Rabbi Mark Glickman: Being the sounds of the Shofar – On having a blast the Jewish way

By Rabbi Mark Glickman

Rabbi Mark Glickman

(Calgary) – If you do it right, you will be just like the blasts of the shofar this Rosh Hashanah.

The shofar – the beautiful, curved ram’s horn that we are commanded to hear during our celebration of the Jewish New Year – calls us to remember God’s sovereignty, God’s memory of what we have done, and God’s great promise for a messianic future. It is customarily blown one hundred times each Rosh Hashanah, each blast invoking one of these great themes.

And as many of us know, a good baal tekiah (shofar blower) can get a great sound out of that bent horn, one that seems to penetrate not only our hearts, but the very vault of heaven with its plaintive cry.

And yet, however magnificent those shofar blasts sound, they usually fall apart as we hear them.

The first call is tekiah – one loud blast, strong and true. It’s all put together, just like we each tend to be when we first step into the synagogue during the Days of Awe. We come in whole, unbroken, and together, just like a good tekiah blown out of a shofar.

Right on the heels (so to speak) of the tekiah is the second blast – shevarim. It’s just like a tekiah, but divided into three parts. dahDAH-dahDAH-dahDAH! It’s broken, fragmented, perhaps even damaged.

As people, we usually try to avoid brokenness; understandably, we don’t want to be damaged. But, for us Jews, Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, a period during which we each must look at ourselves, acknowledge our shortcomings, and improve them. That’s a gut-wrenching process, because it means being vulnerable and owning up to our faults. It means working to change ourselves, even when our less-than-desirable ways have become entrenched habits. It means breaking ourselves down – moving from tekiah to shevarim – and that can hurt.

And then, it gets even rougher, for the next shofar blast is teruah – nine or more staccato beats, a shattered cry.

Might it be that in order to really grow, in order to really improve our ways and become the best people we can be, we need to experience just such a shatteredness? Might it be that teruah represents the extreme vulnerability and helplessness that repentance demands. Certainly, this is something we try to avoid all year long, but maybe the difficult work of Rosh Hashanah calls upon us to experience teruah moments of our own, letting ourselves fall apart for a time so that we can reassemble the shards of our former self into something better than it was before.

And then, last of all, comes the final blast – tekiah gedolah, the Great Tekiah. This final sounding of the shofar is just like a tekiah, but it’s stretched out, lasting as long as the breath of the baal tekiah holds out. It represents the great hope that these days can offer us. Wholeness, grandeur, and majesty of self.

 Tekiah, shevarim, teruah. Like the blasts of the shofar, we may fall apart these days. After all, looking at ourselves and charting the course to a better tomorrow is tough work. But, when we succeed, we emerge from these days like a walking tekiah gedolah – a fully embodied blast of energy ready to face the world, whose spirit can ascend to the very vault of heaven.

May each of us reach our tekiah gedolah moments this Rosh Hashanah, and may you each have a good, sweet New Year.

 Rabbi Mark Glickman is the spiritual leader at Temple B’nai Tikvah in Calgary.


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