613 Concepts: Chaper 116: Rosh Hashana & Shofar
One Must Hear the Sound of the Shofar on the First of Tishrei “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a day of rest for you a remembrance with shofar blasts”
“In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall do no laborious work, it shall be a day of shofar sounding for you.”
“You shall sound a broken blast on the shofar, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the shofar throughout the land.”
Part 1: Hearing, not Blowing:
The commandment is to hear the sound of the Shofar, not to blow the Shofar. One of the halachic implications of this is that although one may not blow a stolen shofar , if he did, the listeners have fulfilled their obligation because the commandment is to hear the shofar not to blow it. No theft is involved in the hearing the sound of the stolen shofar.
Obviously, someone must blow the Shofar in order for me to hear it. However, the blowing is what makes the Mitzvah possible. It is not the Mitzvah itself. This is similar to the commandment to dwell in a Succah on the holiday of Succoth; someone must build the Succah in order for me to be able to dwell in one. There is no commandment to build the succah.
This introduces an interesting concept; I can only fulfill the Mitzvah if someone does something to make it possible, but that action is not a Mitzvah. Why is there not a commandment to blow the shofar or to build the succah?
There is an additional complication; anyone who is not obligated to hear the shofar cannot blow the shofar for someone who is obligated. The blowing is not a Mitzvah, yet, it can only be done by someone who is obligated to hear the shofar. The blowing of a stolen shofar does not prevent the listener from fulfilling his obligation. The shofar itself does not matter, as long as it meets certain requirements, but the shofar blower does matter.
There is more of a connection between the person blowing the shofar and the listener than there is between the shofar and the listener. The sound is intangible; therefore it is not related to the object itself. The object does not lose any of its value when it is blown. However, the breath of the blower is what creates the sound. There can be no separation between the blower and the listener. This connection between the blower and the listener recreates the first act of blowing in the bible; “And He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being.” The air of the blower that creates the sound of the shofar and enters the listener is the recreation of the air of God that was blown into Adam.
What exactly was blown into Adam? God is incorporeal; He does not have a mouth or air. What can we learn from the verse above? What does it have to do with the shofar and with Rosh Hashanah?
There are those who explain that this was God giving Adam the gift of speech. One of the divisions of creation is listed as; 1) Inanimate, 2) Plant, 3) Animal and 4) Speaker. Each is a higher level of existence than the preceding category. There are some thinkers who add a fifth level; the person who attaches to God. Speech enables us to articulate our thoughts and communicate with each other. When God blew a living soul into Adam, He gave Adam the means to interact with Him and all of creation; He gave Adam the wisdom to name all the animals. The shofar reenacts that breath into Adam. It is literally acting out the gift of our ability to master the world. When we hear the shofar, when we receive that breath, we are being granted the gift to master the world; the ability to interact with it and reconnect it with the Creator. It is the receiving the breath that matters; the listening, not the blowing.
“It is the soul from the Almighty that gives them understanding.” When God blew that breath into Adam He gave him a higher soul, the ability to transcend the physical world and attach to his source, the One Who blew his soul into him . We can barely begin to understand the power and potential of the soul which comes directly from God. A breath comes from the inside of the person. The analogy to breathing into Adam is mouth to mouth resuscitation. It is an analogy describing something coming directly from God into Adam. On Rosh Hashanah we literally stand at the moment of the creation of Adam in an uncorrupted world filled with potential. The shofar takes us to the exact moment when man, the primary and essential creature of creation, became a living breathing being. It is the breath that matters, not the instrument. We must imagine ourselves as receivers of that first breath, as listeners, not blowers of the shofar. We have the opportunity to begin again, to recreate ourselves and approach our lives not only with a fresh start, but with the same potential and promise as Adam at that intimate moment when God blew a living soul into him.
We must understand that that breath of God, acted out with the sounding of the shofar, is our life and soul. Our souls need life; they must be nurtured with a relationship with God. It is possible to be “alive” but considered dead, if the soul is not vibrant and active. The shofar is offering all of us the possibility to restore life to our souls even if we have not been nurturing them over the course of the past year. In fact, one of the lessons of the shofar is to remind us of the Resurrection of the Dead , as it says, “All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers of the earth; you will see when the banner is hoisted up upon the mountains, and when the shofar sounds you will hear!” The shofar, the blowing of the breath of God into Adam, can give us spiritual life, potential and possibility.
