As we sound the Shofar these days of Elul and get ready for its big show on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we pay attention to its distinctive, sharp call and sound. Frankly, I think the noise it makes is getting too much of the attention … we need to pay more attention to its smell.
Have you ever smelled a Shofar? (And I do not mean the nice and shiny outer shell of the Shofar, but sticking your schnozz down into its innards and taking a nice, deep whiff.) It smells … AWFUL! Not surprising, as it used to be attached to animal. Still, I think we need to pay much more attention to its smell …
We have all heard a Shofar call … and we associate its sounds with the sensations of the New Year (mostly positive) and at the end of Yom Kippur and our fast (all positive). We invite the children into the sanctuary and delight as they watch the adults making these weird sounds. We secretly (or not so secretly) time the great Tekiah G’dola blast and see how long the Shofar blower can hold it this year and cheer him or her on as she turns redder and redder. We let the sound (as sounds often do) warmly transport us to seasons past which we spent happily in a familiar place and with familiar people. These are all warm, wonderful parts of the Shofar sounds and we should make sure we preserve these associations and experience of the annual Shofar-palooza.
But we need a bit of that awful smell among the warm fuzzies of the Shofar sounds. In the book of Joshua the sounds of the Shofar are so violent and powerful that they knock down the protective walls of the city of Jericho. In other places in our sacred story the Shofar is used as a warning, a call to rebel, a signal to engage the enemy in military conflict. The Shofar is perfect for this time of year because in a spiritual sense we are called to knock down walls (the ones between who we are and who we want become); to rebel (against the status quo that keeps us from progressing and evolving); to begin to engage the enemy (those choices, tendencies and distractions that keep us from sticking to our path).
For this reason I suggest that we need a little scratch and sniff Shofar action AS WELL AS hearing the majestic calls of the Shofar. Perhaps this new layer of sensory experience will enable us to tune in to this fundamental spirit of the Shofar and what it calls us to do. Let’s not disregard the wonderful associations we have with its sound, but let’s also let a little of the danger, the subversion and edge into our hearing it … and in the sound and smell of it we can we can reclaim its spirit and respond to its call to wake up, pay attention and to stir things up.