By Edmon J. Rodman
Is green the theme of the shofar this Rosh Hashanah season? In a year
of sustainability and carbon footprints, high gas and hybrids, the shofar is the simplest, most eco-friendly method of reaching the Jewish community with a vital message.
The shofar, if you pause to think about it,
is a rhapsody in green. Lightweight and easily
transportable, it sports no moving parts — the
shofar blower’s, or ba’al tekiah’s, own mouth
becomes the mouthpiece. Yet it’s dependable
enough to deliver the complex musical message
required to begin a new Jewish year.
A totally natural product, its availability is
a byproduct of an already ongoing ancient enterprise
— sheep herding.
Powered by one human, and empowered by
a congregation, the shofar requires no batteries,
power cord or transformer. When we hear
it, we are the ones who become transformed.
An instrument conceived thousands of years
ago, in by today’s standards a near noise-free environment,
the shofar still has the power to hold
our attention. In urban and suburban settings,
it competes against pagers, jet noise, sirens and
car alarms, holding its own without mike, amp
or speakers. Yet sans headphones or earbuds,
the shofar delivers a sound like no other, penetrating
our kishkes and our consciousness.
It’s the great proclaimer, announcing in a
low-energy way some high-energy concepts.
In Israel, the shofar’s call also was used to
introduce the Torah concept of the jubilee
year: Historically, on Yom Kippur, the shofar
announced that the land was allowed to lie fallow
while also proclaiming “liberty throughout
the land” and the release of all servants.
The jubilee in Hebrew, “yovel,” is derived
from the Hebrew word for ram’s horn — “yobel.”
Yovel and the related concept of shmitta,
a Shabbat of rest and rejuvenation for the land
every seven years, are land-use concepts practiced
today through crop rotation and organic
Each year we are commanded to hear the
sounds of the shofar — we cannot celebrate
Rosh Hashanah without hearing them. But
what is it that we are supposed to hear?
The shofar, held high for us to hear and see
that day, presents an under-heard and overlooked
message: Jews, now and in the future,
will always need to have a relationship with the
natural world, with the world of animals and
their environment — a relationship that will
need to run far deeper than what “my daddy
bought for two zuzzim,” as the traditional
Passover song “Chad Gadya” proclaims.
When issues of treatment of livestock to be
used for kosher slaughter come to light, the
sound of the shofar can remind us that the
horn that announces the times of our lives
comes from something that also was alive —
an animal that must be sustained with compassion,
with humane treatment, fed even before
we feed ourselves.
We cannot beg the question of our treatment
of animals by using an artifi cial shofar.
Substitutes are not kosher — plastic and metal
are not allowed. Also, shofars do not last forever.
They crack, break and develop holes, rendering
them ritually unusable.
The replacements, like all shofars, can only
be fashioned from a ram, antelope, gazelle or
goat. A world where the environment is so
polluted — where there is no clean water, no
toxin-free feed, no land available — will be a
world that will not hear the blast of the shofar.
On that day, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Teruah, the
day of the blast, will be our “silent spring.”
In a midrashic moment we can imagine a
Jewish traveler, a Rip ben Winkle who after
a bit too much Kiddush wine sleeps for 200
years and awakens in Elul, the month preceding
Rosh Hashanah, only to fi nd that the shofars
are all made of carbon fi ber — perfectly
pitched with lustrous sheen — and practically
play themselves. To what kind of world has our
Like our traveler, at some point, we, too,
must awaken, or be awakened by the shofar’s
call. According to the Mishneh Torah, the shofar
says, “Wake up from your sleep. You are
asleep. Get up from your slumber.”
This year as you stand to hear the blasts,
wake to a green meaning in the tones:
Tekiah, the long blast: the wake-up call. Understand
it to announce the stewardship we have
been given over the earth and the responsibilities
a warning that
change is coming.
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This Rosh Hash
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By Edmon J. Rodman