The Shofar is the satellite navigation system of the soul

September 18, 2009
ThoughtForTheDay 20200515 RabbiLordSacks mp3 image 1
Broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, 18th September 2009

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight. And on Sunday in the synagogue we’ll blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, as a kind of summons to us to get back on track in our lives. Asking God to write us in the book of life helps us remember our aims and aspirations in life. And we need such moments of reflection, individually and as a society, because otherwise the sheer pace and pressure of events can stop us noticing that for all our efforts we’re still no nearer our destination.

Here’s an example. I’m fascinated by the cars I see on my way to work. There are 4 wheel drive MPVs that can take you anywhere from the North Pole to the Sahara desert. There are sports cars that can go from zero to a hundred miles an hour in less than six seconds. Each one is a miracle of technology. A hundred and fifty years ago, all there were, were horses and carriages, as low tech as you can get. A hundred and fifty years ago the average speed of traffic in London was ten miles an hour. And today? You guessed it: ten miles an hour. A car was supposed to get you from A to B more rapidly, but the faster we built cars the more congested the roads became.

Or take work. In the 1960s when I was studying economics, we believed that automation would transform the economy so much that work would shrink to twenty hours a week and the biggest problem we’d have was what to do with all our leisure time. Yet instead, we found ourselves working harder than ever; and now our mobile phones and emails mean that work pursues us into places and times outside of work, interrupting even the little leisure we have left.

I’m not suggesting there’s any easy answer, but we’ll never get where we want to be if we don’t stop, from time to time, to check how far we’ve come –which is what we do in the synagogue once a year. The shofar is the satellite navigation system of the soul, reminding us of our ultimate destination, telling us how far we’ve yet to go.

Perhaps we all need something like the Jewish New Year, to remind us of the ideas and hopes that once inspired us and should inspire us still, thanking God for our achievements, asking for His help in the tasks that still lie head. Shanah tovah. May it be a good year for us all.