Rosh HaShanah is referred to as a zikhron teruah, of remembrance of shofar blasts, and when it falls out on Shabbat, as it does this year, we only have the memory of the blasts, not the blasts themselves. On one level this is a loss: we will be denied the stirring, powerful sounds of the shofar. But it is also a presence, a felt silence that can heard when there are no blasts to overpower it.
In U’ntaneh Tokef, we recite: u’bi’Shofar gadol yi’takah, vi’kol demamah dakah yishama, “and the great shofar shall be sounded, and the sound of a thin, still silence shall be heard.” This phrase evokes the verse from Kings, where God appears to Eliyahu with a great wind, earthquake and fire and declares: God is not in the wind, God is not in the earthquake, God is not in the fire. God is in the still, small voice that can barely be heard. God is in the silence.
We spend so much of our lives – or at least we did, prior to COVID-19 – running around, occupying ourselves, seeking distraction, entertainment, stimulation, and challenge. The shofar pulls us out of that noise, lets us listen to the silence, to the small voice of our inner soul, to the voice telling us who we really are and how we can become our best selves. It lets us listen to the small, silent voice of the world, the voice that is telling us – here is what needs to be fixed, here is a change that you can make in the world for the better. It raises us above the din of our family dynamics, and lets us hear the voices that are saying, “I need your attention, I need your love, I need your support.”
When there is noise and busy-ness, we need the blast of the shofar. But when there is quiet around us, when it is Shabbat, we can embrace the silence directly. We can hear the small still voices of our heart, the world, and our loved ones because our ears are attuned and the world is quiet.
In many ways, this year has been an extended Shabbat for the world. So much of the energy, productivity and noise has been silenced. What are we hearing in that silence? Some of what I’ve been hearing in the silence is that we are all interconnected, that global events will affect us all, that with the acceleration of climate change, we will need to work together to face the natural disasters and profound challenges to come. I’ve been hearing the voices about race, and healthcare and inequality. And in the silence and remove from the hubbub of the office, I’ve been able to hear the voices of my coworkers, the voice that says, “Empower me. Give me space. Allow me to spread my wings.”
Let us all take a moment and reflect: What are the small, still voices that I’ve been hearing, or that I haven’t been hearing but should have been listening for, these last 6 months? And on this much quieter Rosh HaShanah this year, let us embrace the silence. Let us structure our time, the time that we are not in shul, to reflect and to get in touch with that small voice within and the whispers of the world. Let us listen closely to the unarticulated feelings of our spouse, our children and our parents, so that we may connect with their hopes and aspirations for themselves and for the family for the year that is to come. Let us make time to sit, to be enveloped by the silence, and to hear its powerful voice.