Perfectly Imperfect: The Secret of the Shofar
The path to true acceptance is unlocked by the shofar.
Our humble shofar, barely capable of modulating its tone, makes a surprisingly powerful impact. It serves as a bugle-call inspiring us to repentance. At the same time it joyfully trumpets the coronation of our King on Rosh Hashanah. In many places throughout the Torah and our prayers the shofar is linked to liberation and redemption. And the Sages teach – enigmatically – that through the mitzvah of sounding it on Rosh Hashanah we are inscribed for a good judgment.
What is the secret behind the shofar that unites all these themes?
The Code of Jewish Law teaches that a shofar which develops a hole or a flaw remains fully kosher, even if the hole alters its sound. Because all sounds are valid for a shofar. (See O.C. 586:6-7 and M.B. ad loc.)
I found this fascinating. Somehow, I sensed there was a valuable message here.
Jewish sources (in particular Rav Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin) teach that this simple blast resonates in the recesses of a Jewish heart. Its sound touches a chord and something profound starts to awaken within. Because the shofar reflects our deepest call of all: the wordless cry of the Jewish soul that longs to rise above limitation and return to closeness with its Divine source, its closeness to God.
However, when approaching the High Holy days – and even when standing before the King of Kings on Rosh Hashanah – we sometimes struggle to feel this in our prayers, similar to a shofar that refuses, at times, to emit a decent sound.
We yearn to express our deepest spiritual self but our hearts are sometimes unwilling to open and feel. Distractions from our surroundings or from our lives can dominate our thoughts. We say words we know could be filled with meaning; we see others who seem to have found passionate prayer. And sometimes we question the value of our own prayer, unsure of how God receives words which seem so flat and uninspired.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
"All sounds are kosher" – not only for the shofar, but for the heart as well.
Yes, the air might not be flowing smoothly through my shofar. There may be a hole, a lack. My spiritual connection might not be flowing easily into my heart.
But the truth is: "All sounds are kosher" – not only for the shofar, but for the heart as well.
Because God wants me to speak genuinely. To have an intimate conversation with Him. True, He is an awe-inspiring, unfathomable King. But as King He is also infinitely loving and merciful. And He just so happens to be my Father too...
He wants me to connect and come close. And He wants to hear the authentic words that flow from my heart – wherever it happens to be today.
He welcomes the sound that comes from even an 'imperfect' heart.
According to the text of the Rosh Hashanah prayer, God "hears the sound of the shofar-blast of His people Israel with compassion".
I believe this means: He hears deeper. He senses the muffled but real desire behind our most humble of calls. He knows the intentions hidden within our words.
He listens with the love and understanding of One who knows our essence, Who gives us the constant gift of life and is guiding us to our destiny. Who truly knows our challenges, our triumphs, our falls.
He knows what we truly want, even when the words do not come easily to us, even when we struggle to focus or feel. He knows we want to connect and to come home.
Yes, God cherishes my every word. He accepts me and loves me as I am today – even though He understands I have a long growth-journey lying ahead.
So I draw courage and stand face-to-face with my limitations, without shrinking or running. I allow for honest remorse. Here is my place of Now.
I accept my emotional and spiritual state and I choose to make the most powerful statement a Jew can make: God, I am Yours! I accept Your Will. Whatever I feel, wherever I am. I crown You as my King in every situation.
Of course, acceptance does not mean becoming complacent. I still need to honestly evaluate my life and reflect on how I want to act differently this coming year. It also doesn’t preclude trying my best.
But at this very moment my state of ‘now’ is my truth. This is the reality with which You, God, are presenting me right now.
So I do not fight it, nor do I let my inner critic deflate me or rob me of my faith. I accept this imperfect reality. I will serve You from this place.
Because that's exactly what He wants. “God is close... to all those who call Him with truth!" (Psalms 145).
The shofar indeed sounds the grandest of royal fanfares. It speaks our most profound acceptance of – and surrender to – His Kingship.
We can now sense a new message in the continuation of the Jewish law we quoted above:
"If one sealed the hole in the shofar with foreign (i.e. non-shofar) material it becomes pasul – invalid, even if the repair restores its original sound."
If we try to force emotion, artificially pushing to achieve that 'perfect' prayer, we are actually making our prayer less desirable to God. Because He doesn't want the perfect prayer or the perfect feeling. He wants my authentic service, perfectly imperfect. Yes, He wants me.
Could this be the secret of our precious shofar?
As we take a breath and blow, unknowing of quite what sound will emerge, we reveal our simple desire to come close and receive God’s will, in every situation. We act on the belief that our voice is always heard. That our voice is real, however it sounds externally. We declare our allegiance to truth and to essence.
In this way the shofar blast weaves into one all those threads of meaning. It is our honest coronation of God in our lives. Simultaneously, it is our call of repentance, of coming home. And it sounds redemption: it frees our spirit to express its song, casting off the silence born of self-doubt and limitation.
It is no wonder that the shofar brings a flow of Divine compassion on our nation, along with an inscription for a good and sweet year.
I wish us all a Rosh Hashanah of honest acceptance, and a powerful, true returning to God's embrace.