• Around 1850, Schopenhauer pronounced noise to be the supreme archenemy of any serious thinker. His argument against noise was simple: A great mind can have great thoughts only if all its powers of concentration are brought to bear on one subject, in the same way that a concave mirror focuses light on one point. Just as a mighty army becomes useless if its soldiers are scattered helter-skelter, a great mind becomes ordinary the moment its energies are dispersed.
  • Even though we may not be a great mind thinking great thoughts like Schopenhauer, we are similarly affected by noise.  He further said that “even people who are not philosophers lose whatever ideas their brains can carry in consequence of brutish jolts of sound”.
  • Another example of the search for silence:  Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (the foundational work of Kabbalah), hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah, according to Jewish legend. I think we can safely assume that there were no Shofarot in his cave.
  • Certainly the Shofar is noise –  and I think we can all agree that it  interrupts our thoughts. Following the logic, therefore, the Shofar is the archenemy of thought.  What wisdom within Jewish tradition embraces such a paradox?
  • Doesn’t wisdom require thought?
  • Doesn’t spirituality require thought?
  • During these high holy days, we are encouraged to think about our transgressions in order to prepare for our year to be written into the book of life. Why does the Shofar interrupt our serious work?  Isn’t the thinking of such thoughts, after all, one of the central pillars of the Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur) services?
  • Perhaps we should conclude that the purpose of the Shofar is to keep us from thinking.  Why? Let me offer some possibilities; perhaps you will find one of them useful as you participate in the Shofar Service:
  1. Shofar-Kol Rina - An Independent MinyanThe Shofar is to remind us of a specific thought – the presence of G-d.  The corollary – the thoughts of the Torah are to be preferred over our own.  Think of the Shofar as a guide for our thoughts, not something that prevents or destroys them.
  2. The Shofar is meant to bring us out of the realm of thought and into the realm of community.  In other words, don’t get so caught up in in the Kavanah (intention) that you forget about the Keva (routine).  Or perhaps better said, this is not just a personal journey, but a community affair, and the Shofar is reminding us to look around us and connect with each other.
  3. The Shofar is a call to action. The Shofar connects us to our ancestors though ritual, and rituals contain power.  Simply by doing what has been done for thousands of years give us, the community, power – power than can be used to do something that matters.  What might that be?  As Dave Gray (contemporary thinker and author) has said: “… there are only two conversations that matter. Everything else is just noise [no pun intended]. The first conversation is the one that frames or re-frames people’s view of the world. The second is the one that moves them to action.” What will we decide to do this year?
  4. Finally, perhaps the whole point of the Shofar is not to interrupt us, but to get us to practice returning to where we left off.  In other words, the Shofar is helping us practice remembering. Consider this Hasidic teaching: “Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself.  Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you; it is waiting to be disclosed and to be realized by you. For the sake of this your beginning, God created the world.” Rather than an attempt to steer us, the Shofar knows that we already know the way. It knows that life is a series of interruptions that distract us from our true purpose, and it is trying to teach us.  The Shofar is saying, “If you can remember who you are after my interruptions in the service, then you can remember who you are after you leave this sanctuary and reenter your life”.