It is impossible for there to be a commandment to blow the shofar because that is the reenactment of the role of God. Our job is to receive the breath, to hear the sound of the shofar. The person blowing the shofar must be spiritually alive and connected to the Mitzvah in order for this reenactment to be real, not simply charades. Therefore, only someone obligated in the commandment can blow the shofar for others.
Part 2: Laws of the Shofar:
The Shape of the Shofar
The shofar must be bent. This is to symbolize that our hearts are bent before God in prayer. We do not stand up straight before God in arrogance or pride. We must be bent in humility. This is all the more true on Rosh Hashanah when we stand before God in judgment. Rosh Hashanah is called the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment. Imagine a defendant standing before a judge awaiting the decision whether he will go free or to prison, or whether he will live or die. The defendant is given an opportunity to plead his case before the judge. It would be foolish for him to make his case in arrogance. The judge will want to see some humility.
So too, on Rosh Hashanah, we are given the opportunity to plead our case before the Ultimate Judge. We absolutely must approach Him in humility. The first blasts of the shofar are to announce the arrival of the judge to sit in judgment, just as a bailiff will make an announcement before the judge enters the courtroom; “All rise! The Honorable….This court is now in session.” The shofar blast is the bailiff’s announcement. It is essential to remember at that moment that a little humility s necessary, so the shofar is bent in humility before God.
The Size of the Shofar
The shofar must be large enough that you can see it on both sides of the hand that is holding it. The shofar must be visible to the listeners. The Shofar is the symbol of the coronation of the King. We must see it in order to remind ourselves that Rosh Hashanah is the coronation of God as the King and Ruler of the Universe. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of man. “There is no king without a people.” God was not King of the Universe until there was at least one human being to be His subject.
The shofar is more than a symbol of His coronation; it is a reminder that it is we who make Him King. He would not be King without us. When we see the symbol of His coronation we should we rejoice over the fact that we are His subjects and that it is we who declare His rule over the world. When we approach Him in judgment we can say, “God, it is we who are declaring You as King!” We can offer this as an argument in our favor.
This was acted out in the story of the conquest of Jericho : “It happened that as soon as Joshua spoke to the people the seven Kohanim carrying seven ram-shofars before the ark of God advanced and blew with the shofars, and the Ark of the Covenant of God went after them. The armed troop went before the Kohanim who blew the shofars, and the rear guard went after the ark, walking and blowing with the shofars. Joshua commanded the people, saying, ‘You shall not cry out, and you shall not let your voice be heard, nor shall any word issue from your mouth until the day I tell you to cry out, then you shall cry out.’”
They did this for six days; they circled the impregnable city with seven sets of massive walls and nothing happened. The people of Jericho gathered on top of the walls to picnic and watch the futile efforts of the Jews to bring down the walls with some magical power. They were laughing at the Jews who seemed to be desperately blowing their shofars and nothing was happening.
On the seventh day the Jews seemed even more desperate; they circled the city seven times blasting away on their shofars. The people of Jericho picnicking on top of the walls were laughing even more desperately. But then, on the seventh time; “It happened when the people heard the sound of the shofar that the people cried out with a great shout: The wall fell in its place and the people went up into the city, each man straight ahead, and they conquered the city.” It was not the sound of the shofar that made the walls sink; it was the cry of the people. That is why Joshua instructed them not to shout until he gave the signal. It was the cry of the people who brought down the walls of Jericho and brought about one of the greatest miracles in history. God made us active participants in the miracle.
We must see the shofar because the shofar is simply a ram’s horn without our prayers. It is a simple musical instrument. It does not work without us. Just as it reminds us of our role in the coronation of the king it reminds us that we were active participants in the miracle of Jericho. God does not just do things for us. He makes us active participants in the greatest of miracles and in every part of life. He made a world in which we are active participants in bringing His presence and making Him King. This is why we must declare God to be king, Melech Ha’Olam, each time we recite a blessing. He is not king over the apple we are eating without our participation. Any blessing without a mention of God as King is not a blessing. We dare not forget our role in creation; to declare God as King over every detail of His universe.
