Today is the first day of guest Amichai Lau-Lavie’s (of Storahtelling) PREPENT 5771: a 40 day virtual journey in preparation for the High and Holy Days.
The shofar blasts begin today, exactly 40 days before the Day of Atonement. It’s an ancient, primitive alarm, a wake up call: repent! Get focused! When I was a kid, I’d wait for this first blast, waking up earlier than usual, taking a long sleeve shirt off the top shelf because the Israeli summer heat starts fading into autumn chill, rushing to our synagogue just down the street, for the special prayers and the treat at the end – the first shofar sound of the season. Wake up!
The shofar’s piercing cry echoes, according to Jewish mythology, are the sobs of Sarah the Matriarch; wailing as her son Isaac is taken by his father Abraham to be sacrificed to God, a victim on the altar of religion. Isaac ends up free, with a ram killed instead, and that ram’s horn preserved in our rituals – forever reminding us of the problems with religion – but also of the psychic power of these religious symbols and their potential power to help us make more meaning of our lives. Wake up!
In some communities, the shofar is blown each morning of the 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur: a daily rattle, calling for focus, reflection, preparing us for a new year of possibilities. For me it’s a reminder to look in the closet, dig up the skeletons, the old myths that make me angry, my own shameful moments and regrets from this past year. Then take a look in the mirror, full length, taking a hard honest look at who I am now and who I want to become. Serious stuff. The shofar, ancient technology, is there to give this process a daily soundtrack. It’s the call of reckoning – and hope.
This call of hope was heard in Boston on another New Years day, over a century ago. On January 1, 1863 Lincoln freed the slaves. Emancipation Day was greeted with mixed reaction across the land, but Fredrick Douglas, at a church service in Boston, was jubilant. Hundreds joined him singing the hymn ‘’Blow Ye The Trumpet Blow’ and heard his speech that included a reference to the ancient Biblical ram’s horn, blown as slaves were freed on the Day of Atonement of the Jubilee year: "It was not logic but the trumpet of jubilee that everybody wanted to hear.. We were watching, as it were, by the dim light of start for the dawn of a new day…."
Not far from Boston, another abolitionist, Ralph W. Emerson, was also reflecting, dryly, on the role of trumpets in our lives, with a little less enthusiasm about the human condition:
"Melons and plums and peaches, eating and drinking, and the bugle, all the day long. These are the glorious occupations that engross a proud and thinking being, running his race of preparation for the eternal world. "
Emerson and Douglas, Abraham and Sarah, bugle, trumpets and shofars blow loud today: awake. 40 days to find your focus, clean up your act, free yourself from all those inner enslavements and glorious occupations that distract from life’s true purpose. Prepent, now.
I will blow a shofar in Denver this morning. You too can take a moment to quietly pause – or listen to a shofar, start the journey of a brave new year.