The shofar is one of the most recognized symbols of the Rosh Hashana holiday, and its sound is one of the defining features of the prayer service.
Like the wail of an ambulance siren, the sound cuts through. It pierces the white noise of idle chatter and forces us to stop and notice. It leaves a silence in its wake.
During the prayer service, we describe the impact:
A great shofar is sounded, and a still, small voice is heard.
The literal translation for the Hebrew is:
A great shofar is sounded, and a thin moment of silence is heard.
Within a high holiday prayer services filled with words — services generally last several hours — these words always stand out for me. It so beautifully describes the feeling in any temple when the shofar is sounded.
Today is the first day of Rosh Hashana, but there will be no shofar sounds. We will have an absence of the sound that creates silence.
When the first day of Rosh Hashana falls on the Sabbath, as it does this year, we don’t blow the shofar.
Of the many reasons offered for this, one in particular resonated with me:
We don’t need the Shofar on Sabbath. The Sabbath itself fills that role.
The Purpose of the Shofar
Like a meditation bell, the purpose of the shofar is to wake us from our slumber, to bring us back to ourselves. The long wail of the shofar chases away the voices of expectations and false identities. It help us return to the here and now.
In the silence of its wake, we are better able to attune to the whisperings of our soul — that still small voice within that tells us our purpose and our life’s direction.
Sabbath is already a time for going inward. The shofar calls us to pause, but on the Sabbath we are already paused. We are already attuned to our inner voice, listening to the whisperings of our soul.
The Silence is the Sound
The silence of the Sabbath is the sound that brings us inward, that helps us hear the small stirrings of our soul.
On Sabbath, the sound of the shofar is not necessary to bring us to silence.
The silence of the Sabbath is the sound that penetrates our experience, that calls us back to our truth, and that helps us attune to that still, small, voice within.
You don’t have to be Jewish to find this silence. The ability to choose to pause and find our still, small voice within is available to everyone at all times.