by Rabbi Rob Kahn, Director of Academics
Young Judaea Year Course
My synagogue is not very welcoming towards young children. If a child is making noise, they get shushed. And if they start crying…doubly shushed! So, unfortunately, we don’t see too many children in our synagogue. There is, however, an exception: Shofar blowing. As the service approaches the time for shofar blowing, slowly but surely the kids walk into the synagogue and join their parents. Some are so little that they have to be held in their parents’ arms. Then the shofar blowing starts. Tekiah! Is there anything more precious than the kids’ faces, mesmerized by the shofar blowing? Wasn’t that child crying a moment ago? Or wasn’t that one running around like a maniac? Doesn’t matter. Every kid is perfectly still and silent lest they miss the blowing of the shofar.
How does this trick work? And why hasn’t every frazzled teacher and babysitter discovered this bit of magic? After all, we’re talking about a hollowed out ram’s horn. So primitive, so distant from television, smartphones, and video games. I would say “old school,” but I think it predates school. No buttons, no lights;just a simple curve. And yet, the kids, and let’s face it, we adults too, are transfixed by the shofar and its cries.
Yes, the shofar cries.
In the Talmud, we learn that the sounds of the shofar are like different types of cries. There is wailing, sobbing, and moaning, and there are combinations as well. It’s hard to demonstrate in writing, but try to fake cry and then really let it out with a sob. That’s Shevarim-Teruah!
So what’s the lesson from the attention-grabbing crying shofar? From an early age, we are taught to be extra sensitive to the sound of a cry. To listen attentively…and to respond! This is the Jewish mission. Avraham and Sarah were given this mission in the generation after the flood, when the world was trying to rebound from lawlessness and corruption. If we, as a people, are chosen, then we are chosen to bring goodness and blessing and healing to today’s fractured and violent world. We use the wisdom of Torah, with its emphasis on ethics, morality, and justice, as our guide.
I am honored to work as an educator with Young Judaea Year Course in Israel, where I get to teach important subjects like history of Zionism and Israel, and the Comparative Religions of Jerusalem. And while the content in these courses fascinates me, I often have to remember that the underlying reason for spending the year in Israel studying, volunteering, and touring is to reemphasize the Jewish mission of responding to the world’s cries. Ultimately, the Year Course experience has to make these Jewish young adults more prepared for making Israel or their eventual community a better place.
And for those moments when the world seems so absolutely broken and the cries seem overwhelming, I offer the following story:
Every night when a certain man came home from work, his children would run and jump into his arms, and ask, “Daddy, will you play with us? Please, Daddy, will you?” And almost every night this man played with his son and his daughter, sharing games and books and toys. One night, the father was very, very tired. So instead of rushing to play with his children, he sat down in a comfortable chair, opened his newspaper, and began to read. As on every other night, his children asked, “Daddy, will you play with us tonight?” But on this night, the man replied, “Oh, not tonight. I am so tired. I just don’t have the strength to play with you tonight. You understand, don’t you?” The children did understand that their father was tired, but they really wanted him to play with them. So they kept asking. But their father’s reply did not change.
Finally, to keep his son and daughter busy – and to get a little peace and quiet from their never-ending questions – the father took a whole page out of his newspaper. Printed on the page was a map of the whole world. The father took scissors and cut the map into many small pieces. Then he said to his children, “Here is a puzzle of the map of the world. Why don’t you go and put the puzzle together?”
The father thought that the children would be gone for a long time, but they were back in just a few minutes. The father was amazed, and asked, “You finished the puzzle already? How did you do it? The map of the world is so large and difficult. How did you put it together so quickly?”
The little girl replied, “It was easy.” And her brother added, “On the back of the picture of the world was a picture of a person. We just put the person together, and the whole world fell right into place.”
This story reminds us that the daunting task of repairing the world starts with one person hearing the cry of a single individual,and responding. May the mesmerizing cries of the shofar give us the strength and the wisdom and the ability to put this world back together, and may we one day live in peace.