September 22, 2018

The deep wellspring of the Shofar

Venerated Chassidic master Rabbi Hillel of Paritch (in his magnum opus Pelach haRimon) likens the Shofar’s simple but powerful “cry” to a mighty wellspring bursting forth from the depths of the earth. Such a wellspring, explains Reb Hillel, replenishes even a parched river, i.e. one whose flow has all but ceased. While the analogy is admittedly beautiful the question of relevance remains, for how are we Jews of the modern age meant to connect to Reb Hillel’s magnificent teaching? Let us analyze the master’s words a little further. To begin with, Reb Hillel clearly associates the use of Shofar with the unleashing of deep wellsprings, or, sources of flow that are normally concealed from our conscious experience. As is known in the material sciences, nature’s water cycle (hydrologic cycle) exists in two primary expressions: 1) Revealed waters and 2) Concealed waters. “Revealed” waters are simply defined as states of flow that are directly tangible/experiential to us, e.g. Precipitation (rain descending from the clouds above). In contrast, “Concealed waters” can be defined as states of flow that are utterly hidden, e.g.Percolation (water penetrating deep into the earth below). By stating the Shofar unleashes deep waters (waters issuing from the depths of the earth), Reb Hillel suggests that even the waters that are normally concealed (hidden below) come as a result of Shofar bursting forth. This is beautifully intimated in the word Shofar itself, wherein the numerical value of its letters (Shin = 300, Vav = 6, Pey = 80, and Reish = 200) equals exactly the Hebrew word for “wellsprings” (“Ma’ayanot” – Mem = 40, Ayin = 70, Yud = 10, Yud = 10, Nun = 50, Vav = 6, and Tav = 400) 

This phenomenon teaches us that there is an intrinsic relationship between the revealing of “wellsprings,” i.e. sources of hidden water, and Shofar. To help clarify the idea, there is a story told of my ancestor Rav Zev Volf Kitzitz (one of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s closest disciples). As is known from Chassidic tradition, the Ba’al Shem Tov assigned Reb Wolf the awesome task of sounding Shofar every Rosh HaShannah. One year in particular, the Ba’al Shem Tov spent considerable time instructing Reb Wolf as to the appropriate Kabbalistic meditations to be used on Rosh HaShannah (in the hour of sounding the Shofar.) Diligently, Reb Wolf recorded every one of his master’s insights, careful not to omit even a single letter. A week passed, and on the morning of Rosh HaShanah, Rev Wolf confidently proceeded to the synagogue with both his Shofar and the paper containing the Ba’al Shem Tov’s sacred instructions. All of a sudden, a strong gust of wind dislodged the paper from Rev Wolf’s fingers and blew it away, never to be seen again. Trembling and disheartened, Reb Wolf entered the synagogue refusing to gaze upward lest he encounter the haunting eyes of his master. Ascending to the podium, Reb Wolf took hold of the Shofar and with tear filled eyes and a broken heart performed the Tekiot (blasts) as prescribed. The entire assembly trembled at the sounds emanating from the Shofar, for never before had they felt such explosive and penetrating emotion. Upon the conclusion of Rosh HaShannah, the Ba’al Shem Tov approached Rev Wolf and with a smile said, “I am aware of what transpired before Rosh Hashanah (with the loss of the paper), and you should know that with your simple broken heart you  managed to open in the heavens above more gates then my meditations ever could!”                 

From the above narrative we can better appreciate Reb Hillel’s timeless lesson, namely, when we learn to serve G-D like a Shofar, i.e. from a place of deep heartfelt emotion, we manage to reveal a “wellspring” of Divine “flow”, a powerful current of spiritual revelation that breaks through all created barriers and replenishes the “river” of our Jewish consciousness. Once such hidden depths become manifest, even the driest of rivers (the soul most distant/detached from Divine consciousness), erupts with life. This then becomes a powerful and useful meditation for the New Year (Rosh Hashannah) in general, and the sounding of the Shofar in particular, namely, in the hour of the Tekiot (Shofar blasts), to contemplate the hidden depths of your own heart (the hidden spiritual potential deep within you) bursting forth. Visualize, in particular, the light of the Divine flooding forth (like a river), flowing from the heavens above through your head, neck, chest, stomach, back, and extremities. As the Tekiotconclude, ask Hashem to aid you in your quest to reveal more of your Divine potential and strive daily to bring about your new awakening in thought (Prayer), word (Torah study) and deed (acts of kindness).

Rabbi Brandon Gaines is a Kabbalist, acupuncturist, herbalist, and martial arts master in Los Angeles.