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The Shofar solo: Preparing to celebrate

August 11, 2018

The unique sound of the shofar is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever heard it. For many of us, it triggers a wave of memories and associations. But let’s think about the ram’s horn for a moment as a musical instrument. Traditionally, the shofar that is sounded on Rosh Hashanah is a solo instrument, not an ensemble. Why is the sound of the shofar the sound of one, lone voice?

Let me tell you a story. A 5-year-old boy once wanted to play with his father. The father suddenly noticed a magazine with a picture of the world on the cover. He tore off the cover, ripped it into 100 tiny pieces and handed the pieces to the boy.

“It’s a puzzle,” said the father. “Put together the picture of the world, and then I will come play with you.”

The father assumed that this would keep the child busy for a long time.

In five minutes, the boy came back and said, “Daddy, come look! It’s finished.”

“How did you do that so quickly?” asked the father.

“It was easy,” said the boy. “On the other side of the page, there was a picture of a person. When I put the person together, the world just fell into place.”

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as the anniversary of the sixth day of creation, the day of the creation of the first human being (not “man,” mind you. The Hebrew word “adam” is not gender specific and the original “adam,” we are told, was equally male and female.)

The Talmud asks: “Why was the first human created alone?”

The Talmud answers: “To teach us that one person is an entire world.”

So the lesson on Rosh Hashanah is that one person is a world. Put the person together and the whole world falls into place.

And this is also the poignant symbolism of the shofar as a solo instrument.

How do we celebrate the birthday of the whole world? By looking outside of ourselves? Or by looking inward? The message of Rosh Hashanah is that if we want to put the whole world together we must begin by focusing on our own growth as individuals. It is the simple sound of a single shofar that puts us in this frame of mind.

Rabbi Shais Taub will be at the Santa Fe Jewish Center-Chabad on Aug. 17-18. To RSVP, visit santafejcc.com/Joy or call 505-983-2000. Rosh Hashanah 2018 begins sunset Sept. 9, and ends at nightfall Sept. 11.

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