To each their own

By: Elan Babchuck

Several years back, I was asked to teach a session for elementary school students at a synagogue in Los Angeles that focused on the meaning behind each of the unique shofar sounds. Of course, we’re taught that each distinct type of blow has a different meaning. The tekiah – that long, steady sound – is meant to announce God as Ruler of Creation. Shevarim – the three medium-length blasts – mimic the sobbing sounds of our pained Jewish hearts. Finally, teruah – the nine quick blasts – should sound like an alarm clock, as Maimonides noted. “Wake up, slumberers!” it declares.

So I practiced my shofar-blowing, perfected each of the blasts, and went to go teach. First the tekiah – I blew the shofar clearly and precisely. “So what does that sound like?”

A boy in the front shot his hand up, eager to share his response: “That sounds like my mom’s car horn!”

“And when does she use her horn?”

“When she wants people to get out of the way. So does that mean that God wants us to get out of the way?”

Oy…next came shevarim, which was likened to the beat of a recent Justin Bieber song. And finally, teruah, I was told, sounded like a helpless puppy whimpering in the middle of the night. Incidentally, I also learned that one of my students had a puppy that was in the process of getting night-trained.

I share this story not as a reflection on failure but rather as an invitation to succeed in your own, distinct way. Just because Maimonides declared that the shevarim should recall for you times of deep sorrow doesn’t mean that it can’t conjure up memories of a tremendously happy moment in time.

As we prepare ourselves during these last few days before Yom Kippur, my hope is that you can keep my Los Angeles students in mind when you’re soon presented with the various prayers of our rich Yom Kippur tradition. If they appeal to you as their authors intended centuries ago…great. But if they don’t, I hope you’ll be open to the possibility that you were meant to experience them in your own, unique way and that they speak to you as such.

G’mar Hatimah Tovah – May you be inscribed for Goodness in the year to come.

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