A shofar is an instrument made from the horn of a ram or other kosher animal. It was used in ancient Israel to announce the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) and call people together. It was also blown on Rosh Hashanah, marking the beginning of the New Year, signifying both the need to wake up to the call to repentance, and in connection with the portion read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Binding of Isaac (Genesis, chapter 22) in which Abraham sacrifices a ram in place of his son, Isaac. Today, the shofar is featured most prominently in the Rosh Hashanah morning services. It is considered a commandment to hear the shofar blown.
There are four different shofar blasts:
- The Tekiah: the "blast," one long blast with a clear tone.
- The Shevarim: a "broken," sighing sound of three short calls.
- The Teruah: the "alarm," a rapid series of nine or more very short notes.
- The Tekiah Gedolah: "the great Tekiah," a single unbroken blast, held as long as possible.
We are bidden by the Torah to sound a Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, as the verse (Bamidbar 29:1) states: And in the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be declared a holiday for you, a day of sounding a teruah for you.
RAMBAM, wrote that the shofar comes like a trumpet of alarm to awaken us from our spiritual slumber. In his Mishneh Torah, Rambam writes awake, you sleepers, from your slumber. Rouse yourselves from your lethargy. Scrutinize your deeds and return in repentance. Remember your Creator, you who forget the eternal truth in the trifles of the hour, who go astray after vain illusions, which cannot profit. Look well into your souls and mend your ways.
Rav Sa’adyah Gaon writes that the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah contains ten symbolic elements:
1. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Creation, the day when G-d created the world and became its Sovereign. As it is customary to sound trumpets to glorify a king and proclaim one’s subservience to him, similarly do we show our acceptance of G-d’s dominion by sounding the shofar.
2. Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the Ten Days of Repentance. We therefore sound the shofar as a means of announcing and warning that this period has begun. It is as if we announce: Those who choose to repent should do so now, and if they choose not to do so, let them not come later and complain about their fate. This too is the manner in which kings exercise their dominion, announcing their decrees to the accompaniment of trumpet blasts.
3. The sounding of the shofar served as a reminder of the revelation at Mount Sinai, which was also accompanied by shofar blasts. Thus, by listening to the shofar and remembering that event, we once again accept upon ourselves that which our fathers accepted upon themselves.
4. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the remonstrations of our Prophets which are compared to the sounding of the shofar, as the verses (Yechezkel 33:4-5) state: And if the listener shall hear the sound of the shofar and not be careful, then the sword shall come and take him. And if he shall be careful, then his soul has escaped.
5. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the destruction of the Beit ha-Mikdash and the trumpet calls of the armies of our enemies. Thus when we hear the shofar, we should pray for the rebuilding of our Holy Temple.
6. The sounding of the shofar serves as a reminder of the shofar of the ram at the binding of Yitzchak, who offered his life to G-d but in whose place the ram was sacrificed instead. We too should stand ready to make our lives a sanctification of His Name and we pray that this serve as a source of merit for us.
7. The sounding of the shofar instills a sense of trepidation and fear that leads us to humble ourselves before G-d, as the verse (Amos 3:8) states: If the shofar is sounded in the city, will people not tremble?
8. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the forthcoming great Day of judgment, as the verses (Tzefanyah 1:14,16) state: The great day of G-d is near, close and quick [to come].. . is the day of [the sounding of] the shofar and the teruah.
9. The sounding of the shofar serves as a reminder of the future ingathering of the dispersed exiles of Israel and to awaken our yearning for it, of which the verse (Yeshayahu 27:13) states: And it shall be on that day, the great shofar shall be sounded and those who have been lost among Ashur shall come [back].
10. The sounding of the shofar serves to remind us of the resurrection of the dead, as the verse (ibid. 18:3) states: All those inhabitants of the world and those who dwell in the earth, when a sign is lifted upon the mountains you shall see and when the shofar is sounded you shall hear.
Tags: ancient israel, call to repentance, chapter 22, eternal truth, gaon, genesis chapter, illusions, kosher animal, lethargy, mishneh torah, new moon, rapid series, rosh hashanah, series of nine, shevarim, shofar blasts, sleepers, son isaac, symbolic elements, trifles
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