Joshua and the Battle of Jericho

This has very little to do with Joshua. However, he did sound a blast on a Ram’s Horn which caused some biblical walls to come tumbling down in Jericho. I am writing this to explain about Holy Days which some may not completely understand, and to share how this year I will be a part of the services on these Holy Days.

On the Jewish High Holy Days, the Ram’s horn, also known in Hebrew as a Shofar (pronounced like so far with an “h” added to the so, show far), is blown several times on the Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah. Shofar roughly means trumpet in Hebrew.

Rosh Hashanah, originally meaning “Day of Remembrance”, is also the start of the Jewish New Year, as the Hebrew calendar starts in September. The calendar follows the moon more than the English calendar, and so its exact date varies slightly from year to year when compared to the English calendar.

Rosh Hashanah begins a ten-day period which ends with the Day of Atonement, known as Yom Kippur. What are these ten days for? I thought you would never ask. And what is the Shofar for and why is it blown? I will do my best to answer and tell a story.

Since we are mere mortals, human beings that are imperfect, we make mistakes. We forget to do things we could do. We get lackadaisical or lazy about some things. We get too busy to attend to some of the things that have meaning and importance. We all need a reminder that we are not “done” as a compassionate and conscious being. We can be open to learning for as long as we live. We can do better, we can strive to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet earth with more respect and honor. It is also about remembering our loved ones who are no longer physically here with us, but who are spiritually in a loving and joyful place, as well as always being in our hearts.

Wow, that is a bit of a mouthful don’t I think? Yes, that is why it is such a special time. Each year it brings me back to realize I am a person in process, and I am always learning. It is a time of feeling humble in front of the great spirit of God and being truthful as to my mistakes. I acknowledge my shortcomings and resolve to work on doing better, and work on loving more. I love this holiday or Holy Days because it speaks to being aware of one’s behavior, and conscious in a sometimes dizzyingly unconscious world. It means slowing down, even if for a week or ten days, or even for a day, and listening. Listening to our heart, listening to a friend who needs someone to talk to, listen to your loved one and your family, whatever family means for a person.

I better explain the Ram’s horn or Shofar. It is a bit on the loud side. It is supposed to startle us from complacency and ego and pride and all those somewhat ugly attributes that we all wear at times. It implores us to shed those things and to, in a symbolic way, make ourselves naked before God, with no falseness, no pretenses, stripped of all that camouflage. It wakes us from our slumber, our laziness, our being used to things the way they are, and it encourages us to come alive. To live our lives using whatever beautiful gifts we have been given, whatever we have to offer this world, no matter what that is. To be authentic, and to choose life instead of a living death of unfulfilled dreams. It awakens our dormant hopes that we’ve forgotten in the hustle and strain of just getting by.

Awake, Awake, the Shofar sounds call to our hearts. Be aware and be conscious. And its sound also calls to God’s spirit to hear our pleas to forgive us for being less, less than we can be. Hear our earnestness that we will work on being more conscious beings and take better care of each other and our world. Please God, open your heart and recognize our voices.

And so, the blowing of the Shofar has a deep spiritual connection to my heart. Last year was the first time in seventeen years that I attended a High Holy Day service, at Yale University, in beautiful Battell Chapel on the Yale Campus, where they held the Reform services. Within Judaism, there are three levels of congregations. Reform is the most lenient and relaxed, the Conservative is middle of the road, and Orthodox is the strictest, for example, men and women do not sit together in the Orthodox service.

Suffice it to say, I like the Reform services and those are the ones I attend. My mother, when alive, belonged to a Conservative Synagogue for many years, which of course I had to live with while she was alive. But I didn’t go to synagogue until last year, which was seventeen years since she had died. I went after Emilee died, as part of my attempts to heal and find solace.

I know, I am rambling a little, but you need some background to get the full effect of this. At last year’s Reform service on the High Holy Days at Yale, a woman blew the Shofar beautifully, as she was a french horn player, which gave her an unfair advantage. The Rabbi at that time encouraged her, a Yale senior, to find someone during the year, and to teach them to blow the Shofar for the following year’s service. As I sat and listened to this, I thought why not me? I had a Shofar at home which I really did not know how to play because I hadn’t spent any time practicing. I wanted to learn. I also felt like I would be honoring Emilee in some way by doing this. I felt a spiritual meaning to it. And, I had a mission, something to give me focus, something to do I had always wanted to do, something to do which would feel special, like a part of something larger than myself, and something that had a deep meaning for me. I knew Emilee would be smiling at the thought of this. Beaming is more like it.

I spoke to the woman, she said email her, and I did. She did not respond. I realized the only way to learn was to practice. So, I did. I practiced every day for eight months. One day, before the surge of confidence I was feeling decided to diminish, I called the Jewish Center at Yale, known as the Slifka Center, and I gave my contact information. I didn’t think I would hear back from them as they usually use a Yale student, but I left it up to the Universe and the great Spirit. Two months later their new Reform Rabbi, Rabbi Dan, sent me an email asking if I was still interested and if so, was I available. I answered yes and yes. And then he called me, we arranged to meet, and as they say in music terms, I got the gig.

We have a “dress rehearsal” on September 8 and the services start on Sunday September 9 in the evening, and on Monday September 10 in the morning. The Shofar is blown once Sunday night, and four times throughout the service on Monday. On Yom Kippur it is blown only once, at the very end or conclusion of the service on Wednesday September 19. The last note played is a very long blast, as it is the last sound to God asking him to put us in the book of “life”, meaning a life with some meaning and purpose. That day is a day of reflection, of atonement for all our sins and the sins of the world.

We do not eat after sundown the night before. It is a way of cleansing our body, it is a way of feeling the ache of the world, discomfort of hunger, compassion for those that have less, and a way of not being a slave to the wants of our body. For just one day we deprive ourselves of food and feel what hunger feels like. Physical hunger and spiritual hunger, moral hunger. We humble ourselves, our mortal selves in the last moments before God decides. The last blast of the Shofar says it is all said and done. We had our chance. Did we atone for our wrongdoings? Did we vow to love ourselves enough to do better? How do we want to show ourselves to God? It is a dramatic moment and the sound of the Shofar gives me chills as it resonates through my body signaling both an end and a beginning.

I am not religious, but I love being spiritual. I feel humbled and honored to be a conduit for the blast of consciousness and call to spiritual arms. I find this sequence of events leading to my blowing the Shofar to be amazing, that Spirit is just working through me. It has touched my heart in ways I cannot describe except to say that when I left my meeting with the Rabbi, I had wet streaks down my face, and I think it was more than sweat from the heat. Just plain overwhelmed.

Neal Harvey… with love for Spirit in all of your hearts