: the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, a story we read from the Torah on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Sign of the prohibition against child sacrifice. Sign of the mystery. Sign, perhaps, of the wound in creation. The sound of suffering. The sound of liberation
[The photo, by the way, is of Antelope Canyon, in Arizona.
It's how I picture the inside of a shofar.]
For me, the shofar is like poetry. We go to poetry to be moved. To hear language that is encantatory, even revelatory. Metaphors and images that leap in ways that are not entirely rational. But surrounding every poem, each line of verse, is the white space: the shofar of silence that punctuates the sound of words and phrases. Silence we feel more deeply because the words all point to the ineffable. If poems are prayers, then the shofar is the space in between our prayers. The shofar of space. The shofar of time.
We think that we, as humans, are given something that the animals are not given. But it is only humans who need the gift. The animals already embody it. Thus we take up the shofar and blow: Tekiah, Teruah, Shevarim . . . blasts, toots, wails, blares, laments.
I go to synagogue each fall to pray: to recite the words in melodies my ancestors sang but also to stop and hear what lies beyond the limits of speech. What points to the void. Or the transcendent one. The shofar.
A footnote: Tonight I went to hear a program honoring John Cage at 100. It was an alternation, a dialogue, of music between Cage and Pierre Boulez. It was the first time I had heard Cage’s 4’33” (1960) performed. It is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Well, there is never complete silence. Just the instruments and musicians were still as was the conductor. Perfectly still. But the sounds, the clicks, the paper rustlings, throat-clearings, all the ambient noise in the audience at Columbia University’s Miller Theater, where I was, including all the buzzing in my head, as in everyone else’s heads, I suppose, continued. This, too, was a shofar of silence.