This is sound of the shofar is a sound of joy. It is the celebration of the coronation of God as King, but even more so, it is the sound of celebration that God has made us participants in His world. ‘One should rejoice at the opportunity to serve the King of the Universe, as it is written, “Israel should rejoice in his maker.” This in turn will lead to, “God will rejoice in what He has made.” ’ We must realize that when we rejoice in God that God rejoices with us. We cannot begin a year; we cannot argue our case before God, unless we understand the gift of life and the role that God has given us in His creation. We must remember that as we rejoice in declaring God as King that He is rejoicing with us. When we argue for life we must do so with the awareness of what we are expected to do with our lives. We absolutely must understand the almost unlimited potential that God has granted us.
The Midrash teaches that the angels g to God to ask when Rosh Hashanah will be. God answers, “Let us, you and I, go to the Beit Din and ask them.” God has given the power of the calendar to man. It is the court that decides when Rosh Hashanah is by deciding when the new month begins. Rosh Hashanah is on the first day of the new month of Tishrei. We decide when God will sit in judgment. We decide when the coronation of God will begin. This is the power that God has given us. He gave us power over Him. The shofar of coronation is also the shofar of celebration of the power that God has given to Man.
The angels were upset with God for giving the Torah to human beings , “Place Your majesty on the heavens! What is frail man that You should remember him, and the son of mortal man that You should be mindful of him?” God insisted that Moses respond to the angels and explain why the Jews deserved such a gift. We too must be able to respond to the argument of the angels. We must be confident that we are using the power of Torah to unify God’s Name in the world. The coronation of God with the hofar is the first step in explaining to the angels that we are deserving of the Torah and that we are using it properly.
Holding the Shofar
The shofar must be held in the right hand of the shofar blower. This is to remind us of Gideon, on of the Judges of Israel. He was preparing to wage war against a massive army and he wanted to gather as many men as possible. God did not want Gideon to go into battle with a large army. God wanted Gideon’s victory to be an obvious miracle. “Whoever fears and trembles, let him depart at dawn from Mount Gilead.” Twenty two thousand soldiers left, but Gideon still had ten thousand soldiers. So God said, “The people are still too numerous; bring them down to the water and I shall purge them for you there, and it shall be, that of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you’ he shall go with you, and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”
Gideon was left with three hundred men out of his original army of thirty thousand. He was supposed to fight an army of tens of thousands with three hundred men!
God sent a sign to Gideon that he would win the battle, but God did not provide any instruction as how to fight the battle. Gideon had a tiny army to fight the world’s superpower. He was confident that he would win because of the signs that God had sent him. He had to figure out on his own how to wage this war.
“He divided the three hundred men into three companies. Into the hand of them all he gave shofars and empty jugs, with torches inside the jugs. He said to them ‘See my example and do the same. Behold, when I arrive at the edge of the camp, then as I do, so shall you do. I will sound the shofar, I and all who are with me, then you, too, shall sound shofars around the entire camp, and you shall say, ‘For God and for Gideon. ’”
“The three companies sounded the shofars and broke the jugs; in their left hand they grasped the torches and in their right hand the shofar to sound and they called out, ‘The sword for God and for Gideon!”
The three hundred man army terrified their enemies and won the war!
We remember the battle of Gideon and his victory against extraordinary odds when we hold the shofar in our right hand. We too are waging a battle against almost insurmountable odds; we are being judged and everything we have done over the past year is measured. Every mistake, every wasted opportunity, every act of rebellion against God is being considered. The Satan, the Accuser, is waging war against us using our own actions, speech and thoughts against us. He is demanding that we justify our existence before God. He wants us to argue for life while he is prepared to knock down each and every one of our arguments. Who can possibly stand before God and justify his life? The odds are even greater than those faced by Gideon.
God gave signs to Gideon before he went in battle to reassure him that all would be well. We receive a similar sign, one that is missed by the Satan and most of us year after year: The fact that God judges us means that He cares about us and what we do. We are important to God. He would not judge us if He did not care about us. We don’t get involved when we see someone else’s teenager smoking on the street, it is not our child. We would be far more than involved if it was our child who was smoking. We care about our children therefore we care about what they do. God is the same way; He cares about us, so He judges us, He thinks about us, He is involved with us. That is the most powerful sign that we will emerge victorious; the judge cares about us. The judge loves us. The judge is not a paid disinterested party, he is our Father. There is no better way to go into a trial than to know that the judge is our Father Who loves us.
