Years ago, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben introduced the New Year rituals of Rosh Hashanah by holding up a long, coiled ram’s horn. Pointing out the twists and turns, he used the shofar as a metaphor for life. “No one’s life,” he said, “is straight and predictable.” Twists, dips and bends, as well as ups and downs are inevitable.
How we adjust and adapt to unplanned and often unwanted events is as crucial to successful living as good planning. If we become too fearful or frustrated, we will experience more sadness and grief than necessary. Yet if we accept and expect detours and even disasters, they can make us stronger and add richness to our lives.
There is comfort and wisdom in recognizing the uncertainties of life and understanding that all our actions and experiences — successes and failures, moments of joys and grief, pride and shame — interact to create the outer curves and inner texture of the horn that will produce our own unique soul music. They have made us what we are.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the most profoundly redeeming qualities of life are found not in moments of pure happiness or pleasure, but in the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard put it another way: “Life must be understood backward, but lived forward.” Thus, we need to regularly remind ourselves to learn from the past without being overwhelmed by it.
As if to prove the inherent beauty of an examined life, the rabbi ended his sermon by blowing into the small end of the shofar to create a timeless and piercing form of music. Thus, he called on his congregation to celebrate their humanity by letting go of bitterness and resentments arising from old hurts and unmet expectations and eagerly moving toward the future.