Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shofar Blast

During the Jewish High Holidays there are two sounds that give me chills. One is the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn. On Rosh Hashanah it is blown 100 times, in a certain pattern. T’kiah! Truah! Sh’varim! After 10 days, at the end of Yom Kippur, the rabbi invites all the shofar blowers in the congregation to come forward for one final “T'kiah Gadol” - a great long blast. It is not a musical sound, but has a rawness that shakes the soul. Well, it shakes my soul.

The other sound is the tune of Kol Nidrei, a haunting melody probably 6 centuries old which is sung at the beginning of the Yom Kippur day of atonement and fasting. The words, though, are at odds with the music. The lyrics are in Aramaic. It is a rather legalistic passage, about being released from the vows you made with God and then broke during the year. Fortunately for me, I can’t understand Aramaic, so I am left with just the music, which is a good preparation for the service that follows: confessing to an alphabet of sins (yes, really), appealing to God (Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father Our King) to forgive us, pleading for a good year ahead.

Although the theology of Yom Kippur is not what I ascribe to, I find the Jewish High Holidays meaningful. The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are supposed to be for apologizing for the wrongs we have committed against each other during the past year. You could argue that we are supposed to be saying those things all year long, but deadlines are great!

Fasting is a challenging spiritual discipline. At the very least, not eating for 25 hours helps one appreciate, just a little, what it is to be hungry, and how just one day without food can affect one’s emotions, reaction time, and general outlook. A fast gives one more time for pondering things of the spirit. I am amazed at how much of my time is freed up when I don’t need to prepare, serve, and clean up a meal.

So, Happy New Year! Next up, it’s Sukkot – the tent holiday!


mariah reed said...

This is especially interesting to me because you talk about fasting and how it wears one down. As I prepare for Chapter 13 in Acts, Saul and Barnabas and prophets and teachers are fasting and praying. I used to think of fasting as a way to attain a deeper spiritual level but now I am wondering if they were praying that they didn't argue with one another. I mean, wouldn't one become increasingly irritable as one went without food?

leafmonster said...

I think you are right that fasting is a way to attain a deeper spiritual level, and has been used by God's people in that way for thousands of years. It is true that when one is fasting one can be more easily irritated. But if you are praying, or trying to focus spiritually, while fasting, maybe that allows you to overcome the temptation to argue with one another, and instead focus on the "higher" things.
Another key is whether they were all fasting and praying together.