There is this very poor woman. She has but two silver coins to her name. They sit snug in the depth of her pocket and she fingers them as she walks. She is poor but happy. It is early morning. She passes by a bakery and this bakery oozes the most incredible aroma. It smells like the bakery of the Garden of Eden itself. Intoxicating! She stops in the middle of the street, closes her eyes and takes a long slow indulgent inhale. In the midst of her lavish smell who should interrupt her but the baker. He jumps out of the bakery and cries, ‘That sniff is gona cost ya! Two silver coins!’ “What?!” She replies, astounded, “That’s absurd. You cant charge me for a sniff!” “You bet I can! The King has just passed a new decree that says that things like sniffs and sounds and tastes have value! They cost something these days!” The woman retorts, “I cant believe it! Let’s take the case to the King!”
And so they come before the King. He hears the case with patience and care. At the end he turns to the poor woman and with a look of infinite compassion he says, “It’s true. According to our kingdom’s new edict, smells do now cost something. You’ll have to give the baker your two coins.” Oy. She is distraught. But what can she do. She can’t argue with the King. So with great agony she reaches down deep into her pocket and with a sigh, a moan and an“Oy” she pulls out the first coin and laboriously lays it upon the table with a loud resounding thud. She reaches down and again with audible pain she pulls up her last coin. She lays it down on the table with such a pitiful thud that it seems to echo from one end of the earth to the other.
The baker grabs for the coins but they are intercepted by the King, who passes them back to the astounded woman. “What! Those are my coins!” protests the baker. The King turns to him, also with infinite compassion and says, “If she had to pay for the smell of your bakery, then you have to pay for the sound of her coins!”
What's the point of this story and what's its connection to Rosh Hashana, you might ask. In short – our senses have value! They are our riches. Would that we lived in a kingdom that really appreciated that fact. Just look at the Shema, the great mystical pillar of our tradition. Its all about listening. It acknowledges that our listening is indeed a treasure house. What’s more, it is the ancient Jewish call to unitary consciousness. ‘Listen, Israel - to the Oneness!’ It’s a Jewish Zen moment calling for mindfulness, for receptivity. Usually we read it as, “Hear o Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” But I want to read it differently – “Listen o Israel and you will hear the Oneness of god!” The implicit promise of the Shema is that if you only stop a moment and Listen – then you will come to know the oneness of god. Through the portal of your listening you will come to know oneness.
Your ears – portals to oneness. Have you ever seen those posters in Chinese medicine with an ear that has a fetus superimposed upon it. Next time, notice the ear of the person sitting next to you. It is indeed an astounding replica of the fetus. It has mapped out upon it our entire body. It is a holograph of our being…with acupressure points for our whole body. It is one organ that reflects the entire whole. It portrays the oneness of our being. So when we are listening we are not just listening with our ears but with our whole united self. Through these two precious little fetus-like holographs that flank our head!
And this is where we come to Rosh Hashanah. The day we are celebrating the birth of the world. This time is like the very fetus of the world! Plus, today is the day that man was created. So we are reaching back to the earliest time of our formation. We are touching the fetus, as it were, of our reality. And the fetus of this coming new year as well. It is said that what we do on Rosh Hashana – the energy we generate at these first moments of our new year – will set the tenor for the entire year. Its just like the development of a child. A small mistake at the early stages, God forbid, grows and magnifies as the child matures. One small misdeed with a kid and you get 15 years of psychotherapy. These formative moments are so essential.
So this Rosh Hashana is our fetus, our baby. We have to hold this time so gently...with so much care, consciousness and attention. The world is in such a tragic state – but at Rosh Hashana we have the power to set the stage for the rest of the year. Not just the power but the responsibility.
So if this is such a crucial time, what are we suppose to do? So much responsibility! Do we get up and start a protest? Do we run out into the streets lamenting? Prayer, obviously, is a good choice. Yet, there's more. I think that the tradition gives us a deeper answer. The central mitzvah – commandment – of Rosh Hashanah is what? Hearing the Shofar. You can do nothing else all day, and as long as you heard the shofar – with intention – you have fulfilled the holiday. The blessing we say is: “l’shmoa kol shofar”. “Blessed are you God who commanded us to listen (shema) to the voice of the shofar.” Not just the sound of the shofar, but the voice.
And there's a big difference between a sound and a voice. A voice implies communication. It implies content. A sound is but an incoherent mass of noise. But not a voice. This shofar has really got something to say. So why is it that all we hear is this strange broken sound?
The sound of the shofar is likened to a baby crying. Babies cry, they don’t speak their needs coherently. The word Infant (related to font/language) means 'one unable to speak'. The key is to listen to the voice behind the cry; to be able to hear the cry and somehow miraculously intuit exactly what the child needs. Even though the cry is incoherent. It is the parents greatest task to listen and respond to that cry.
Of course we want the voices we hear to be clear; cogent; understandable. If a person says to you, I need x, its much easier to give it when asked for clearly. But how often are we in situations where we try to communicate our needs and they sound totally incoherent, confused. The teaching of the shofar is, ‘Listen to me, hear the voice that speaks behind the sound.’ Not just what I'm saying on the outside but what I'm saying on the inside.
Its like the Grateful Dead said, “You told me goodbye, how was I to know you didn’t mean goodbye, you meant please don’t let me go.” How often do we say one thing but mean something so much deeper. Like the saying goes, “Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you Don’t say!” True friends listen to the voice under the sound of what you're saying. That’s listening with love.
Rosh Hashanah is called a Yom Teruah – a day of the teruah. Teruah meaning ‘the shofar blow’. But Teruah comes from the same root as the word ‘Reut’ which in Hebrew means love and deep friendship. This is the day of the sounding out of love. A day of listening to the love beneath the sound and the fury.
How often do you turn on the news only to hear an incoherent sound of wailing. A world at war. What is being communicated? Violence, Hatred. Yes, its true. But stop a moment and try to hear the content beneath the fury and rage. For so often, the rage is just there to mask the sadness, the pain, the cries for love. That doesn’t mean that we accept the violence, but it does mean that we try to listen to each other better. For underneath all of the rage I sincerely believe that people are muffling a cry to love and attention.
On Rosh Hashanah we are invited to listen to the voice beneath the sound and the fury. To look at our lives and to piece out from the whirlwind of noise, a calling. What am I supposed to do with my life? We all want so desperately for a voice from heaven to come down and say, “Good morning, your task today is x.” Stated clearly, with detailed directions. We want heaven to speak to us. We want direct access, all the time. And the secret is, heaven is speaking. But not in the crystal tones of clarity we so often want.
Rosh Hashanah teaches that we just need to stop and listen, listen deeply, to the calling of our lives. To hear the reason we were born into this world. To hear the voice of this strange and wonderful tribal instrument of the shofar. To hear the voice of the fetus of the world. Of the fetus of this new year.
So this Rosh Hashanah, as we are listening to the shofar, I bless us all to hear deeply into the VOICE that speaks through it. What is the voice saying to us at this time in our lives? What are we being called to do – personally, nationally, globally? May we hear the reut in the teruah – the love in the shofar blasts, and the love behind all the battle cries. May we ear and hear the Oneness.