Judaism teaches that we have been given the great gift of being responsible for building up a finite world that can hold space with eternity. The Hebrew calendar’s daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rhythms frame time in a manner that is meant to aid us in this building process.
Now we are celebrating the Hebrew month of Elul, a month filled with the potential for us to engage in deep soulful introspection in preparation for the upcoming “Days of Awe.” Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are dedicated to the affirmation that we as human beings are worth the gift of the breath that fills our lungs and that we are able to accomplish the great task of building a just and peaceful world.
Judaism affirms again and again that our failures can be made triumphant should we choose to learn from them and become even more emboldened to build a better, more just world. This journey of building is fraught with victory and failure, hope and despair, elation and anguish, it is the source of our greatest triumphs as a species and our most dismal failures… but always we can choose to learn!
At Irvine Hebrew Day School, (IHDS)each morning of Elul, we act in accordance with the custom to blow the shofar. It not only serves as an alarm clock for our sleepy learners, but also as a means to awaken us to the awesome gift of being human!
The shofar is a simple instrument, the horn of a kosher animal (ideally a ram) not reflective of man’s ingenuity, but of the rawness of life itself and it is our breath that brings it to life.
Just as the Torah describes G-d having breathed into the body of the first human being, so too we breath into the shofar to express the cry of our anguished existence of years past and the cry of hope of times and accomplishments yet to be. Hopes instilled in the hearts of our learners and hopes instilled in the hearts of the families that are a part of our beautiful learning community.
This is the sound of the shofar, the call of the shofar…it is even the question of the shofar—how deep does our love go for the vision of a wholesome world? How deep are we willing to dig to build the foundations of a world built on justice, kindness, truthfulness and authenticity? How willing are we to learn from our mistakes and commit ourselves to a building a better future?
The answers to these questions are not blowing in the wind, but sounding through the shofar and coming to life in the soulful learning we engage in at IHDS.
Rabbi Rock is the Director of Jewish Learning at Irvine Hebrew Day School and is a contributing writer to JLife magazine.