As part of the New Year celebrations, we Jews trumpet a ram’s horn, called a shofar. The sounds range from a triumphal blast celebrating the coronating of The King (ie G-d), to the jagged cries of a child (ie us) yearning for our Father.
Just two days ago, I was spending the holiday with the Ferris family (may they live an be well) in Berkeley, when a new friend plopped down on the sofa beside me and inquired (as if I was supposed to know!), “Why is the shofar small at one end and wider at the other?”
“Do you want a physical explanation or a spiritual answer,” I asked.
“Whatever you want to give.”
As I sat there doubting whether my dim memory of high school physics was up to a scientific explanation, I was inspired to offer this: “To remind us that even the smallest act of kindness, like the breath as it travels outward and away from us, can have large and profound effects, transforming the world into a better place.”
“Interesting that you should say, ‘act of kindness’.”
Which got me thinking more kabbalistically: in the sounding of the shofar, we have the warm breath (or ruach, which also means spirit in Hebrew and can be seen as the sefirah of chesed or lovingkindness) traveling through a cold, rigid ram’s horn (which we can think of as the sefirah of gevurah, or strictness), and the resulting trumpeting can be seen as harmonizing beauty (which corresponds to the sefirah of teferes). (I’m no kabbalist, but I know enough to be dangerous!)
The diffuse breath, by itself, has little discernible effect on the world, and an inert ram’s horn even less. But together, they can make a penetrating sound, a beautiful call to the soul to awaken once again, a call to return to G-d and celebrate His Kingship.
And as I mulled over this idea (which had only popped into my head as my friend had asked his question) it occurred to me that I could apply this insight to my own life in a slightly different way: The circumstances of my life can sometimes feel confining and rigid, like the ram’s horn. I chafe at having to get a 9-5 job, or perhaps I dread a particularly challenging relationship that I need to deal with.
Rather than retreating from these challenges, or resenting the burdens, perhaps I need to embrace the circumstances, call forth more spirit from my soul, and step into these narrow spaces more fully, with my innermost being. And then maybe, like the shofar, my life will come alive with a mighty and awesome sound, a tribute fit for the coronation of The King.
I suspect that is the invitation The Master is issuing to me, to all of us.
May we find the inspiration within ourselves to respond to the call.