The Shofar – From Frustration to Fulfillment

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20 Aug 2018

As cognitively active beings, Man must make sense of his environment and if concepts cannot be grasped or things don’t add up, tension and frustration ensues.  For some, the challenge of confusion leads to a more concerted effort to arrive at a sensible conclusion. The mathematician’s difficulty with an equation results in rigorous mental gymnastics and a solution. For the student of Gemarah, a complex piece of Talmudic discourse brings him to a more penetrating grasp of the concepts. Gaining clarity eliminates the nagging frustration and is a tremendously satisfying experience resulting in an overwhelming sense of relief.

Complete clarity of every facet of our existence is by definition elusive to Man due to our finite intellectual capacity. However, the month of  Elul – as a preparatory stage for Rosh HaShana- is a time in which we strive toward achieving as much clarity as is humanly possible by recalibrating our priorities and attending toward improved spiritual awareness. The daily blast of the shofar in Elul is part of this phase; it is the preamble to the shofar on Rosh HaShana.

The sounds of the shofar on Rosh HaShana call us back to Matan Torah when the blasts of the shofar could be heard. Aside from those echoes, roars of thunder pervaded. Vchol ha’am ro’im et ha’kolot. (The nation saw the sounds – Shmot-2:15). The Ramchal explains that Jewish people were able to perceive the thunder so clearly that they received the auditory stimulus through their visual receptors. During  Ma’amad Har Sinai, the people were so in tune with the spirituality that existed that they were able to see that which had no physical manifestation since the experience became so real to them. Rabbi Chaim Friedlander ZT”L draws a parallel  between the Torah’s use of “ro’im” and the reference to Shmuel HaNavi as “roeh” – a prophet or “seer,” implying a deep and penetrating understanding of the world. The term “ro’eh” includes physical as well as cognitive perception. The nation enjoyed an experience when everything made sense; questions were answered; ikar and tafel did not exist as an amorphous mixture.  Matan Torah was the biggest ‘Aha’ moment in our national history when priorities were calibrated and Man was not fruitlessly attempting to fill a void with trivialities, as the ikar and the tafel were identified for what they were.

While it is difficult to grasp that Sinaitic experience and the accompanying clarity that our forefathers did, we have all gone through phases in our lives when we have become inspired – even if temporarily – to shift our focus away from the trivial. If, G-d forbid, tragedy strikes, for a brief period of time, things that previously disturbed us, such as the the rude driver or the comment that usually offends, are brushed off with a shrug since our focus has shifted from the tafel to the ikar – from the inconsequential to the consequential. Similarly, during momentous occasions in our lives such as bringing a child into this world or standing under our child’s chupah, our attention is directed toward more meaningful and purposeful endeavors and interactions. The brain power that was previously directed toward feeling slighted easily or toward engaging in trivial pursuits  has now been allocated for  important aspect of our lives – to those things that bring us closer to G-d.

Imagine these bursts of inspiration on “overdrive” – where the existential  question of life’s purpose and direction is developed to perfection.  Such was the experience of the nation at Sinai, of which we are reminded when hearing the shofar on Rosh HaShana.

The shofar brings us inspiration, when for those  moments, we focus our energies on significant issues.  Rabbi Shimshon Pincus ZT”L highlights the physical shape of the shofar. Narrow at the mouth and wide at its end, the shofar  signifies that those situations  that appear confusing and constricting will ultimately be opened wide with a breadth of understanding. In short, the shofar represents the elimination of confusion. This is the longing of every Jew –  to enjoy clarity and to arrive at answers to those questions that eluded him. Before Tekiat Shofar, we utter the words, “Min hameitzar karati K-ah” -from the constraints I call out to G-d; from the constraints of conflict, confusion and contradiction that afflict us, I call to Hashem.

Sadly, many of us are burdened with unhappiness and frustration because voids are  filled with inconsequential goals. The shofar is part of the remedy; it is the beacon that aids in our navigation toward a more meaningful existence, when the narrow hole will be opened wide with comprehension. Thus we begin our New Year with a journey of exchanging the transient for the transcendent and the profane for the sublime.

Aside from representing Matan Tora, the shofar reminds us that those blasts will herald our future and ultimate redemption. There will come a day when all the fleeting moments of inspiration from our past will become a permanent state of existence. Mashiach will be that final and lasting ‘Aha’ moment. Our focus will shift such that our upside down world of important and unimportant/moral and immoral will be reoriented and our spiritual vertigo will be alleviated. Frustration from misplaced efforts will be replaced with relief and satisfaction as we focus our energies on bringing us closer to our Creator. The time of Mashiach is when Man will not just hear the word of G-d, but he will see or grasp His voice just as we did during the Sinai experience. “Vera’u  kol basar yachdav ki pi Hashem diber” (And all flesh together  will see that the voice of G-d has spoken – Yeshaya – 40:5).

May the blowing of the shofar this coming New Year bring us sharper vision and purpose as well the call of the ultimate Shofar Gadol.