It is the custom to blow the shofar during the month of Elul which began at the end of August. We do this, we are taught, to awaken our soul before we begin a new year.
The Call of the Shofar
Once upon a time, many years ago, in the faraway country of Russia, there lived a poor orphan named Moshele. He went to cheder (Jewish school) with all the other children in his little town. He loved learning about the Torah. When he became a bit older, he had to go to work. He was a poor orphan. He had to get a job and take care of himself. Moshele decided to become a peddler. In those days there weren’t many stores. Peddlers traveled all over the country with suitcases full of things to sell. Moshele got a suitcase and filled it with all kinds of odds and ends. He had needles and thread, scissors, thimbles, pieces of material, all sorts of buttons and many other things.
It was not easy to be a peddler. In the summertime it was hot, and Moshele became tired and thirsty walking on the dusty roads with his heavy suitcase. In the wintertime, Moshele shivered and froze because his clothes were not warm enough to protect him from the icy winds.
And so his life went on until one day poor Moshele was caught in a very big snow storm. It was a real blizzard. Snow was falling and falling from the gray skies. Everything was covered with a thick blanket of snow. Moshele tried to be brave and cheerful. He kept his spirits up by reciting by heart all the prayers he knew. With each step it was getting more and more difficult to walk. His suitcase felt heavier and heavier. The snow was up to his ankles. Soon the snow was almost up to his knees. Moshele could hardly move with his big heavy suitcase. Snow was everywhere. It was difficult to follow the road because the snow covered everything. Without knowing it, Moshele walked off the road and into the woods. He was very, very tired. When he found a tree-stump, he decided to sit down and rest for a while.
Moshele knew that it was very dangerous to fall asleep. He tried very hard to stay awake. He kept saying to himself over and over again: “Do not fall asleep. You must stay awake.” But Moshele was so very tired and he thought a short rest would be good for him. He was shivering in his thin old clothes, and he felt very sleepy. He stretched out his arms and legs and drifted off into oblivion…
It was beginning to become dark outside. Soon it would become light. The non-Jewish peasant on the road with his horse and sled was happy he would be home soon. But wait! What was that? Away from the road, somewhat into the woods, he noticed something odd. What was it? It looked like a boy lying in the snow. Could he be alive? He stopped his horse, and ran over to take a better look. He could hardly believe his eyes. There was no sign of life. The body was almost frozen stiff. There was not a moment to be wasted. He grabbed the boy and placed him in his sled. He covered him with blankets and spoke to him, trying to wake him up. All of a sudden, the boy stirred. He moved only slightly, but the peasant felt happy. The peasant drove his horse and sled as fast as he could to his farm in a village nearby.
The peasant brought the boy into the house. He put him down on some blankets near the fireplace. The peasant warmed up some milk and fed the boy slowly with a spoon. Moshele opened his eyes for a moment. Then he closed them again and went to sleep. He slept peacefully all night. In the morning, the crow of the rooster woke him up. Moshele opened his eyes and looked around. Everything seemed strange, he could not understand where he was. He tried to remember what happened, but Moshele had forgotten everything. He could not remember his home. He could not remember his travels as a peddler. But he was too tired to think. The peasant’s wife came to greet Moshele. “How do you feel?” she asked. “I guess I feel all right, thank you,” answered Moshele. He was still wondering what had happened to him and how he had come to the peasant’s home. The woman prepared some hot cereal for Moshele and fed him slowly with a spoon. “What is your name?” she asked him. Moshele became frightened. He could not remember his own name! He tried to think as hard as he could, but he just could not remember. “I don’t know. I can’t remember my name.” he said sadly. “Never mind,” said the peasant woman. “Don’t worry about that. You can stay with us in our home. We’ll call you Peter. How about that?” She gave him a kind smile. Moshele smiled back at her. “Yes,” he said, “that would be fine.”
Moshele, or Peter as he was called now, lived in the home of the peasant and his wife and became a part of their family. He did not remember that he was Jewish and instead became very much like the farmer and his wife. All summer long, Peter helped with the work on the farm. He plowed the fields and made nice, even rows. He sowed the seeds. He watched everything grow. When fall came, it was time to reap the harvest. One autumn day, the farmer said to Peter, “Tomorrow we will drive into town. We will take some of our products to the market to sell.” Peter was very excited. The work on the farm was hard and Peter had been very busy. It would be great fun to go into town.
Peter was so happy, he could hardly sleep that night. The trip to town was not very long, but to Peter it seemed like hours. When they got into town, they were very surprised. There were no people on the streets. The little town looked deserted. When they passed by the little synagogue in the town, they saw it was filled with people. It turns out it was Rosh Hashanah. The peasant decided that they should drive back to the farm because it was not a good time for business given that everyone was praying. Peter kept looking at the synagogue. He did not want to return to the farm. He could not tear himself away from the synagogue. He begged the peasant to stay in town for a while longer. The peasant saw how excited Peter was. He said Peter could spend the afternoon by himself looking around town. It would be a treat for his hard work on the farm.
Peter felt as if someone were pulling him toward the synagogue. He felt as if he were sleepwalking. Without knowing that he had walked there, he suddenly found himself at the entrance to the synagogue. The men were wrapped in their prayer shawls. Everyone was praying and somewere weeping. No one even noticed Peter standing near the door. No one paid any attention to him. Peter looked all around. Somehow it all seemed familiar to him. Had he ever been here before? His heart began to beat faster. The tune and melodies of the Cantor were familiar to him. The scrolls of the Torah that were being carried out of the Ark were familiar. And he was beginning to hear the words in the prayers and they sounded familiar too. Slowly his memory was returning to him and everything in the synagogue brought back more and more memories. As if glued to the spot, Peter stood motionless and stared…
Peter did not know how long he had been standing there when he began to notice a feeling of excitement among the worshippers in the synagogue. Everyone was becoming very quiet. There was finally complete silence in the crowd. All the people stood still in their places. Peter hardly dared to breathe. It seemed as if the air was filled with holiness. Peter closed his eyes for a moment. He felt as if angels were all around him. Suddenly the silence was shattered by the loud blast of the shofar. The sound of the shofar made Peter feel very strange. As each note was blown and moved upward, Peter felt as if he had wings and was flying upward with it.
Peter’s eyes filled with tears. The tears began rolling down his cheeks. But inside, in his heart, Peter was smiling. Everything was now clear to him. “Moshele, you are a Jew,” the Shofar called. And Moshele said quietly, “Thank you, Shofar. Oh thank you, thank you. Thank you for reminding me
that I am a Jew.”
Many of us can identify with Moshele. We “forget” who we are during the year. We lose sight of what is important. We fall away from the values and lessons that we believe in. The sound of the shofar speaks to our soul and brings us back – refocusing us, reminding us who we are and what is important.
We will be sounding the shofar many times before Rosh HaShanah. I hope you get an opportunity to hear the blasts and remember.