My friend and teacher Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel has an album called Awaken, Arise!. The title track begins, "Awaken, arise to the wholeness of your being / Awaken, arise to the beauty of your soul..."
This is one of the side effects of regular prayer practice, for me. When I dip into davenen I awaken, in Reb Hanna's words, to the wholeness of my being. I remember that there is more to me than whatever's at the top of my to-do list this morning.
Elul is a season of awakening and arising. The great medieval sage Maimonides (also known as Rambam) heard in the shofar's call the words "Wake up, you sleepers from your sleep, you slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds and return to Me in teshuvah!"
It's traditional to hear the shofar every day during Elul. For some of us that means blowing shofar each day. For others, maybe hearing the shofar on YouTube. And for still others of us, the hearing of the shofar may be more metaphorical than actual.
But even a metaphorical shofar can pack quite a punch. Wake up! The year is waning! Are you the person you intended to be?
These days I most often awaken to our son's presence in our doorway. Each day he comes to wake me into relationship, into my role as mother and caregiver. His footfalls on the stairs call me out of sleep. Wake up! It's morning-time! I had a good sleep! Can you put on your robe and make me waffles? His needs are generally pretty prosaic, but they're non-negotiable. When he's hungry, he's hungry -- it doesn't matter if I wanted to sleep another ten minutes.
The presence of our not-quite-four-year-old is a kind of shofar, waking me to the responsibilities of my day.
Everyone I meet can be a kind of shofar. Every voice can call me to awareness and recognition: of wholeness and brokenness, of "the beauty of my soul" (in Rabbi Hanna Tiferet's phrasing), of the ethical realm in which I have obligations to the Other, of the ways in which I've missed the mark and need to do better.
Suddenly you are awakened by a strange noise, a noise that fills the full field of your consciousness and then splits into several jagged strands, shattering that field, shaking you awake. The ram's horn, the shofar, the same instrument that will sound one hundred times on Rosh Hashanah, the same sound that filled the world when the Torah was spoken into being on Mount Sinai, is being blown to call you to wakefulness. You awake to confusion. Where are you? Who are you?
That's Rabbi Alan Lew in his book This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, the chapter on Elul, which is titled "The Horn Blew And I Began To Wake Up." This is the month during which we are called to wake up to all of who we are, to all of who we have been, to all of who we could become.