The Baal Shem Tov asked Reb Wolff Kitzis, one of his senior disciples, to blow the shofar for Rosh Hashanah. To help focus his mind during the blowing, the Baal Shem Tov suggested that Reb Wolff study the kabbalistic kavvanot assigned to the shofar. Reb Wolff devoted himself diligently to the study and wrote notes to take with him to review before blowing the shofar to ensure that his mind would be directed properly.
When it came time for Reb Wolff to go to shul for the holy day and blow the shofar, he looked for his notes, but in vain. And what was worse: without his notes his mind too went blank. Not a single kavvanah could he recall. And so it was that when Reb Wolff stepped before the congregation to blow the shofar he did so with an empty mind and a broken heart.
After the davvenen came to a close, the Baal Shem Tov turned to Reb Wolff and cried: “Yesher koach! Never have I heard such a powerful shofar blowing!”
“But Master,” Reb Wolff said, “I forgot every word I studied and blew the shofar with no kavvanah except the sheer humility of one who knows nothing!”
The Baal Shem Tov smiled and said: “My dear Reb Wolff. In the palaces of earthly kings there are many rooms, each with its own particular key. But one with an ax can enter them all. If this is true of earthly kings, all the more so is it true of the King of Kings. The kavvanot are the keys to each room, but one whose heart is humble can burst into any room!”
What is this ax that brooks no lock? The broken heart. When you realize that you cannot cultivate all the keys needed, when you realize that all your spiritual effort is a subtle support of the ego, when you realize that there is nothing you can do to enter the room of awakening, your heart breaks, and with it all the doors and their locks shatter as well.
Shofar: Ram’s horn. Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., the shofar has been associated primarily with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Order of the Blowing of the Shofar is a set ritual of one hundred notes, broken up into three categories: teki’ah, a continuous rising note; teru’ah, nine short notes; and shevarim, three wailing notes.
Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish New Year, the first of ten consecutive Days of Awe, when Jews engage in self-reflection and forgiveness.
Kavvanot: (Hebrew for “intention,” singular kavvanah): Mystical focal points associated with different ritual acts. By attending to the kavvanah associated with the action about to be undertaken, the doer uplifts the doing to an act of spiritual healing.
Yesher koach: (literally, “straight power”): A common Hebrew phrase of encouragement and praise equal to “Right on!” in colloquial English.