo-crat-yah” (“democracy!”) and drum circles and whistles; amidst the megaphones; amidst the water cannons aimed at protesters; the blast of the shofar rang loud and clear. Tekiyah, shevarim, teru’ah, tekiyah gedolah. I found it so very poignant to see a shofar—to hear a shofar—in this context, because we know what the shofar is meant to do:  it’s meant to wake us up out of our spiritual slumber and get us back on the path of justice and righteousness.  The protesters are trying to do the very same thing—awaken all who will listen, and perhaps even those who disagree vehemently, to maintain the balance of powers in Israeli government, the very foundation of democracy in the Jewish State.

At every chance I got, I asked Israelis what they think will happen. For the time being, not much. The governing coalition continues to dig their heels into this so-called judicial reform, and huge percentages of Israelis fear that this will be the end of democracy. Eventually, they hope, the coalition will crumble and the country will head to the polls again, and perhaps there will be different outcome. There’s not much silver lining these days, unfortunately.

I’ll be sharing more reflections on this situation over the holidays, which I feel privileged to have witnessed with my own eyes and ears over this summer.  In the meantime, let us—like these passionate Israelis—lean in to the call of the shofar and try to discern the justice we must pursue, both inside ourselves and in the world around us.

I wish each of us L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu, that each of us and those we love be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for this coming year.

Rabbi Ita Paskind