Every year around this time, Jewish families visit the graves of their relatives. Tradition. The high holidays are lurking around the corner. The shofar gets sounded in synagogue on a daily basis during the month of Elul, a time of eager anticipation. Maimonides teaches that the shofar is a type of alarm clock for all of us immersed in a spiritual slumber. Wake up, cries the ancient ram’s horn.
Somberness has been my recurring theme these past several months, given the violent climate of our world: The war in Israel. Violence in Ferguson. ISIS’ ongoing murderous rampage. I have also spent my summer working as a chaplain in a hospice, having been inspired to do so after my bubbe’s passing last winter. And I realize, as much as I would like to, I’m not quite emotionally ready for an alarm clock just yet.
I feel overwhelmed. How do we release ourselves of the imminence of traumatic feelings, especially when the disasters have not fully resolved?
Freeze. My thoughts shift to my daughter, Ravi, who celebrated her 2nd birthday in June. She wakes up each morning like a lion, sometimes kvetchy for her morning meal, but always enthusiastic for what’s to come. Ravi does not read the news. She devours Sandra Boynton and Mo Willems. No ethical query or problem plagues her; Ravi’s got ABC and animal puzzles instead.
I recently got in an argument with my daughter about listening to the radio in the morning.
“Musical munchkins,” she says, one of her favorite CDs.
“Tati would like to listen to the news,” I try.
“I’d like to know what’s going on in the world.”
“Well, I’d like to be aware–”
“Musical munchkins, please!”
How do I keep my balance? I feel a heaviness in my heart, thinking of the world’s struggles, knowing I won’t spend another holiday with my bubbe, but Ravi doesn’t know loss, yet. These ideas do not register. Bubbe lives in the Shutterfly picture book we’ve made for her. Breakfast comes every morning.
But Ravi also tells us stories.
“Went to playground. Swing so high!”
And when a bookshelf suddenly fell on my brother’s head, who thankfully had a pillow protecting him, she reminded us days after, time and time again, “Books fell, Lishy had pillow, Lishy got hurt, Lishy OK. You OK?”
“I’m OK, Ravi,” I say. “Thanks for asking.”
“Tati’s OK,” she repeats.
Creating a narrative and reminding ourselves of our stories and sagas gives us distance with said events. Children do this intrinsically, craving stories, inviting us to slow down.
The shofar is an important sign in our tradition. An auspicious symbol, it is the ram’s horn that reminds us of the ram offered when Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. The Midrash teaches that the ram’s horn was sounded at Sinai when the Torah was given, and will be sounded in Messianic times as well.
The shofar connects our past and future in this way, capturing us in the here and now. This year, as the shofar gets blown, what are we remembering and what stories will we tell?