blowing the shofar on rosh hashana
blowing the shofar on rosh hashana

The First Time I Heard The Shofar, I Cringed

The first time I heard the shofar blown I cringed, for more reasons than one.

I was fifteen and standing in a shul with women much older than me.
It was the longest I had ever spent standing in a shul, or perhaps, the longest I had ever spent standing at all.
But I didn’t mind it so much.  Everyone told me it would be difficult to remain in shul for the better half of the afternoon.
That the davenning was long, that I wouldn’t understand a lot of it.
But as long as I was there to hear shofar, I’d fill my obligation.
I had never heard a shofar before and had no idea what it sounded like.

I knew nothing of this mysterious ram’s horn; this earthly, animalistic attribute of a holiday life-stopping enough to pull the most secular from their day jobs.
This new beginning, this open door, this chance to declare G-d King of the World,

Or so I was told.

This day was meant to be a commencement, a period of transition, an open door.
Therefore, I expected something mighty, something booming and earth-shaking.

As I flipped through the pages in the siddur, I turned to see the chazzan raise the shofar to his lips.
The background chatter had silenced, a heaviness crept into the room. I glanced around and waited nervously. I had lost my place entirely at this point but was a good few moments away from becoming discouraged.

Suddenly, a high-pitched wave of soprano air traversed the mechitza.

A few bites of sound, a stuttering mouth, a shaking tongue.
I was startled, caught off guard.

What’s going on?

Still, the shofar carried on; crying desperately, shaking with anxiety.
First a long, quaking call, followed by a few staccato shots into the darkness,

Repeat, repeat.
But where’s G-d? Where were the deep bellowing voices of the heavens and the angels?
Where were the prophets and our forefathers and saviors?

So when I heard the shofar blow and blow, I cringed, for a lot of reasons.
The first was simple: This was not how I expected a shofar to sound.
I expected a deep, bellowing tenor. I expected the trumpet that hollered in band class, the one that outdid all other instruments – the loudest and the proudest.

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The second reason was justifiable. I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I looked around to find faces buried in ancient pages.
But not mine.
I stood and wondered what exactly was happening.
How am I supposed to feel right now? Am I doing something wrong?

The third reason is something I still grapple with today. How can this moment of acknowledgement – of declaring G-d our King and ruler, be marked by a moment of great sorrow? Of the cries that beam from this broken ram’s horn.

This is how we greet our creator? With sorrow? With screaming?
Why aren’t we celebrating? Smiling? Singing?

Are tear-stained siddur pages the way to enter into the New Year?

Are we meant to think of self-sacrifice? Of the Akeida? Of listening to G-d no matter what?
Should I feel humbled? Full of awe? Is this raspy cry meant to remind me of my deeds?

It’s remarkable to think that one drawn out cry, one earth-shattering call from the horn of a ram, can symbolize so many different things.

Teshuva, honesty, awe, the coming of Moshiach.

A celebration.

Of course, these are things I never could’ve heard for myself,

When I heard the shofar blown for the first time.