In some ways, it is a pity that Rosh Hashanah doesn’t fall on Shabbat this year. We are going to have to listen to the shofar.
Of course, listening to the shofar blasts is one of those visceral experiences that tell us, yes, the High Holy Days have arrived. It is like hearing Avinu Malkeinu with that familiar melody or tasting apples in honey: those quintessential Rosh Hashanah experiences in the body that simultaneously ground us in this moment and bind us to other Jews in other places and times.
Traditionally, observant Jews don’t sound the shofar (or recite Avinu Malkeinu) on Shabbat. This year, Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday and Friday. But in some ways, this is the year for the shofar to fall still so that we can listen more deeply, with greater focus.
For many of us, this was a difficult summer. Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, the Me’or Eynayim, noted that suffering often has the result of narrowing our awareness, so that we become more focused on our suffering. It can become quite a nasty cycle.
Listening, really listening, is one of the things that can help take us out of that cycle. Listening takes us out of ourselves and into connection with others. But sometimes it can be confusing. We may listen for what is new or unknown. Or we may “listen” for a particular agenda, to the stories that reinforce what we think we already know. Unfortunately, that often leads us back to the cycle of suffering.
The shofar will be sounded this year in all the places Jews gather; listening to it has the potential to take us out of ourselves and into connection with others. But often we think we know what we will hear. What if instead, we listened as if we had never heard the shofar before? What if we listened for the echo of the shofar in our own hearts? What if we followed a recent teaching by Norman Fischer and listened to the silence from which the blasts emerge and to which they return? How might that inspire us, comfort us, sustain us in this upcoming year?
May the practice of listening – to the shofar, to the suffering of others, to our own hearts – help us bring an abundance of blessings to our world in the New Year! Shanah tovah!