Shofar anatomy

Let me start here. I adore the shofar and have always done so. I think it’s one of the best Jewish experiences. I love it for many reasons but primarily, I think, because it’s not verbal, it’s not orderly, it’s not an intellectual occupation. It’s all sensible, in the old-fashioned sense of that word–one apprehends it through the senses.

This, of course, is in contrast to so much of Judaism which takes place inside one’s head. We are learners and thinkers and deal with the world using those talents. The shofar comes at us cross-wise and shakes us out of that mode of being.

Sometimes, I can feel the shofar in my bones. I like to listen to it with my palms open, having put my machzor down, and sometimes my fingers tingle from the vibrations of the call. I’m fortunate to have learned some of the traditional explanations attached to the shofar — the ten reasons that Sa’adia Ga”on gives for blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, a bunch of the midrashim about the connection to the ‘aqeidah. But I am thinking of none of that while I’m listening to the shofar. I try, as far as possible, purely to listen.

We are smashed in the face with our creaturely frailty during the prayers for R”H. We are withering buds, fleeting clouds, blossoming dust. The teqiah–the long singular sound–is a call to order or to action. But the intermediate sounds–shvarim and truah–are interpreted traditionally as representing different kinds of sobs and cries.

But this year, the various calls sounded on the shofar reminded me of the human body in a different sense. Somehow I thought this year of the long call, the teqiah, as being like the bones that are our framework. The sobbing three notes of the tru’ah seems to me to be plopped in place like our flesh and organs. And the stuttering notes of the shvarim made me think of the blood and fluids dancing in our veins and arteries. The final long teqi’ah gedolah, which ended each of the collective sequences of 30, 30, 30, and 10 calls, seemed to me like a triumphant acknowledgment of the whole created person, coherent and sentient, and able to act in the world of God’s creation.

Have an easy fast and a gmar khatimah tovah.



One comment on “Shofar anatomy

  1. Stephen Albert says:

    Nice. A very sensory, experiential description; nicely removed from the life of the abstract and the intellectual. We don’t have enough of that in our tefillah. Most of our Jewish sensory experience is about eating! And yet the Sh’ma doesn’t say think about this. It says “Listen.”

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