Be the Shofar

By Rabbi Daniel Allen

This year my hope is that each of us who work within the Jewish Community will not just hear the sounds of a shofar but in fact be a shofar: a unique voice sounding calls of leadership, guidance, and creativity in our communities and work places. Our people need us to be shofarot now more than ever sounding the calls our people need to hear.

On Rosh Hashanah we are commanded to hear the sound of the shofar. So what are the sounds of the shofar and whose voice is being heard in its sounds?

The shofar has three sounds. Tekiah is the strong steady sound of the shofar. It is a constant, clear, and unbroken long note. The Shevarim is three notes equal in length to the Tekiah. Kabbalists teach us that it is the sound of the crying Jewish heart yearning to grow. Teruah is nine short staccato notes, again equaling the length of one Tekiah. Tradition explains that Teruah is like an alarm clock waking us in order to bring focus, clarity of thought, and an awareness of our surroundings and responsibilities. And, just as importantly, are the places of silence between the blasts.

The voice of the shofar, the specific tones and coloring of the sounds of the shofar are not mandated. It is not like musical notes where each note of the clef and position must be identically produced on each instrument. The Otzer Hachaim tells us that a shofar may produce a sound that is thick or thin. Each shofar by design has its own unique sound.

Being a shofar is giving voice to the dreams, desires, and hopes of the Jewish people. When we sound Tekiah we are calling for a national purpose, for collective action, for the ongoing normal routines and campaigns that provide continuity for our communities and our people. When we sound Shevarim, our message is one of growth, managing change, and helping our colleagues understand and navigate the complexity of Jewish life. Shevarim should be our voice of inclusion, of pluralism, and of unity, not unanimity. It is the message of the Jewish heart.

And when we sound Teruah we are calling our communities to action, to planning, to engagement with the larger society in which we live. We are calling for social action that brings with it the clarity of Jewish thought for us and for the world. We are sounding the wakeup call for equity, equality, and even deeper engagement for our people and with all peoples.

Each individual, by being a shofar, is sounding the same calls of unity, diversity, and action. Yet just as each shofar has a different sound that activates those principles, so too must each Jewish leader listen to their inner shofar, to determine what their own voice will be in the coming year.

And we must remember those silent spaces between the notes, as well. The spaces of silence, the Kol Demamah Dakah, bring us the opportunity for reflection, for contemplation, and dealing with our own doubts, even as leaders.

A shofar is but an instrument. When sounded properly by a skilled Baal Tekiah, it is a holy instrument. We, as the shepherds, guides, leaders and prodders of our communities are also Klay Kodesh, holy instruments. Being a worker in the fields and vineyards of our people and our organizations is holy work. Our work demands we be holy voices for the better of our people and our world. So this year, do not only listen to the sounds of a shofar, be a shofar.

As we learn in Psalms 89:16, “Fortunate is the nation that knows the sound of the shofar.”

Rabbi Daniel Allen is the Executive Vice Chairman Emeritus of the United Israel Appeal. He served as a Senior Vice President of the Jewish Federations of North America, CEO of the Masorti Foundation and the Association of Reform Zionists of America.