Religious Life

Traveling Shofar – A Weekly Letter from Rabbi Davis – August 31, 2018

Shalom Chaverim,

I recently returned from a family vacation in Oregon. As I was packing for the trip, I suddenly realized that I would be traveling in the month of Elul. Throughout this month, it’s customary to sound the shofar every morning to prepare for the coming holidays. My kids suggested that I simply download an app and use my phone to blow the shofar. But that didn’t seem right. Luckily, I have a small shofar that just fits in my tallit bag. I took it along and wherever we were, each morning I blew the shofar. In hotel rooms, I blew it softly so as not to disturb other guests. On the porch of a cabin on a lake, I could let it rip.

My experience traveling with a shofar reminds me of another story.

Once, there was a rabbi who set off on a journey at sea to a distant land. He had hoped to arrive before Rosh Hashanah. But disaster struck; a huge storm hit the ship. The storm pounded the ship. The sailors bailed the water. All the while, the rabbi sat in his study below the deck praying. The storm grew stronger and stronger. Soon, the sailors realized that it was going to tear the boat apart. They had to inform the rabbi that they were about to drown. They knocked on his door and when he invited them in, they told him of the dire situation. Realizing that the end was near, the rabbi said, “Let’s at least perform one final mitzvah.” He pulled out his shofar and with all his might and all his spirit, blew a tekiah gedolah.  And with that, the storm receded and the waters calmed. When he regained his composure, the captain of the ship came to the rabbi and asked to buy his “magic shofar.” But the rabbi said he wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

We are not to understand the story literally, but it does contain a message for us. There are times when our world feels stormy, when life seems out of control and we feel overwhelmed. How can we calm the waters? With a shofar.

Recall, the shofar was an instrument used to gather people together. When we gather community around us, we feel more safe and secure. Community helps us face the stormy waters.

The shofar is our voice of prayer. It is a cry of pain, a call for help, a longing to be heard. When we lift our voices in prayer, when we seek support from others, the stormy waters around us recede.

Finally, the shofar announces the arrival of the messiah. In that way, it offers assurance that we can pass through the storm to calmer seas. In the face of storms, hope in tomorrow calms the waters around us.

May the shofar on Rosh Hashanah usher in a year of peace and blessing for our community and our world.

Rabbi Alexander Davis

Tuesday, September 4 | 8:00 am | Learning Center

Speaking of the shofar, join me for a unique seminar with a world-renowned expert on exotic shofarot. Live from Israel’s Biblical Museum of Natural History, Rabbi Natan Slifkin, known as the “Zoo Rabbi” will be coming to Beth El via Livestream following services on Tuesday morning, 8:00-9:00am.