Monday, September 3, 2012

Shofar Practice

[I wrote this five years ago, in a different venue, when I was still a synagogue rabbi. It's one of my favorite posts, so I decided to bring it over here. I edited mildly, to preserve anonymity of anyone mentioned in the original post.]

Rosh HaShanah is coming; I know, because Shofar Practice started today.

Shofar Practice - it's like MLB Spring Training without the steroids, NFL Mini-Camp without the salary holdouts, NBA pre-season without the high school kids who all think they're the next Jordan. When Shofar Practice starts, there is no drama; it's just you, and the horn.

("Just let it happen, be the horn. Be the horn, Rabbi. You're not being the horn, Rabbi."

"Well, it's kind of difficult with you talking like that."

And I must include the song here, as well.)

Batten down the hatches, Rosh HaShanah's here. It's been here, coming closer, for weeks now, but as of today it's really here.

I know it's here, because I had to pull out the shofar and practice for Elul this afternoon. You can pretend there are five weeks left in the Shiva d'Nechemta, but I know better. Rosh HaShanah is knocking at the door, and it isn't going to care whether I answer or not. It's going to huff and puff on the old shofar and blow my house in.

When I was eight or nine years old, I used to live in dread of Summer Camp; I vividly remember nights when I went to sleep hoping I would die before the summer, so I wouldn’t have to go to camp. My dread of Rosh HaShanah doesn’t move me quite that far - but perhaps only because I have my own children to think about now, and I would hate to do that to them.

How can a tokeia (shofar blower) concentrate on his own teshuvah while he blows the shofar? Obviously, they’re all much better at this than I am. I spend those moments worrying about the mechanics, about generating a clear sound, about not embarrassing myself. Which is why I blow only for Elul, not for Rosh haShanah.

Rosh HaShanah: The day when I have to find a way to motivate hundreds of people to take their judgment seriously.

Rosh HaShanah: The day when the fate of my community of so many physically needy, financially needy, emotionally needy, religiously needy, will be determined.

Rosh HaShanah: The day when I have to be judged, myself.

A lot of the trick is just in getting the Shofar seated properly. If it’s in wrong, all the blowing in the world won’t help. If it’s in right, the gentlest puff generates a smooth, powerful sound. There’s a nimshal (allegorical lesson) in there somewhere.

Soon I'll get the phone calls asking, "I'm five months pregnant, do I fast?" "I'm nursing, do I fast?" "What about my asthma medication?" "Heart medication?" "Insulin?" "Prozac?" I'm glad they ask, and I'm grateful to those who actually ask before the morning of Erev Yom Kippur, but each question puts my nerves a little further on edge, makes me a little more tense.

I put the Shofar to my lips and blow the first blast, and it's tentative because my lips vibrate and they kind of jump back, startled, from the weird feeling of these vibrations. I get nervous, against my better judgment; will I be able to blow well, or will I have trouble?

I spoke to our Lulav and Esrog vendor last week, to lock in prices. We’ve set the shul schedule through Yom Kippur; tomorrow, I’ll work on Succos.

I want to blow Shofar with the tallis over my head, befitting the solemnity of the moment, but my nerves get in the way.

Rosh HaShanah is coming. I am so not ready.

The other day, someone remarked to me that Elul is coming early this year. I think he must have been joking; Elul comes early every year.

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