I consider it more than coincidental that the parshah most often read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is Ha'azinu. The first word of this Torah reading bids us to listen, and we certainly have done a great deal of that during these Holy Days.
We've listened to the chanting of the chazzan and to the rabbi's sermons; we've listened to greetings extended from the bimah and to the greetings we extend to one another. However, there is one ritual moment during our services when listening becomes a mitzvah — a ritual imperative. That is when the shofar is blown, whose blessing praises God for commanding us to hear the shofar's call.
A number of Chasidic masters have likened the shofar's call to a secret code similar to those used by the military. If this be so, then what's the message relayed by the four blasts of the shofar code? Consider the following:
Tekiah is an unbroken sound symbolizing the wholeness and blessings of our lives. Rather than taking them for granted or as our just due, we're called to appreciate them and convey God's grace by sharing them with others.
Shevarim, the three broken blasts, reminds us that even when we feel shattered by life's misfortunes or when cracks appear in the moral vessel of our character, the sacred call remains with us. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed in God's name: I have raised and exalted children who've transgressed against me. The implication is clear: Even when we sin, God still calls us children of the divine.
Teruah sounds a call to alarm and engagement. These nine staccato cries remind us that God is only absent when we remain indifferent to life's course. Through engagement, God's presence again becomes apparent. If we recognize — even in the midst of a bad patch — that this is not how I wish to live, these Hirhurei Teshuvah, or intimations of repentance, can turn us back toward God.
The concluding Tekiah might be the most important sound of all. It assures us that even after loss or an indiscretion, renewed wholeness is possible through teshuvah. Although different from that we experienced prior to our reversal, this new wholeness can ultimately bracket our previous sorrow. Perhaps more authentically and personally than before, we can convey the promise of God's forgiving love to those who might need it the most.
A moving example of this dynamic can be found in the story of a pilot who derailed a promising young adulthood when he began drinking in the military. Upon returning to civilian life, his alcoholism led him to fly while intoxicated, which in turn led to his decertification and imprisonment.
Like Jonah in the whale's belly, this man turned toward God and painstakingly rebuilt his life. Following years of sobriety, he amazingly regained his pilot's license. Amidst a new, chastened wholeness, this pilot serves as a guide and a model of hope to his own endangered child. "Today, one of my sons has more than 31/2 years of sobriety after nearly losing his life. He is truly one more miracle in my life … "
What is the secret of the shofar code? Every moment is a time for sacred connection. What we've broken can be made whole again. On this Shabbat after Rosh Hashanah, let us keep our antennae adjusted, our receivers on, so that we can absorb the message.
Rabbi Howard A. Addison is the religious leader of Congregation Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El in Cheltenham. E-mail him at: [email protected]