The Joy of a Ba’al Tekiah
The Joy of a Ba’al Tekiah
I have been a shofar maker for the last 20 years. Over the years I have made some 4-500 shofarot from about 19 different kosher animals. Although I make traditional shofarot from rams horns I also made shofarot from Kudu, Waterbuck, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, Buffalo, Prong Horned Antelope, Scimitar Oryx and many others. I am honored that my shofarot have been carried around the world and are enhancing the High Holiday services in innumerable congregations. I have pictures from congregation after congregation showing their Ba’al Tekiah with one of my shofarot. Most recently I received a picture of Anat Hoffman from Women of the Wall blowing one of my shofarot at the Kotel, Rosh Hodesh Elul. For me an honor beyond measure
Ten years ago, I was asked by the rabbi of my temple to stop being just the maker of shofarot and become the Ba’al Tekiah for the congregation, an honor that I have had over these last years.
As a Ba’al Tekiah and a maker of shofarot, I have been teaching classes on the making, blowing and lore behind the shofar for many years. The joy in watching both young and old congregants make their first sound from the shofar is awesome. As that first sound leaves the shofar I watch the connectedness to the Jewish people as a smile forms across the budding Ba’al Tekiah’s face.
But what you may ask is it like to blow the shofar on the High Holidays?
When thinking about the HH service the most important point is to remember that the commandment is to hear shofar not to blow shofar. Not only are there pages and pages of rabbinic text discussing what constitutes hearing shofar, there are as many pages discussing what makes a shofar kosher.
A quick story: My youngest brother is a professor of music, teaching bassoon at Rice University’s Shepard School of Music. One afternoon, sitting around my workshop, we got into a discussion of where the sound that comes out of the shofar starts. We discussed how, be it a bassoon or shofar, the sound starts in the back of the head, moves through your body and comes out the instrument. He explained that the musician is the instrument and the shofar/bassoon is only the tool to release the sound from the musician’s soul. So as I prepare for the High Holiday services, I am thinking/feeling both the sound of my shofar and the calls that I will be playing.
The way I explain the experience of blowing shofar is as follows: As I stand in front of the congregation I remind myself of an old kabalistic story: “When a rabbi was asked by his young student, “Rabbi how do we touch the divine”, his answer was as follows: There are three ways to touch the divine, through words, through sound and in silence. “But what is the best way” the student asked. After thinking a minute, the rabbi responded. When our head is filled with words there is little space left for the voice of the divine, so this is the least effective way to touch the divine. When our soul is filled with music we can make room for the divine and when we sit in silence, the divine is free to enter our soul”.
During the HH service all three aspects for reaching the divine are covered. It starts with the words of the rabbi when he/she calls forth the sounds for the Ba’al Tekiah. Both the congregation and I the Ba’al Tekiah hear the words and the soul begins to awaken. As the Ba’al Tekiah I then take the shofar to my mouth to blow the Tekiah, Shevarim or Teruah that is called. The sound of the shofar then fills the temple with its ancient vibrations. Then as I blow the shofar sending the sound of the shofar into the temple surrounding the congregation with the magic of music I watch the spirit of the congregants move upward following the sound of the shofar skyward. Sitting in silence carried upward by the sound of the shofar, each congregent has opened his/her soul to connect with the divine. And then for a short time before the next call, we all bask in the silence as the divine fills our hearts. We are taken upward a hundred times until the final Tekiah Gedolah.
So now you know why I am both honored and humbled when I stand in front of the congregation to carry out this ancient ritual.