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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on September 18, 2020

Every day in Elul we blow the shofar and each time the sound is somewhat jarring.  Especially now that we gather for daily minyans outside, this is especially so.  Despite being outdoors, with the sound of cars and buses whizzing by, the shofar sound sticks out with its alarming notes even more now that it is contextualized with the normal sounds of the world.  What is unique about this mitzvah?

Every mitzvah is associated with an organ. One might think that Rosh Hashanah, as the name indicates would be associated with our brains, the head! But this isn’t the case, the mitzvah of the day is shofar and that is the only mitzvah directly associated with the ear. Why is the ear the key organ to target on the first day of the year?

The ear is the only organ that has the shape of a bowl. It is an organ that receives from the outside in a way that is NOT automatic such as by sight and smell. Aside from taking in important sounds to keep you alive, such as the sound of a hiss, the ears are the organ that take in new information (granted reading is a sight endeavor technically, we talk to ourselves as we read).  A person is limited to what they are unless they can open their ears to listen to what else is out there.  If a person is willing to bring in new ideas from the outside, then life’s possibilities expand.  But those ideas can only come via curiosity. A person needs to look at the world and be bothered by the riddle of it all. If a person goes through life without awe, and without a deep yearning to seek answers to life mysteries then things remain stagnant. This is where the shofar comes in.

The shofar sound stands out.  It calls attention to itself and asks us to stay curious about life.  This is the job on Rosh Hashanah. It is to open our ears so that we can stretch beyond this year. First, though we need to feel that emptiness around us, which shouldn’t be hard this year with all it has brought.  After all, to be a kosher shofar, the horn needs to be naturally empty.  A horn that is not hollow but drilled is not called a kosher shofar.  Granted, a shofar has marrow inside of it, it is of a different material then the horn and comes out. Once it has been hollowed out, then the yearning can happen. As we start the year, let’s be bothered about  where our growth is and how the world looks, and use that yearning to create change this year.