Shanah Tovah everyone. In just a few minutes we’re going to get to be a part of one of the most important parts of Rosh Hashanah—hearing the shofar. But why do we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah anyway? Why is it so important? For the answer, we have to take a trip to far away tropical island.
You see once upon a time, there was a sailor named Sam. Sam had been all over the world, Africa, North America, South America, Asia, but by far, his favorite place was the South Pacific and on one of his adventures, Sam landed on a very small island he’d never been to before. When he arrived, the natives who lived there welcomed him and the chief of the tribe even gave Sam a hut right next to his to stay in. That night they had a wonderful dinner and Sam went to sleep. But in the middle of the night, he was woken up by loud drumming and the sounds of horns. Sam ran out of his hut to see what was going on and he saw all of the tribesmen beating big drums and blowing horns.
“Chief! What’s going on?,” Sam asked. “Don’t worry,” said the Chief. “There is a fire on the other side of the island, but now that the drummers and the h orn blowers have started, the fire will soon be put out.”
Sam was amazed by the idea that these special horns and drums could put out a fire. For the rest of the night, he couldn’t sleep, all he could think about were these magic horns and drums. He thought about all the fires in the little village he was from and he got an idea. In the morning, he purchased a few sets of the native drums and horns and loaded them onto his ship to take home.
Sam set sail and after a long journey, finally returned home to his little village with the drums and horns he had brought back from that small, tropical island.
The next day, Sam gathered all his friends and neighbors to tell them about his most recent adventure. He told them about the little island and the tribe of natives who had been so kind and welcoming to him and how they used these magic drums and horns to put out fires.
“We never have to worry about a fire again,” Sam said to everyone as he passed out horns and drums to all of his friends and neighbors.
A few weeks went by and one night, the village watchmen came running and yelling, “Fire! Fire!” Immediately, Sam and his neighbors got out their drums and horns and started to play. The drummers beat on their drums with all their might and the blowers blew on their horns as loud as they could. The whole time Sam kept telling everyone, “Don’t worry. Everything will be alright.” But everything was not all right.
Things went from bad to worse as the flames got bigger and the village burned.
Angry and ashamed, Sam left his village and set sail. He was determined to go back to that little island and tell the chief that the magic horns and drums did not work. After weeks and weeks of sailing, Sam finally reached the island. The native tribe was happy to see him again and the chief greeted Sam with a big smile. But Sam was not smiling.
“Chief! You cheated me! I took your magic drums and horns home with me, all the way back to my little village and gave them to all my friends and neighbors but they did not work.”
“What do you mean they did not work?” asked the chief.
“A fire broke out and we beat the drums and we blew the horns—we played and played but the fire did not go out.”
“Sam, did you really believe that beating the drums and blowing the horns could
put out a fire?”
“Of course,” said Sam, “they’re magic!”
“No Sam, they’re not magic. The drums and the horns don’t put out the fire, they put out an alarm calling all the people to wake up and do something about the fire, to save themselves, their houses, their neighbors, their families, their friends. The drums and the horns are not magic—they can’t put out the fire—only you can do that.”
It is the same with the shofar. We blow the shofar this morning because it is an alarm for our souls. The shofar is meant to wake us up, so that we can honestly look at our behavior this past year, make amends with those we have hurt, and make a change.
Where did we fall short? Who did we hurt? What mistakes did we make? What have we done about them? Have we apologized and made amends? What kind of person do we want to be in this new year?
Looking into the mirror of our lives and honestly answering these questions is hard. Saying “I am sorry. Please forgive me,” is hard. Changing our behavior is hard. But this is the work of these High Holy Days. Sitting in this beautiful sanctuary and expecting it to just happen for us, expecting it to be a new year is like expecting those drums and horns to put out a fire.
The shofar is an alarm—a reminder—but it cannot do the work for us. It cannot make this a shana tova—a good year. Only we can do that by reaching out to those we have hurt, by making amends, and by changing our behavior in this new year. Then it will truly be a shana tova u’metukah—a good, and sweet new year. Shana Tova.