The Calling

He entered the dining room and laid the ram’s horn – the shofar – on the table. Without hesitation, he expertly removed it from the navy velvet bag and raised the mouthpiece to his lips. He blew a full set of sounds twice.

Tekiyah…one long note

Shevarim…three medium blasts

Tekiyah…one long note

Teruah…nine short staccato sounds

Tekiyah…one long note

Shevarim…three medium blasts

Tekiyah…one long note

Teruah…nine short staccato sounds

Tekiyah Gedolah…one extra long blast

He finished and turned to hug me tight. The deep rich sound of the shofar still lingered and reverberated in the air. My eyes welled up and I started to cry.

I cried because I was fahrklempt…I simply felt overwhelmed. I cried because my parents were unable to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with us this year. I cried because my children also were unable to join us. I cried because, as a pulpit rabbi for the past twenty or so years, my brother doesn’t blow shofar in the sanctuary during the High Holy Days anymore.

*     *     *

I was sixteen. As our brother’s Bar Mitzvah approached, my younger sisters and I decided to buy him a shofar. We figured that, since he was a trumpet player, a shofar would be the perfect gift. So my father, boyfriend, and I traveled to New York City’s Lower East Side to go shopping.

We wandered the streets (in those days we didn’t have a GPS or worldwide web!) in search of the right store. None fit the bill. It was getting late in the day and we were tiring. And then, as if from nowhere, a white-bearded old man appeared. He beckoned us to follow him down an alley and into a store.

It was as if the store was staged for a movie. The rays of light streaming through the dirty cloudy windows revealed columns of dust and did nothing to brighten the room. It was dark and dingy. Overcrowded wall shelves and merchandise piled high around the perimeter of the room belied too much inventory. But the old man moved with self-assurance. He knew what he was looking for. He slowly went behind the counter, reached into the display case, and dramatically presented us with a shofar.

It was the first shofar I’d ever seen up close. It was long and curled, smooth, and beautifully colored. Like the line in Harry Potter that the “wand chooses the wizard,” this shofar chose us.

*     *    *

The tone of my brother’s shofar is rich and deep. From the very first time he pursed his lips and blew, the sound was immediate; crystal clear. Never a sputter. Almost forty years later, I still remember holding my breath as my pip-squeak of a brother stood with confidence on the bima. He was at the front of the sanctuary and blew shofar for the first time for the entire congregation to hear. It was a magical moment that marked the beginning of a truly meaningful journey. Only I knew then that this was his calling. 

The sound of the shofar made me cry then and makes me cry now. Happy tears or sad, I cherish every one. 

May the sound of the shofar be a source of awe and inspiration for us all.

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