The shofar is the most widely recognized symbol of Rosh Hashanah, and has been synonymous with Judaism since antiquity, when it was used to marl Jewish graves more often than the Star of David. So how we use the shofar probably says something larger than the evocative drama it provides on the High Holidays. From this single instrument, we will hear as many as 100 different kolot, literally voices in Hebrew, as we carry on this ancient tradition of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. And it’s all about listening — to the many voices which flow out of a single instrument, and deepening our ability to appreciate them all.
The blessing recited before the shofar is blown, is on the hearing of its notes as a kol, a single voice. Even the one who blows the shofar makes the blessing – not on producing its sounds, but on taking them all in as one. In an increasingly divided world, this is not a bad practice for the other 363 days of the year as well.
But if it is all about oneness, why so many different sounds? And why repeat the blowing at so many points in the service? Wouldn’t one giant blast of the ancient ram’s horn be enough? That depends on how we listen. Will we listen to the many blasts as individual sounds, or as a growing symphony?
As we prepare ourselves to hear the shofar’s notes for the first time in the New Year, we recite the words from Psalm 118, From narrowness I called out to God, and was answered with expansiveness. That is the move which the sounds of the shofar invite us to make.
Will we open ourselves up to the many sounds that can be produced from this one horn? Will we locate the narrowness in our own lives, helping them become places of expansiveness? Will we consider the many possibilities which can emanate from a single source, be it a shofar, a community, the Torah, or even the U.S. Constitution?
When we make this shift, we will feel more deeply connected even to those with whom we disagree. We will discover insights in positions different from our own, and experience the renewal that we seek and the strength that we need to better ourselves and our world.