Grateful for the Shofar Process
Interpretations of the shofar abound. Saadiah Gaon, a Jewish luminary of the 10th century provided ten cogent and inspiring explanations referred to widely during this High Holiday season.The fascination with the shofar has elicited countless other associations and implications.
I would like to humbly add one more.
The sounding of the shofar represents to me a fundamental spiritual process of change. Each set of sounds, and the Hebrew words that are pronounced to evoke these sounds, point to a psycho-spiritual dimension of this process.
The first sound -Tekiah - is closely related to the condition of being immobile. The Hebrew root word “takoah,” is defined colloquially as ‘stuck.’ We cry out the sound -Tekiah- calling for help, hoping that somehow someone will throw us a life line, a rope, a cable, and yank us out of the mire of our stuckedness.
How does this experience of pulling ourselves out of the place of feeling that we are trapped, that we can’t make any headway towards a new possibility in our lives, find some resolution internally so that we can begin to feel some looseness, some lightness, some emerging glimmers of freedom?
The shofar process invites us to recognize the next step. “Shevarim”-brokenness, the root word “shavor,” to break, contained in the instruction. When we allow ourselves to feel our brokenness, without fear, shame or a sense of inadequacy, then we discover that we can slowly slip out of place of paralysis and move in the direction of greater openness and acceptance, one which lifts the onus of an intolerable weight from our souls. Moreover, the psychological function of “breaking apart,” of “partializing,” can ease the overwhelmingness of being stuck in a place of over-generalization, of experiencing a particular life circumstance as absolute, unchanging and unchangeable. The hardness of ‘Tekiah’, with its rigid and static brittleness can be softened and made nimble with the permission to be broken, imperfect, incomplete.In the words of Ernest Hemingway,
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.”
The non-judgmental awareness of human imperfection and brokenness allows us to understand and accept that so much of life is unstable, hanging on a thread, shaky and uncertain. The”Teruah “ comes along-its root-”ra- oah”- wobbly, flimsy, tottering- further instills in our hearts the wisdom of life’s impermanence and fleetingness. The teruah’s definition of crushing and shattering takes the three sounds of shevarim and lengthens them to a total of nine, the parts of life’s puzzle being shattered into even tinier fragments and components.The picture puzzle of our lives has been disassembled. We stand at the crossroads of a new opportunity to reassemble the broken, shattered fragments of our life.
At last we sound the final note of the shofar process-”Tekiah gedolah!” -the great tekiah ! This is much more than a temporal length of sound; tekiah’s inherent definition contains the concept of connecting, of plugging into, something of greatness-‘gadol.‘ How do we put back together the pieces of our lives? How do we create a coherent picture of ourselves and life using the myriad components of mind, body and heart?
Tekiah gedolah-the process announces the crescendo instruction of -take heed, pay attention-”shema” -listen carefully to these notes of spiritual dynamic movement, to the greatness and largeness of the universe, and the inner, infinite , authentic self, the capacity of the human soul to achieve greatness , even divinity. Essentially, the lens of this awareness of life’s greatness is linked to our ability to say thank you, to praise in the face of all things. Thus gratitude becomes the spiritual insight by which the disassembled pieces of life’s puzzle can be reassembled as interlocking components that fit into a place of unity and clarity, completing a picture of beauty and security.