Blow With All Your Heart!

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Did I tell you that I can’t blow the shofar? I have tried and tried. But I’m a rabbi who can’t even blow up a balloon without getting winded. I could excuse myself by saying, “Oh well, that’s what happens when you’re well into your eighties.” Instead I keep trying.

So first I bought a small one, direct from Israel, a ram’s horn with a kosher sticker (it’s still on the horn). And then I tried and tried to blow it. Not a sound.  Over and over again on many occasions, I have tried to produce at least a little noise with my shofar. Nada, as we say in California. Nothing.

At this point, it’s only rational – right? – to think that the fault was not with my blowing ability but rather with the shofar. What kind of a kosher shofar was this short, white horn, sticker and all? That’s when I went shopping and bought a pretty, ebony black, Yemenite shofar. Also kosher, very curvy, and from Israel as well, it came from an antelope, not a ram. It’s skinnier than the ram’s horn, like a shofar that’s been trying to lose weight. “Aha!” I thought. “This looks like a shofar made for me,’ and, without a second thought, I bought it.

Sadly, I couldn’t produce a single sound from it. Not one, even though I tried to blow the shofar many different ways. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Why couldn’t I get ANY shofar to sound for me?

Just then, my sixteen-year-old granddaughter, entered the room and saw me huffing and puffing away. “What’s wrong, Grandma?” she asked, concerned.

“Can you get any kind of noise from this shofar?” I asked her. “It’s from an antelope in Yemen.”

She took the shofar from my hands, put it to her mouth, and drew from it a long, soulful, teenage blast. “Sure,” she said. “It’s easy.”

I took the ram’s horn from its place in the cabinet. “How about this one?”

She put it to her lips, and again drew from it a deeper sound than the first one. “No sweat,” she said. “It’s easy.”

So it wasn’t the fault of the antelope, not the fault of the sheep, nor the people who put stickers on.

Then my thirteen year-old-granddaughter became alarmed by all the noise and came running into the room.

“Here,” I said, handing her one of the shofarot. “Can you blow these?”

She gave me an adolescent’s reproving look. “Grandma, I’ve already had my bat mitzvah!”

On the first try, she blew strong, firm blasts from the shofar she selected. And then from the other one. The blasts were so loud, they sounded like a ship’s horn making it way through the fog. Or maybe a shofar – ram’s horn, antelope’s horn, straight, curly, it doesn’t matter — sounding exactly the way it was supposed to. You could hear it from a mountain top.

* * * *

The fact remained that my granddaughters with powerful lungs and musical ability were not coming with me on my High Holy Day assignment on a cruise ship. And now I knew that there was nothing wrong with my either of my shofarot. Well, on a cruise ship you have to improvise. Maybe I would be someone who could play the trumpet on the ship, or at least a wind instrument.

When my little “congregation-at-sea” assembled on the Sabbath prior to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I asked if, by chance, anyone could play the shofar or a wind instrument. To my surprise, a short, middle-aged man spoke up.

“I can play the trumpet,” he offered.

Of course I was delighted. I explained that our Rosh Hashanah trumpet would be a shofar, if he could blow that too. The ancient sound of the shofar is supposed to be like the trumpet-blasts acknowledging the coronation of a sovereign – God.

“I’ll try,” he said. “My name’s John.”

While I couldn’t produce a sound from the shofar myself, I did know the pattern of sounds that a shofar should produce for the High Holy Days. So the two of us spent an afternoon in the nightclub on the top level of the ship. Normally, it wasn’t used during the day, and we were able to fill its quiet with lots of shofar noise, while John got used to the sound patterns this shofar could ably produce. During the actual service, I explained, I — as the rabbi — would call out one at a time the Hebrew words meant to evoke the pattern of sounds that John would then draw forth from the shofar. The shofar’s sounds are intended to stir our consciences, individually and collectively to confront our past mistakes.

Tkiyah   Shevarim  Truah  Tkiyah

Tkiyah   Shevarim  Truah  Tkiah

Tkiah     Shevarim  Truah  Tkiyah

As we practiced the sounds together – word call and musical response, I could see that John was very moved. “If we miss the mark, we can always try again,” I told John. And he blew his practice notes of the Tkiyah Gedola, the long, long blast of the Great Shofar until he was so red in the face, he looked like he would burst – with joy, I thought.

During that meaningful afternoon, John poured out his heart to me. He was not a Jew. Although he had been born a Christian, he had always felt drawn to Judaism. Eventually, he had become a Jew for Jesus, a Messianic Jew.

We talked for a long time. John was a deeply soulful person who had read widely. He had a highly developed brain that interpreted the world mathematically and was attracted to Gematria. On his own, he had studied and developed an appreciation of many of the mystical precepts of Kabbala (not the red string kind!), but he was in spiritual turmoil. He longed to be accepted by the Jewish community.

“You need to study with a rabbi, John,” I said. “Jews believe in one God. If you say that you are a Messianic Jew, that means you accept Jesus as divine. You have to decide, and I think you need some help to do that.”

We spent a couple of hours on another afternoon addressing some of the issues that concerned him, and the differences between Judaism and Messianism. I made some further suggestions as to whom he could contact for further study, and what readings would help him in his spiritual quest.

“Take your time,” I counseled. “In order to become a Jew,” as he now claimed he wanted to do, “you would have to convert, and to give up the divinity of Jesus, your belief in him as the Messiah. To become Jewish is a serious commitment. You will have to think about it long and hard.”

When it came time for the Rosh Hashana services, I was a little uneasy. In order to blow the shofar at services, you are really supposed to be a Jew, so I eased my own conscience by thinking of him as a Jew-to-be. “I want to become a Jew,” he told me before the service. “I’m sure of it,” he added with sincerity.

“Time will tell,” I replied. “When you blow the shofar tonight and tomorrow, John, I want you to blow with all your heart. I want you to blow for the Messiah to come. Our world is in turmoil and surely needs one. It won’t matter if he – or she – is coming for the first or second time. Blow for peace in the world.”

John smiled. And when he blew the shofar, not only did his face get red, but tears of happiness shone in his eyes. It turned out to be a terrific Rosh Hashanah.