When my children were much younger, we would spend several days at the end every summer at Canon Beach on the Oregon coast (see harryzeitlin.com for many of the photographs I created there over the years). Quite often, depending on the calendar, it would already be the Jewish month of Elul, the month which precedes Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
An ancient practice, established by our sages, is to sound the Shofar, the ceremonial ram’s horn, every morning (except Shabbat) of Elul. So, along with my tallit and tefillin, I would toss my shofar into my suitcase. Looking back, I’m not sure if my children thought it was cool or were embarrassed, probably a little of both, when I would, wearing said tallit and tefillin, stand on the deck of our hotel room and blow the notes of the Shofar out to the beach. It always felt a much more powerful experience to me than when I blew or merely heard it at home or in synagogue.
I often cite the teaching of the Meor Eynayim, the foundational text of Chernobler Chassidut, written by Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, where he writes that the real reason behind our travels is to find and redeem the holy sparks, the נצוצי הקודש, Netzutaei HaKodesh, that are uniquely connected to our individual Neshamot (souls). Moreover, when we find ourselves returning and returning to the same places, it’s because some of these Holy Sparks still remain for us to lift up.
I was in Canon Beach for a few days a couple weeks ago, just before Rosh Chodesh Elul. While I didn’t of course, bring my shofar with me, I did bring my tallit and tefillin. I did daven three times a day there, say berachot (blessings) over what I ate there, said the Shema morning and evening. I guess that, for the time being at least, I no longer have any “shofar sparks” left there, but looking back, it was a privilege, a זכות, a zechut, to have had this assignment. Perhaps this is what our sages mean when they taught שכר מצוה מצוה, Schar Mitzva Mitzva, that the reward for a mitzva is that mitzva itself.