We reenact Gideon’s victory, with our shofar in our right hand, and remember that it is possible to win this battle. We can win against impossible odds. The shofar is our weapon against the Satan.
The soldiers of Gideon used their right hand to hold the shofar for a specific reason: The right hand is always understood by Jewish Mysticism to be a symbol of Chesed , the life force that is expressed as kindness. It was Divine kindness that led to the creation of the world. It was the force that motivated and motivates all life. When God revealed His Thirteen Attributes of Kindness to Moses He used the phrase; “V’rav Chesed” expansive and increasing Chesed to describe His attribute of Kindness.
The right hand symbolizes expansive kindness that is constantly increasing. We hold the shofar in the right hand in order to call on this Divine Attribute to help us as we plead for our lives on the Day of Judgment.
The Position of the Shofar
The shofar must be pointing upward when blown as it is says in the verse; “The Lord has ascended with a blast.” The shofar reminds us to look up just as Moshe did when he sat on the mountain and held his hands in the air so that the Jews would look up to their Father in Heaven. It is not reminding us just to think about God; it is reminding us to look up toward God.
It is easier to remember to think about God on Rosh Hashanah because we are spending most of the day in prayer. But it is still possible to forget about Him even while praying to Him; if we become too wrapped up in our concerns and immediate needs our prayers can turn out to be self-serving rather than focused on God. Our lives are on the line. We have long lists of needs and concerns; health, children, finances, relationships and general happiness. All is being judged and determined. We can fall into the trap of being focused only on these immediate concerns and forget about our relationship with God, our potential and our role in His world. We may fail to remember that we are spending the day in the synagogue to coronate God as King.
Even if we successfully avoid that pitfall we must still remember that to serve God means to look up, beyond ourselves and our world. We have to raise our expectations. We have to realize that we are capable of a much higher level of existence if we attach to our creator. The shofar says, “Look up! Look higher! Stop being focused on your immediate and mundane concerns. Join me in the coronation of God as King.”
Mitzvot are not for Worldly Pleasure
We are not allowed to derive any physical benefit from something that is holy. We may not use an animal set aside as a sacrifice to plow our fields. We may not make a musical instrument out of the horn of an animal offered as a burnt offering. We will however fulfill our obligation to hear the shofar if the shofar blown came from such an animal. We will not have sinned if we use the horn to fulfill the Mitzvah of shofar. This is because the benefit of a Mitzvah is not considered physical pleasure. “Mitzvot lav lei’hanot nitinu,” the mitzvot were not given for physical pleasure. The pleasure we derive from fulfilling the commandment of hearing the shofar is not a physical pleasure. The Radak says that it is not the ear that hears the shofar, but the soul!
The commandments were given to us to increase our pleasure in this world and the next , but they provide a higher level of pleasure than the physical. The shofar reminds us of the type of pleasure we should be asking for as we pray for the coming year. We must request the ability to find meaning in our lives and to connect to the infinite. We ask for a sense of purpose and attachment to God. It is more important to remember this on Rosh Hashanah, when we are praying for the coming year, than it is any other day of the year.
Part 3: Laws of the Blowing of the Shofar:
The Shofar in the Temple in Jerusalem
In the Temple they would blow the shofar with a trumpet on each side. The blasts of the trumpets would be short and the blast of the shofar would be much longer. This was because of the verse; “With trumpets and shofar sound call out before the King, God.” The commandment was performed with an “announcement’ and ceremony in order to honor this day on which God is declared King.
We no longer have such ceremonies. We have lost some of the majesty of the Mitzvah. In fact, the shofar itself reminds us of this loss ; “My innards, my innards, I shudder; the walls of my heart, my heart murmurs within me; I cannot be silent, for you have heard the sound of the shofar, O my soul, the shofar blast of war. Disaster upon disaster has occurred, for the entire land has been vanquished; suddenly my tents were vanquished, my canopies in an instant. How long will I see the banner of the enemy and hear the sound of the shofar? For My people were stupid; they have not recognized Me. They are foolish children, and they are not discerning; they are wise at doing evil, but know not how to do good.”
