Whole – Broken – Whole

Rabbi Greg Alexander

Rabbi Greg Alexander

When we blow the Shofar, we blow it in specific patterns, starting with a T’kiah — one long blast. That is followed by Sh’varim — a set of 3 small blasts, then T’ruah — a set of 9 very short blasts. And then to round off the pattern, we have T’kiah — one long blast again. 

The 17th Century masterteacher, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, saw the blasts of the shofar as corresponding to the stages in the process of t’shuvah, spiritual turning and returning. He taught that the first T’kiah reminds us that we start out whole, but somewhere in our journey, Sh’varim — we become broken.

You see the word Sh’varim literally means ‘breaks’ or ‘fractures’, and that is what happens during our year as we move from the heightened awareness of the High Holy Days to the day to day challenges of eating, studying, earning a living, working on relationships with our family and friends and making our way through the tasks of each day. Due to lapses in our focus or external forces, through pain, mistakes, failure, illness, loss or weakness, we leave the path we would have wanted to walk until we look around at some point and wonder how we got there. The shofar wakes us, and in its broken cry, calls us back.

But the third call, T’ruah, breaks this down even further with a sound like sobbing. The distressed and miserable crying of a soul that desperately wants to be held, to be comforted, to be whole again. Sometimes we are utterly shattered and feel like there is no way back. Things could not be worse, or further from where we would want to be. And this year of 2020 has left so many of us in that place. But the first step to returning is just that awareness. That we want to come back.

And it is then that we hear the T’kiah. Calling out that the end will be whole again. There is hope. Through conscious effort and the support of loved ones, we can do this. Return, come back, be whole again.

Seen this way, blowing the shofar on Rosh haShanah is the most radical act of faith. Not faith that everything always turns out as we wish, because it won’t, but faith that somehow through gentle compassionate love and huge forgiveness, we can achieve wholeness again.

A faith that Sh’varim and T’ruah are followed by T’kiah — and sometimes, even, followed by T’kiah G’dolah — one long uninterrupted blast of healing, fullness and completion.

May these High Holy Days bring us all the healing we need, and may the Shofar’s sound call us back to return to wholeness.

L’shanah tovah tikateivu v’tichateimu.

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