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Sounding the Shofar During a Time of Crisis

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

This morning, our fifth and sixth grades families started their day learning Mishnah together, an annual tradition right after the Chagim. Everyone divided into chevrutot by family and jumped into the text of Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:7:

הַתּוֹקֵעַ לְתוֹךְ הַבּוֹר אוֹ לְתוֹךְ הַדּוּת אוֹ לְתוֹךְ הַפִּטָּס, אִם קוֹל שׁוֹפָר שָׁמַע, יָצָא. וְאִם קוֹל הֲבָרָה שָׁמַע, לֹא יָצָא

If one sounds a shofar into a pit, or into a cistern, or into a large jug, if they clearly heard the sound of the shofar, they have fulfilled their obligation; but if they heard the sound of an echo, they have not fulfilled their obligation.

Like so many of you, I can only process through the lens of Israel right now. Whether I am speaking with a family member whose partner is in the army, reading a book to preschoolers, or engaging in a finance committee meeting- everything is about Israel: the shock, the pain, the loss, the trauma, the anxiety, the fear, the empathy, the disappointment, the guilt, etc. So too, with this Mishnah.

We are all scrambling to do what we can to help. I think many of us outside of Israel are trying anything: calling and WhatsApping with our people incessantly, sending money to whomever, sending supplies to anyone who asks, praying in ways that maybe haven’t spoken to us in the past, taking on new mitzvot, hugging anyone who will take it, and even doom scrolling. Each of us knows that some things we are doing are productive, some are not helpful, and some are worth trying. At the very least, we want our people- our children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends- to know that we will not carry on as usual during these times. We want them to know that we hear their suffering, and we want them to hear our responses.

Yesterday was a "ta'anit tzibur," a community-wide fast day, a tradition described in the Mishna as a tool at a community’s disposal when they are in a crisis. I joined the mincha service at the end of the fast in the B’nai Jeshurun sanctuary just downstairs from the school. The room was packed with people praying the way I have always imagined a ta'anit tzibur would look- the way people pray when they all need the same thing, fast and desperately. And I told my friend that I hope that the hostages in Gaza think we are praying for them. I pray that they feel confident that everyone is praying for them, maybe even somehow hearing the voices of our prayers.

It feels like blowing the shofar into a pit. If the person who needs to hear it cannot, it is as if it was not blown from a halachic perspective. Even if you hear it in a second-hand way, as an echo, it is irrelevant. So, what do we do in a situation like this to make sure that the voice of our communal shofar is heard by everyone who needs to hear it?

We keep blowing louder and louder and in more and more places until it has the necessary impact.

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