The month of Elul (which was last month) precedes Rosh Hashanah each year. During that month of reflection as we prepare, we are told to hear the shofar each day as a wake-up to get ready. I have often said it is also a time for the shofar blower (baal toke’ah) to practice, which is important no matter what instrument you play. I am reminded often that we are the People of the Book or really the People of the Books, but we are also the “people of the sages, rabbis, Jewish educators, teachers, philosophers, etc.” Judaism has been kept alive through interpretation upon interpretation. We continue to search for deeper meaning that resonates with us or maybe just shine a new light or give a different bit of information.
What does this have to do with the shofar? I’ve been reading and reading and found some things I had not heard before and loved the info enough to share. Here is what I learned about from a post from Chabad.org by Menachem Posner — sometimes there is learning in the details (this is for all who love the TV show “How It’s Made”)!
• A shofar is the horn of an animal: Many animals have horns, made of keratin, which can be hollowed out by removing the bone and tissue found inside. When the tips of the horns are either removed or drilled through, a sound can be produced. With the exception of the horn of a bovine (which is known as keren), or antlers (which are not true horns), the horns of all kosher animals are considered kosher.
• It may be the longest continuously played instrument: From the Biblical era until today, shofar has been blown regularly, very possibly making it the oldest instrument still in use.
• Shofars are often manipulated with heat: A typical ram’s shofar is not shaped exactly as it was while it grew on the ram’s head. Part of the shofar-making process involves heating the shofar to the point that it becomes pliable, at which point the tip is straightened out to make for easier gripping and blowing. In addition, the shofar is often sanded down and polished with decorative notches carved onto its spine.
• The shofar is played on the right: We read that Satan stands at the right side to accuse a person before God. Among other things, the piercing blasts of the shofar serve to “confuse” Satan. It is thus ideal that the shofar blower should position the shofar to the right side of his mouth.
What does this have to do with being Jewish? We keep learning, searching, sharing and more to deepen our connection and this beginning of the new year is a perfect time to commit to new learning. I am excited to be teaching a new course in our Melton program. It is called “Members of the Tribe” and is a six-lesson course beginning in October. It is a great Zoom learning opportunity. If you are interested, reach out to me. For now, learn all you can about the holidays to enhance your experience at this unique time.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.