Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What do you think about when you hear the Shofar?

What Kavanna should one have when one hears the Shofar? In "Halakhic Man", Rav Soloveitchik brings two interesting approaches:
  • The approach of his father - a rational "misnagdish" approach
  • A Mystical "Hassidic" approach.
Here is the piece from Halakhic Man:

Once my father was standing on the synagogue platform
on Rosh Ha-Shanah, ready and prepared to guide the order of the sounding of the shofar. The shofar-sounder, a god-fearing Habad Hasid who was very knowledgeable in the mystical doctrine of the "Alter Rebbe," R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, began to weep. My father turned to him and said: "Do you weep when you take the lulav? Why then do you weep when
you sound the shofar? Are not both commandments of God?"

The mystic understands the symbolic significance of the sound
ing of the shofar-the concept of a plain note-whereby man
attempts to pierce through lawful existence and reach the
throne of glory of the Atik Yomin, the Ancient One, the Deus
Absconditus. The sounding of the shofar, according to the out-
look of R. Shneur Zalman, expresses the powerful aspiration
of homo religiosus to extricate himself from the straits of con
traction-the divine realm of strength-and enter into the
wide spaces of expansion-the divine realm of grace-and
from thence to rise above the seven lower divine realms, "the
cornerstones ofthe [cosmic structure]" into the hidden world
in which the light ofthe Ein-Sof. the completely hidden infinite
God, gleams and shines, as it were. Man's weeping on Rosh
Ha-Shanah, according to this doctrine, is the weeping of the soul
that longs for its origin, for the rock from whence it was hewn,
that yearns to cleave to its beloved not in hiding, but openly.
The sounding of the shofar protests against reality and denies
the universe itself. The entire ontological pessimism of mystical doctrine can be heard from the midst of the shofar in its
long, drawn-out sighs and short, piercing cries [cf. Rosh Ha
Shanah 33b-34a]. When a person takes the shofar and issues
forth a blast, he thereby protests against the reality that sepa
rates him from the Ein-So! He groans bitterly and moans over
his inability to leap over the mountains of being that divide his
soul from its Creator.

Now, the truth is that Rav Soloveichik certainly ventured beyond his father in this regard. He constantly writes about the Shofar as an implement , and expression of prayer. so it is far from clear where he personally stood.

One year, I tried to think deeply during the Shofar of my needs and those of my family. I was so deep in thought that I was doubtful whether I had even really heard each and every note. Since then, I just listen, and I hope that God will hear the prayers of my heart!

No comments: