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Breaking Free

Faigy Peritzman

The significance of the structure of a kosher shofar

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

"A

nd in the seventh month, on the first day, there shall be a holy time for you; you shall not perform any mundane work. It shall be a day of sounding the shofar for you.” (Bamidbar 19:1) 
A kosher shofar has a very distinctive shape — narrow at the opening where we blow and wide where the sound emerges. What’s the significance of this structure? (Rav Itamar Schwartz, Bilvavi) 

It was the first day of Rosh Hashanah and I was frustrated. The baby was cranky, Yitzi was bored, and I couldn’t find a spare minute to daven. When there was a knock on my door, I welcomed the distraction. Yet when I saw that my guest was Miriam, I struggled to keep my smile in place. Recovering quickly, I ushered her and her kids inside and settled her on my couch. Miriam’s husband goes to his rebbe every Rosh Hashanah. Here was a perfect chesed for me. I served coffee and teiglach and brought toys for the kids. 
The Gemara states that the sound of the shofar resembles crying; each type of kol resembles a different type of sob. 
What makes a person cry? 
When a person feels confined and bound by his pain, he cries to Hashem to release him from his constricted state. 
From his narrow, painful situation — the “tight spot” — he cries to Hashem; he prays to be released from his suffering and emerge unrestricted — on the “wide side.” 
This reflects a person’s avodah during the Yamim Noraim. We beg Hashem to help us emerge from our sins that restrict us from reaching our greater potential. 
“See Chaim?” Miriam gestured to her son. “Eight years old and he’s not even in shul. Because his father’s not here.” 
“I’m sure my husband would be happy to take him.” 
“He won’t go.” She shrugged unhappily. “He’s a daddy’s boy. Just like Dina’s a mommy’s girl.” She pointed to her cute preteen who was reading on the beanbag. “Her teacher says she needs tutoring, but Dina won’t agree. She only wants me to help her. What do I know about math in Hebrew?” 
“Two of my daughters are excellent tutors in both Hebrew and English.” 
Miriam gave a deep, long-suffering sigh. “Who has money for such things? Besides, what’s the point? I was never good at math. Dina will end up just like me. Stuck without any employment skills. Because her father could never hold down a job.” 
I hate to admit it, but I was tuning Miriam out. Listening to her was like listening to “True Confessions of a Martyr.” Nothing ever worked out for her, and nothing was ever her fault. 
In the physical world, we often find the concept of confinement versus freedom. When someone lacks money, he feels confined. When he has adequate livelihood, he feels unfettered and free. 
People like to be free from confinement. The lesson of the shofar, however, isn’t about escaping your physical confines. It’s about escaping the confines within your soul that hinder your growth. 
If a person uses a shofar that has one of its openings plugged, he hasn’t fulfilled the mitzvah. The mitzvah is only fulfilled when one blows from the narrow opening and sound emits from the wide opening. 
In terms of our own souls, we need to force ourselves out of the narrow restrictions we find ourselves, and expand to our full potential. 
In a shiur I once heard, Rebbetzin Sima Spetner said that we each have a crutch in life. Our individual crutch is the belief we fall back on that keeps us from change or growth. 
Some people’s crutches are very clear, both to them and to those around them. But others are buried under excuses and false reasoning, defenses and despair. 
What’s my crutch? I sat on the couch after Miriam left, pondering the remains of teiglach crumbs. I could see Miriam’s crutch quite clearly, but obviously she couldn’t. Yet perhaps she could see mine. What’s holding me back? Which crutch — that I consider perfectly justified — is in fact hobbling me as I struggle to reach my personal finish line? 
I don’t want to sound like Miriam. But in Heaven I probably do. Brushing the crumbs off the couch, I made a sweeping decision. I was glad Miriam came today of all days. She showed me a mirror of myself. Leaning on preconceived notions is debilitating. 
I’m going for physical therapy. I’m going to become my own personal trainer, diagnosing my weak points, and throwing my crutches out of my life. 
I’m razing my confines and dancing my way to a higher plane. Unfettered, with the beautiful sound of freedom breaking free. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 608)

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