Every year in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I challenge my students to think of things we do to prepare for the holiday. The list starts with “we buy apples and honey,” and progresses to round challah and pomegranates. We then discuss spiritual preparations which include looking back on the whole year and identifying areas in need of improvement and people we need to approach to seek forgiveness. Only then do we think of more playful things like putting aside some bread to throw in to a river for tashlich, or assembling reading material for synagogue to get us through the hours and hours spent sitting.
This year is different. Rosh Hashanah services will not be the same as usual this year. For some, it will mean watching a service over Zoom. For others, it will mean attending a much shorter, socially distanced service. For many, Rosh Hashanah will be spent at home. Many synagogues have provided links for ordering mahzors, the special prayer books we use on the holiday—while all shuls have them, safety concerns mean they are not lending them out. The assumption is that many will be praying alone at home, or tuning in over Zoom. However, I have heard very few people addressing the most important mitzvah of the holiday—hearing the shofar. Enter Chabad!
As we all know, Chabad and Chabad shluchim are everywhere in the world—from Anchorage to Bangkok to Brisbane. Jews know they can just show up at a Chabad House and their needs for a Shabbat meal, a Passover Seder, a listening ear and so much more will be there. But what about shofar blowing? What will Chabad rabbis do to meet the needs of those unable to go to shul? I assume Chabad rabbis around the world will go to homes and apartment buildings and town squares and blow shofar from outside (this year, only on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah as the first day is Shabbat). But that may require complex coordination and timing.
Imagine my delight when I came across an email with the subject line “Learn to blow the shofar @home.” Against a dark blue background is a blue man with an orange kipa—and an orange shofar with the words, “This year, blowing shofar is in your hands.” And there is a link to register for a 3 session course—which I just took today!
I have been blowing shofar each day of Elul and am a more than passable amateur—for Elul mornings. But Rosh Hashanah is different. The stakes are higher. Enter Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan and three videos—about 15 minutes each, on The ABCs of Shofar Blowing, Kosher Shofar Blowing and the Kabalah of Shofar. Rabbi Kaplan acknowledges that many people will be at home this year and will need to take responsibility for blowing the shofar. He addresses how to select a shofar, where to get it, tricks on how to blow (right side, since that is where Satan resides; use two fingers to support lips), he explains and demonstrates the 3 sounds, addresses who can blow the blessing and shares mystical and spiritual elements. The course is free but it is worth a donation for learning to fulfill such an important mitzvah for oneself and potentially for a family or a neighborhood. Highly recommended!
Go buy honey and get a pre-holiday haircut—but don’t forget about shofar blowing!