This powerful cry of Jeremiah and God’s response are also included in the sound of the shofar. It reminds us of the shofar blasts of the Babylonians as they were approaching Jerusalem and the Temple to destroy them. It reminds us of the frustrated cry of the prophet who, for close to forty years, had warned the people of impending doom and urged them to change, only to be ignored. It reminds us of God’s response and His stinging words about the Jewish people.
Although Rosh Hashanah is a joyous time, a fresh start, and the coronation of the King, it is also a time of judgment and reflection on our past. We must imagine Jeremiah’s agony as he heard the battle shofars of the Babylonians getting closer and closer. We have to reflect on God’s response to His prophet. We must summon up a vision of the Temple with its trumpets and what has been lost.
This is why we say in our Rosh Hashanah prayers; “flourishing horn to David,” we are confident that God will replace the arrogant horns of the Babylonians with the shofar of David. As long as we do not ignore the loss of the Temple we can be confident that it will be restored and that we will again hear; “With trumpets and shofar sound call out before the King, God.”
It is possible that Jeremiah was not referring to the actual war shofars of the Babylonians. Rashi says that Jeremiah was describing a prophecy in which he heard the war shofars coming from “behind the curtain.” This means that before the Babylonians actually approached Jeremiah was able to hear them in the heavens as a warning and prophecy of what was going to happen. It was not only the Babylonians blowing war shofars. There was lasting in heaven as well. The war against the Jews began in the heavens when God decreed that the Temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. Tragedy always begins in heaven. Who knows which shofars are blowing in the heavens now? The Jewish people have experienced enough tragedies to know that tragedy can come at any time.
We stand terrified in judgment before God on Rosh Hashanah. We do not know which shofars are blowing above us. We blow the shofar of the Mitzvah to transform any shofar blasting above into a shofar blast of blessing and good and not one of tragedy.
The Shofar and the Shabbat
The Sages decreed that we should not blow the shofar on the Shabbat. They were concerned that someone would have a question about the kashrut of his shofar, because of a crack or a hole, and would carry it through the streets to a rabbi to ask for a halachic ruling. When they made this decree they did not include the Temple, Jerusalem and its environs, as long as the Supreme Court was sitting. The authority of the court permeated the entire area. Their presence enhanced the fear of God and a higher level of awareness. It was not necessary to include the area around Jerusalem as long as the court was active.
“Rav Chisda said, ‘At first, when the fear of the Sanhedrin was upon Israel, lewd words were never inserted in songs, but when the Sanhedrin was abolished lewd words were inserted in songs.” We acted differently when the Sanhedrin was functioning. There was more clarity. There was a deeper sense of justice and meaning. One of the messages of the shofar is to remind us of the times when we had prophets and a Sanhedrin. When Ezekiel describes the duties of a prophet and the leaders of the people, he says; “When I bring the sword of war upon a land, the people of the land take one man from among them and set him as a sentinel for themselves. If, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, he blows the shofar and warns the people.” Ezekiel uses the analogy of a shofar to describe the functions of a prophet and Sanhedrin. The shofar blast reminds us of the prophets and what it was like to live in an age when we were led with such spiritual clarity. Our prayers join with the sound of the shofar in asking God to restore such moral and clear leadership.
Part 4: The Sounds of the Shofar:
How do we get from the Torah Mitzvah that we must hear the shofar to hearing 100 blasts? This is very complicated, but conceptually significant. We will review the conceptual implications of some of these steps after we have reached the number 100blasts of the shofar. This is an excellent example of how the process used by the Oral Law to derive practical Halacha from the Written Torah. The study of a Mitzvah is considered part of the fulfillment of the commandment, so let us study:
Step 1: 0-3
There are two verses in the Torah that speak of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah:
“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a day of rest for you a remembrance with shofar blasts (Teruah)”
“In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall do no laborious work, it shall be a day of shofar sounding (Teruah) for you.”
We derive from the two verses that we must hear at least two sounds of Teruah. There is a third verse in the Torah that speaks of the shofar as part of the commandment of the Jubilee year :
“You shall sound (V’ha’avarta) a broken blast on the shofar, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound (Ta’aviru) the shofar throughout the land.”
The Talmud applies one of The Thirteen Principles By Which the Torah is Expounded; Gezeira Shava, similar words in different contexts that tradition, from Moshe at Sinai, teaches us are meant to clarify one another: The first verse we listed has the words, “In the seventh month,” as does the third verse that discusses the Jubilee year. We have a tradition that has been handed down from one generation to another since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu, which teaches us to apply the laws of one to the other. Since the third verse also says Teruah, we learn that we must hear three sounds of Teruah on Rosh Hashanah.
