Friday, August 10, 2018

The Jewish Reveille

The first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, just two days away, brings with it a few changes to the prayer service, one of which is the blowing of the shofar every morning (except Shabbat and the day prior to Rosh Hashana). The sounding of the shofar during the month of Elul, is meant to serve as a wake-up call, to remind us that in less than a month, God will judge us. The time for introspection and personal accounting begins now!

The origin of the shofar finds its source immediately in the aftermath of the Akeida, the Binding of Abraham’s son Isaac. After the angel instructed Abraham not to slaughter his son, and acknowledged Abraham’s full subservience to God, the Torah informs us: "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering in place of his son" (Genesis 22:13).

The Midrash Pirkei d'Rebbe Eliezer (chapter 31) offers a profound message about this particular ram.

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa says: No part of this ram went to waste. The ashes of the ram form the base of the golden incense altar in the Sanctuary. The ten sinews of the ram are the ten strings of the harp on which David played. The hide of the ram formed the leather belt of Elijah. The two horns of the ram are historic shofars: through the left one, the Voice of God was heard on Mount Sinai (at Revelation). The right horn, which was larger than the left one, will be sounded in the future at the ingathering of the exiles.

The shofar, the great symbol of introspection, judgment and redemption, is only “discovered” because Abraham lifted his eyes and actively sought an alternative way to serve God after the angel told him "not to harm the lad." He felt that a sacrifice was necessary, but knew well that it wasn't meant to be his beloved son. The ashes on the bottom of the altar represent the Divine gift of atonement. The sinews or strings on David's harp represent the spiritual song of the people, the tunes to which we turn in both jubilation and in torment. Elijah's belt? Belts always symbolize strength. Elijah possessed moral clarity and spiritual strength.

Abraham’s seemingly insignificant turn of his head, offered an insightful message to his offspring. Finding alternative ways to positively embrace and come closer to God can yield immense historical and spiritual results, all accomplished via the horn of a ram. So listen closely this coming month!

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