Just do it! The simple meaning of the shofar

On this Rosh Hashana, let us trumpet the message of the shofar, keep it simple and “just do it.”

A boy named David blows the shofar at SHALVA. (photo credit: CHEDVI LITWIN)
A boy named David blows the shofar at SHALVA.
(photo credit: CHEDVI LITWIN)
Life is clearly complex and requires focus on our part if we are to live it meaningfully and not get lost in the details.
Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment that opens the Jewish New Year is complex conceptually and religiously with its long days of intense prayer, and it demands similar focus.
The three fold theme of the day’s prayers emphasize our coronation of G-d as the benevolent King of the Universe who desires our goodness; internalizing that He is not aloof or distant, but rather intricately involved in human history and in each of our personal lives to the degree we choose to be cognizant; and that He desires direct communication with us via communal and personal prayer that on Rosh Hashana is done primarily via the shofar, the ram’s horn.
For one who seeks to delve deeply into G-d’s kingship and His relationship with His creations, the experience can certainly be overwhelming, and a suggested starting point might be the message of the shofar that is a nonverbal, simple, but most enriching means of communication. The shofar was also heard at the moment of Divine revelation at Mount Sinai as an introduction to the giving of the Ten Commandments; “The sound of the shofar grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and G-d would respond to him with a voice.” Here too in the face of complexity, there is an element of simplicity and perhaps that is in fact the message.
Life in its essence is also rather simple. It is a wondrous gift for which we are to be thankful and cherish every moment. It is an opportunity to help our fellow man overcome his challenges and thereby to find meaning.
When a proselyte asked the Talmudic sage Hillel to teach him the entire complex Torah while he stood on one foot, Hillel was not phased, and kept its message simple: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: That is the whole Torah, while the rest is but commentary; go and learn it.”
In our times, when good and evil are so starkly contrasted on the global stage, rarely has the moral compass been clearer and the claim for moral relativism so feeble. One of the areas in which this contrast is most evident is in how our culture values and celebrates every human life, and attempts to provide each person with the skills to navigate life effectively.
Over the past 25 years of my involvement with children with disabilities, I have always been deeply moved by the incredible care and dedication of so many extraordinary individuals, organizations and government officials who dedicate themselves in a multitude of ways, to the welfare of this community. Naturally there will always be a tension in that the needs invariably exceed available resources, but that does not alter the fact that good people are valiantly trying to do the right thing.
And while there is always room for improvement, there has been a continuum of immense progress in all related spheres of endeavor. We as a society have much to be proud of.
On this Rosh Hashana, let us trumpet the message of the shofar, keep it simple and “just do it” as the wording at the entrance to SHALVA guides us: Do All the good you can In all the ways you can To all the souls you can In every place you can At all the times you can With all the zeal you can As long as you ever can.
Shana Tova, may it be a good year for all!
The writer, a rabbi, is founder and chairman of SHALVA – The Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel.