Weekly Chasidic Story #984 (s5777-01 / 29 Elul 5776)

The Missing Sobs of the Shofar

Although he was often asked to lead the synagogue in prayer and was always chosen to sound the shofar on Rosh HaShana, it wasn't enough.

Connection:Seaonal - Rosh HaShana.


The Missing Sobs of the Shofar


Some two hundred years ago the Jewish community in Turkey numbered tens of thousands and was completely observant; there was no such thing as a non-religious Jew in Turkey.

But life wasn't so easy. Jews by definition were second-class citizens, and not only that but their very lives were always uncertain. The Turks were not very tolerant of those who denied Islam and it seemed that only G-d stood between the Jews and total annihilation by their Muslim neighbors that outnumbered them a thousand to one.

Our story begins when a young Turkish Jew named Shlomo got tired of living on miracles, separating himself from his gentile neighbors and, most important of all, not getting the attention he thought he deserved from his Jewish brethren. Although he was often asked to lead the synagogue in prayer and was always chosen to sound the shofar on Rosh HaShana, it wasn't enough. He wanted big success in the big outside world…the REAL world.

With his Turkish friends it was completely different. They laughed at his jokes, appreciated his talents and treated him like someone special. It wasn't long before Shlomo spent all his time away from the Jewish community, enjoying life and hoping for bigger things.

Eventually his big break came. One of the richest Muslims in Istanbul was planning a birthday party for his wife. Somehow Shlomo's name had been brought to his attention as an entertainer and he invited him to play.

Shomo was an instant hit! His witty remarks, clever jokes and charming voice had everyone laughing, dancing and exceptionally enjoying themselves. Afterwards the invitations came pouring from more and more important people.

It seemed to Shlomo that the sky was the limit.

And he was right. One wonderful day he received an official invitation to perform in the palace of the Sultan. The Sultan? Wow! He knew that meant all of the richest and most important people of the land would be there. He had a new suit specially tailored for himself and prepared his best songs and jokes. He performed and was a smashing success!

The next day a royal messenger appeared at Shlomo's door with an official letter from the Sultan's palace and a bag of golden coins. He opened it and read:
"His Highness the Sultan wishes to thank you and graciously reward you for your wonderful performance last night. His Highness the Sultan recognizes the talents which Allah has bestowed upon you and wishes to express his gratitude by appointing you to the exalted position as chief royal court musician, a lifetime position. Consequently His Highness the Sultan extends to you the precious opportunity of accepting upon yourself the True Religion of our Glorious Prophet Mohammed as a condition to etc. etc. .

At first Shlomo was flushed with success, but when he saw the last clause he briefly paled. To change his religion? The religion that his parents and generation of Jews sacrificed their lives for?

But then, on the other hand, maybe it wasn't so bad. After all, Islam wasn't really considered idolatry like Christianity. In fact according to some rabbis, it was permissible for a Jew to enter a mosque and even to pray there.

So what if the Muslims didn't do the commandments? Let the other Jews do the commandments! Shlomo is going to be in the palace of the Sultan, earning a fortune, surrounded by luxury, pleasure and fame! And anyway he had already stopped doing some of the commandments long ago, etc. etc.

The next day Shlomo went to the main mosque, accepted Islam, changed his name to Suliman and became a new man with a new job and a new glorious future!

He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He became rich, popular, and famous. It was like a dream. He always seemed to say the right thing at the right time, his music was the rave of the court and the Muslim citizens were humming the tunes of "Suliman the Royal Entertainer."

And it kept going that way for almost a year. Then, suddenly the balloon burst.

One day in the middle of a large festivity someone happened to mention that it was the second day of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year's Day. The conversation turned to the Jews; 'Suliman' made a few clever remarks and then suddenly got an idea.

"Want to hear what the Jewish New Year is?" He asked rhetorically in a humorous voice. He went to a large bag of 'tricks' he kept in the corner and pulled out …. "It's a Shofar!" He shouted loudly holding it up theatrically for all to see. A holy Jewish shofar!" The crowd burst into laughter and all eyes were on him as he spun and danced around holding the shofar high.

"Play a little New Year's tune. Heh, heh!" chuckled the Sultan.

Shlomo put the shofar to his mouth. The room was silent. He made another humorous comment. Everyone laughed then fell silent again

He blew a 'tekiah' note; a long straight blast. The crowd applauded. Shlomo bowed deeply, made another quip, then called for silence and explained. "What you have just heard is one of three types of sounds the Jews make on their New Years; a tekiah; one straight blast. The one I'm going to do now is called a shevarim, three shorter blasts. Are you ready to laugh?!"

Again the crowd fell silent. Again he used the silence to make some sort of joke and then, when he was sure he had everyone's attention, he blew the shevarim. The crowd merrily applauded.

"And the third and last" Said Shlomo exaggeratedly is the Teruah; at least nine very short blasts. Here it goes!"

But this time something happened. Something horrifying. Try as he could, all that came out was a raspy croak, a sort of flatulent sound. The crowd burst into gales of laughter. Shlomo immediately laughed with them, just as though he had done it intentionally.

But when he tried again and again and didn't succeed, people began to sense that maybe he wasn't joking.

"Play that thing, Suliman!" someone said.
"Yes! Show it who's the boss!" yelled another.
"Hey, Jew where is your music!" shouted a third.

They were mocking him. He knew he should just stop and make some sort of clever remark but he couldn't; he had to blow that teruah, he just had to! He knew he could. After all, hadn't he done it a thousand times before?

But the more he tried the more ludicrous he became, until it was obvious that he was losing it.

The crowd began booing him, calling him a stupid Jew and throwing things at him, laughing and laughing until he ran from the room. With shofar in hand, he left the Sultan's palace and went quickly to the Jewish quarter, arriving in time to hear the last hour of the Rosh Hashana prayer in the synagogue.

He was so ashamed. He entered the synagogue, took a prayer shawl, threw it over his head so no one would recognize him, and sat in the corner weeping and hating every instant of his past.

Before the prayers ended he slipped outside so as not to have to face anyone. That evening, after the holiday ended, he made his way to one of the great tzadikim (holy men) in the town to ask him for an explanation. Why was he able to blow all the shofar sounds except the teruah? What was so different about that sound? Why had it eluded him?

The tzadik asked him a question or two and when he understood the whole story he responded with an extraordinary explanation. "Rosh HaShana is the date that G-d finished creating the world. It reminds us that G-d creates everything anew constantly and that we, the Jewish people, have been chosen by the Creator to lead all mankind in serving Him.

"The shofar" continued the rabbi, "is the screaming out of the Jewish soul from a narrow place to a 'wide place' saying; "G-d we are your people, your servants, please be our King!"

"According to Kabbalah, each of the three types of shofar blasts are connected mystically to one of the founding fathers of Judaism; the tekiah to Abraham, the shevarim to Issac and the teruah to Jacob."

The Rabbi smiled. "And that is why you couldn't make the teruah. The tekiah, corresponds to Abraham. But Abraham, as you remember, had a son called Ishmael that left Judaism and became the father of the Arabs and of Islam. The shevarim correspond to Issac. He gave birth to Jacob, but he also bore Esav, who also left Judaism and became the father of the Arian peoples with their religions.

"So you, Shlomo, although you separated yourself from the Jewish people, could make the first two sounds. But the teruah is connected to the third and ultimate forefather Jacob, or Yisroel as he was later called. His 'offspring were perfect'; they became the twelve tribes of Israel, and had no connection to any object of worship other than the Creator Himself.

"Because you, Shlomo, lost your connection to 'Yisroel' you were unable to make the third sound, the teruah."

When Shlomo heard this profound explanation he was shaken to the very core of his soul. From deep inside he well understood that he had to return to his real self, to his true identity as a Jew.

Source: Edited by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Rabbi Tuvia Bolton in 2007 (now posted on his website, //ohrtmimim.org).


Connection: Seasonal: Rosh Hashana

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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