If the Jewish tradition were like an annoying older brother, he would probably say "Sheket!"* to all your questions, and then go back to
Luckily for all of us, Jewish tradition isn't like a know-it-all older brother.
It's more like a zeyde...a twinkly-eyed Jewish family patriarch who loves to scoop you onto his lap and tell you stories about the time when Uncle Moshe led the entire family across the scalding hot sand, and how the manna tasted like borscht on Tuesdays and matzah brie every second Friday. Just like a zeyde, sometimes the tradition can tell stories that get kinda long, or go over your head, or even seem a bit gruff. But the older you get the more you realize that just as your bubbe or zeyde was an authentic link to the Jewish past, so the tradition is. And that without that link to the past, your Jewish present and future will be...well, let's just say more boring than a stage adaptation of Leviticus.
Jewish tradition is all about "Why?"
The midrash is all the "Why?"s asked by the great sages of Jewish history about the stories in the Torah. The Talmud is the "Why?s" asked by the sages about halakha (how we "walk out" the commandments in Torah). Why does the youngest child learn to sing "Ma Nishtana?" (the four questions) at the Passover seder? So she will be taught to ask "Why?"!
So why are you telling me this?
I'm glad you asked. On Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar--great! But why? Why did God command us to blow the ram's horn on this day once a year?
The Saadia Gaon (9th century Jewish sage) suggested not just one, but 10 reasons. You could say that this is part of a long tradition of "top ten" lists that goes back to Moshe Rabbenu and the Ten Commandments. I was going to write out the list myself, but Derek Leman beat me to the punch.
So go ahead, check out Derek's article on the Saadia Gaon's ten reasons why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Top that, Dave!
When you're finished, ask yourself:
- Are the Saadia Gaon's reasons for blowing the shofar relevant to me today?
- Which reason most resonates with me? What does that tell me about myself?
- Which reason least resonates with me? Why? Does it point to an area in my beliefs where I could stand to learn more, or grow a bit?
- How can I make sure to remember these reasons when we sound the shofar this Rosh Hashanah?
*Hebrew for "Quiet!"