So far we have three blasts of the shofar; one for each Ha’avara. Only 97 more to go!
Step 2: 3-9
The third verse uses a strange word to describe blowing the shofar; Ha’avara, which means a straight sound of the shofar. Since the verse says Ha’avara both before and after the word Teruah we learn that there must be a straight sound both before and after the Teruah. If we have three Teruahs, and a straight sound before and after each one then we have a total of 9 blasts of the shofar. (We are making progress.)
Step 3: 9-30
What is the sound of a Teruah? We know that it is not straight, but we still do not know exactly what it is. The first place we always look to understand a difficult word in the Torah is Targum Onkelos which was originally written in the spirit of prophecy. Onkelos says that Teruah means Yevava. We now have to figure out what Yevava means; so we turn to the Book of Judges and the story of Deborah, Barak, Ya’el and Sisera and we find the word; “Through the window she gazed; Sisera’s mother peered through the window and cried, Va’tiyabeiv, Why is his chariot delayed in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his carriages so late?” Yevava means to cry. The Teruah is a cry.
What kind of cry? Was it wailing with longer but fewer cries, what we call a Shevarim? Or is it weeping with shorter but more cries, what we call a Teruah? We don’t know if it is one or the other, or perhaps, even both. If we must have three Teruahs, we must have three of each kind, just to be sure, and each one of those will have to have a straight sound, what we call Tekiah before and after:
• 3 Shevarim with a Tekiah before and after each one = 9
• 3 Teruah with a Tekiah before and after each one=9
• 3 Shevarim Teruah with a Tekiah before and after each one=12 (We count each Shevarim and each Teruah as a separate blast.)
• We have 30 blasts of the shofar.
Step 4: 30-100
We learned the definition of Teruah from the cries of Sisera’s mother, and we know that she cried 100 times. Her cries were over her worry about her son. She did not know whether he was coming back or not. She was crying over not knowing what was going on. We, too, worry on Rosh Hashanah about the future. We have no idea what decision was reached by the Heavenly Tribunal regarding our future. We cry with the shofar the same way that Sisera’s mother cried, so we too cry 100 times.
Reb Tzaddok HaCohen of Lublin says that the shofar is the sound of the Jew who has strayed and is desperate to return to God . This too relates to the cry of Sisera’s mother who is waiting for her son to return.
There is another version of the Midrash that says it was not Sisera’s mother who wept 100 times; it was Sarah the Matriarch, when she heard that God had stopped Abraham’s son just before he was going to sacrifice Isaac. The Binding of Isaac is one of the major motifs of Rosh Hashanah; we repeatedly call on the merit of that holy deed to protect us when we stand in judgment. We blow the shofar, a ram’s horn, to remember the ram that Abraham offered in lieu of his son Isaac. We are calling on God to remember the merit of Abraham’s devotion and commitment.
There is a fine line between laughter and crying, which is why Isaac is named “laughter.” The Talmud says that in the future God will say to Abraham, “Your children have sinned!” Abraham will answer, “Wipe them out to sanctify Your name!” God will then go to Jacob o had much more experience dealing with children, and say, “Your children have sinned!” Jacob will answer, “Wipe them out to sanctify Your name!” God, sensing that grandfathers, Abraham, are old and grouchy, and children, Jacob, are immature, will go to Isaac and say, “Your children have sinned!” Isaac will answer, “My children and not Your children! When they said, ‘We will do and we will hear,’ You referred to them as ‘My first born son, Israel. ’ Now You say that they are my children and not Yours! Plus, how much could they have sinned? A person lives on average for 70 years. Subtract twenty, because You don’t punish for sins committed before that age and You are left with fifty. Subtract another twenty five for the nighttime and You are left with twenty five. Subtract twelve and a half for the time they are praying, eating and relieving themselves and You have only twelve and a half years left for a person to sin. Can’t You handle twelve and a half years out of seventy? If You can’t, put half of that on my account and split it with me. If You don’t want to take six and a quarter years, put all twelve and a half on me; I can handle it because I was willing to be offered as a sacrifice to You”
Is Isaac making a joke out of the entire process of judgment? Why does it sound as if he is laughing at the problems?
