The Shofar’s Wake-up Call

Yael Eckstein  |  September 17, 2020

Blowing the shofar

But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” — Genesis 3:9

At sundown on Friday, Sept. 18, my family will join Jews around the world in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. My devotions this week focus on this very holy day, a time when our attention is on repentance and starting afresh.

One of my earliest memories is standing next to my father, wrapped with him in his prayer shawl, on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, listening to the sound of the shofar reverberate through the synagogue. The shofar, made from a ram’s horn, is the trumpet that we are directed to sound on this holy day every year. Even then, while I had not yet learned anything about the meaning of the trumpet blasts, I could sense that I was listening to something otherworldly and holy.

According to Jewish sages, the purpose of the shofar is to serve as a sort of alarm clock — God’s alarm clock. It is intended to wake us up from our spiritual slumber so that we might take stock of our lives and reassess the direction in which we are headed.

Human nature is to fall asleep at the proverbial wheel from time to time. We have our daily routines and obligations that can easily become mindless habits. As days turn into weeks and weeks into months, we can sometimes find ourselves heading in a direction that we never intended. We can forget what is most important to us and overlook the mistakes we might be making.

The piercing, soulful sound of the shofar serves as an awakening and a call to reassess our lives.

According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah takes place on the very day that the first man and woman were created. On that very same day, they sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge and were confronted by God, who asked, “Where are you?” Of course, God knew exactly where Adam and Eve were hiding. His question was really, “Where are you spiritually? Have you noticed that you have strayed from me?”

Ever since then, Rosh Hashanah has become a time of intense introspection in the Jewish faith. The shofar beckons us to consider where we are spiritually and how we might have strayed from God and our true selves. It is a time for reflection and repentance.

In Hebrew, the word for repentance is teshuva, a word that also means “to return.” The sound of the shofar requires that we question where we are in our lives, and it is a clarion call to find our way back home again.

Your turn:

Set aside some time for contemplation and reflection. Determine what changes might correct the course of your life.

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