The Sound of Rosh Hashanah
By Kathleen Nichols
Since the beginning of September, I have seen many early risers from the Magdala Guest House approach the shores of the Sea of Galilee silently and with a tender step, priming their senses to experience the sunrise as Jesus had done so long ago, perhaps from this very place. Especially in September and October, the morning sky is generally red-orange, while the soft dawn breeze over the water is pleasantly punctuated by birdcalls across the Sea. From enormous migrating flocks of storks to the year-round sounds of swifts, herons, ibis, doves, cormorants, the Common Myna, and the unique and cautious hoopoe bird, the display is both fascinating and delightful. Noisy wild parakeets with their flashes of light green in the Eucalyptus trees always seem to surprise, while the most piercing sounds come from the smartly dressed spur-winged plovers jealously defending every inch of their territory. This simple moment peacefully invigorates the senses, fills minds with wonder, and lifts hearts to the God of creation in awe and thanksgiving.
When I am out at sunrise here with others, I hear the Lord himself speaking through creation, and I want to turn to them and exclaim,
Listen! My beloved! (Song of Songs 2:8)
Further on in this same chapter of the Song of Songs, the Lord sweetly asks to hear from each one of us saying,
Let me hear your voice
For your voice is sweet… (Song of Songs 2:14)
This dialogue between the Lord and us that happens with the dawning of a new day can also be deeply facilitated by the September celebration of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. Commemorating the creation of the world, it begins with a call: the shofar, an ancient instrument made from a ram’s horn. A loud shofar blast calls listeners to attention, signifying a cry from heaven to repent; at the same time, the shofar played with a different sound – like that of wailing – is a plea for God’s sweet mercy. The horn is blown 100 times a day on each of the 10 ‘Days of Awe’ (from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur) with these distinctive sounds that punctuate the subdued and contemplative days when the Lord is said to be passing judgment: writing names into the book of life or death for the new year.
Both the mysterious sound of the shofar being played in villages and towns near Magdala this time of year, as well as the unexpected sounds of nature heard daily at sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, lift our minds and hearts in awe and thanksgiving to the God of creation, who in his mercy, makes us new every day, and every year.