Two Shofar Rituals for the New Moon of Elul
We blow the shofar on all mornings of the month of Elul except Shabbat, in order to remind us that the new year is coming, and to awaken our desire for repentance. Here are two rituals for the blowing of the shofar on the new moon of Elul.
1. Blessing of the Animals
The new moon of the month of Elul, according to Mishnah Rosh haShanah 1:1, is the new year for the animals, just as the full moon of Shevat is the new year for trees. This ritual celebrates and reflects on the human connection to animals.
(Gather in a place where pets can gather too, or where you can see wildlife. Begin with a niggun or song. You can also begin by invoking the four elements.
We have become tyrants on this planet, using its resources for ourselves and driving animals into the corners of the earth. Before we can make amends to one another at the new year, we must first make amends to the vulnerable creatures who live among us. As we hear the cry of the shofar for the first time, may we hear in it the cry of all life. May the One who is the breath of life guide us to protect the earth and make room in it for other creatures to thrive.
(The shofar is blown once, a single tekiyah/blast.)
We are grateful for all the good we get from animals. Some of us eat animals, some wear their skins, some eat eggs and cheese, some use medicines and even organs that come from animals, some wear wool and silk, some write on Torah scrolls, wear tefillin, and blow shofarot that come from animal’s bodies. Some of us do none of these things, but we benefit from the bee that pollinates the flowers and the worm that softens the earth. May the One who is the breath of life cause us to be mindful of these gifts and never to waste them or take them for granted.
(The shofar is blown a second time.)
We bless the creatures we are privileged to live with on the earth: the loving companion animals who live in our houses, the birds at our windows and in the forests, the burrowing creatures under our feet, the fish in the waters of our streams and oceans. May the One who is the breath of life bless all living things that we love and strengthen them.
(Bring forward or turn toward any creatures you wish to bless. Recite the blessing over seeing unique creatures.)
Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha’olam, meshaneh haberiyot.
Beruchah at shekhinah, eloheinu ruach ha’olam, meshanah haberiyot..
Blessed are You, Infinite Presence surrounding and filling the world, who makes many kinds of creatures. May we hear their voices and delight in them.
(The shofar is blown again, and all sing “All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir, or some other song.)
2. Shedding Our Skins: A Ritual for Sloughing Off Our Old Ways
(Place the shofar in the center of a room or field. Begin with a niggun. if you are working in a group, ask everyone to say his or her name and one skin or garment that has been precious to him or her.)
On the day of suffering.
the Divine will hide me in the shade of her tent.
Within the stone she will lift me up
and my new beginning will be exalted…
(Adapted from Psalm 27, traditionally recited during Elul)
Immah Ilaah, exalted Mother, source of life, my birth and breath came through you. I live within the hollow circle of your womb, blessed by your presence that warms and clothes me. As I stretch, change, and grow, you shelter me. Yet my skin grows tight as i grow, and I must step out of it raw and naked to face new things, or else be trapped in my old ways. Give me a new garment to grow into, a new and renewed life.
“Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: There are three sounds that never leave the world: the sound of birthing, the sound of the soul leaving the body upon death, and the sound of the snake shedding its skin.” (Talmud)
Exalted Mother, you are the shofar that is the sound of birth, death, and rebirth, the sound that never leaves the world. As ithe shofar wind passes through us, we are drawn back to the circle of life. As we hear the shofar sound, may we escape our sense of finality, cynicism, and constraint. May we hear the shofar, the sound of the snake shedding its skin, and allow ourselves to be reborn more fully woven into the paths of life.
(Participants may wish to write something that they wish to shed on a long piece of paper which they will shed into a basket at the center of the room during the dance that follows. They should read their shed skin to one other person.)
(Play or sing some music and form a tunnel through which each member crawls. Alternatively, ask everyone to dance, or dance yourself, the movements of a snake shedding its skin. People may place their shed skins into a basket or throw them into a body of water. When everyone has had the opportunity to shed a skin and be reborn, or when you feel you are ready, end the music and come to the center, and blow the shofar.)
Say: Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: There are three sounds that never leave the world: the sound of birthing, the sound of the soul leaving the body upon death, and the sound of the snake shedding its skin.” (Talmud)
Chant a number of times: Beruchah malbishah arumim.
Say: Blessed is She who clothes the naked in new skin. Amen.
Rabbi Jill Hammer is a senior associate at Ma'yan: the Jewish Women's Project at the JCC in Manhattan, the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, and the founder of Tel Shemesh.
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