Did you ever notice that the slightest whisper can become a roar, as everybody strives to hear what their neighbor is saying over what their other neighbors are saying? If you’ve ever come to the bimah on the High Holy Days, you’ve seen how every little whisper combined with every other little whisper can become a disproportional noise — a veritable din of inequity!
The rabbis tell us that it is an important mitzvah for each and every Jew to hear the sounds of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. But how can you hear them when the roar of the crowd all but drowns out the calls of the shofar? I have been in synagogues on the High Holy Days (ours excluded, of course), where the talking didn’t even pause or diminish during the shofar sounding. In fact, it became louder, so people could continue their conversations despite the piercing blasts.
The rabbis didn’t intend the shofar-sounding to interrupt serious discussions of the meaning of the day. However, the rabbis did intend the shofar-sounding to be an interruption of our complacency, of business as usual. They meant it to grab our attention in a striking, startling manner, and to alert us that this day was somehow different and of greater significance than all other ordinary days.
There is a saying, b’rov am hadrat melekh—in the multitude of the people, the king is honored. Rosh Hashanah is, among other things, an annual recoronation of God as our sovereign, our king of kings. The king’s arrival is heralded by a trumpet fanfare, which alerts the people to be ready for his appearance. How many “color” commentators do we need for the coronation? Surely, we don’t need more than one per network, one per pew, or perhaps just one for the “pool” coverage.
Once a congregant asked me why we stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down, over and over again during the long services on the High Holy Days. I replied that, in my opinion, this was to assure that we stay awake and alert and have something to do other than carry on conversations. There’s nothing mystical or magical about that. But there is something mystical, magical, and majestic about the coronation call of the shofar clamoring for the congregation’s attention. Wouldn’t it be a shame to sit in shul all day, only to miss the main event because we were unable to hear the call of the coming of the king over the noise of our own conversations?
Let’s put things in their proper perspective for the new year. When the shofar sounds, it sounds for you. Will you hear it? Will you heed it? Listen for the sound of the shofar. Watch for the coming of the King. “Happy is the people that knows how to listen to the sound of the shofar, for they walk in the light of God’s presence.”
L’Shannah Tovah Tikateyvu.
Rabbi Gerald B. Weiss is rabbi of the Beth Ami Congregation in Boca Raton, Florida