He is laughing. Any person, who is born when his father is 100 and his mother 90, knows that the world does not make sense. If God wanted the world to make perfect sense then we would be destroyed the second we went against His Will. God would not allow us to use the gift of enjoying food to eat prohibited food. God would not allow us to use the incredible gift of speech to lie and speak evil of other people. We would lose our lives immediately upon using them to sin. The world does not make perfect sense. There are layers upon layers to this concept. The level that we can deal with here is that Isaac laughs at the judgment since the world is never going to be judged with perfect justice, otherwise it will be destroyed.
The shofar is also the laughter of Isaac. It is reminding us that we live in an imperfect world that will never make perfect sense. The judgment is stacked in our favor. The shofar reminds us to laugh together with Isaac. There is a full array of emotions in the shofar; all of them apply to us. All of them are accessible and meaningful.
Rav Hai Gaon explained that over the generations that we lived in Israel different communities developed different customs regarding the sound of the Teruah. It may have been that some started blowing a little longer or that others began blowing a little shorter, but no matter how it happened, different communities began blowing differently. The Sages of the Talmud wanted one standard practice for all Jews, but they wanted all the communities to feel included so they incorporated all the different sounds into our system of blowing the shofar. They were insistent that all practices be incorporated because Rosh Hashanah is the day the God is declared King, and the verse says, “He became King over Jeshurun when all the numbers of the nation gathered-the tribes of Israel in unity.” We must all be unified in order for God to be declared King, so the sages unified all the different practices in our shofar blowing.
It is essential for us to be unified as a people in order for the shofar to be fully effective. We have to rid ourselves of hatreds, resentments, jealousies and anger. They all interfere with the unity of the people. They all weaken the power of the shofar. We must make a special effort before and on Rosh Hashanah to repair as many relationships as possible.
The fact that the Torah chose to teach some of the laws of shofar in the context of the Jubilee year means that there is a connection. “You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” There is also a declaration of freedom on Rosh Hashanah: Just as a king may proclaim a period of amnesty before he punishes wrongdoers, so the shofar blast proclaims, “Whoever wishes to repent-let him do so now. If not, let him not complain later.”
If you look at the word Teruah you will see that it has the letters Reish and Ayin which spell Ra, evil or Reia, friend. The only way to go from Ra to Reia, from evil to making someone a friend, sis to understand that each human being is a Teruah a single piece that has broken off the from the whole. Ultimately, we are all connected. That is exactly the point of Teruah, we weep because we have been broken off from the whole. We live in a broken world, a world that was originally Tekiah, straight and whole, but is now Teruah, broken. On Rosh Hashanah we strive to unify the entire world back into a Tekiah,
There is a debate between God and the Jewish people as to whom must first reach out to the other; we say, “Bring us back to You, God and we shall return, renew our days as of old.” We want God to first reach out to us. God replies, “Thus said, God, Master of Legions; return unto Me – the word of God, Master of Legions – and I will return unto you, said Hashem, Master of Legions.” God wants us to first return to Him.
Both sides of the argument are played out with the sounds of the Shofar: The Shevarim is our position that God must first reach out to us before we can return to Him. Shavrim means broken; we are broken. We cannot move forward without God’s help. The Teruah also means to call out to a friend; God is calling out to us to return to Him and then He will restore everything, which is symbolized by the straight and clear Tekiah.
“It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be blown and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come together and prostrate themselves to God on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” The shofar also reminds us of the shofar of the Messiah who will gather all the exiles and unify the world. We are praying on this anniversary of creation that the entire world be unified in its connection with God. This is what we mean when we say in the prayers; “And so, too, O God, our Lord, instill Your awe upon all Your works, and Your dread upon all You have created. Let all works revere You and all creatures prostrate themselves before You. Let them all become a single society, to do Your will wholeheartedly.” The shofar reminds us of our greatest mission; to unify the world under the rule of God.
Our mission is not only to unify people but all of creation, which is why we have some very strange customs on Rosh Hashanah: We eat apples with honey in order to have a sweet year. We eat the head of a fish or lamb in order to plead with God that we be at the head rather than the tail. We eat carrots, meheren, in Yiddish, which also means “more” to ask God to increase our merit. And the list goes on and on with the craziest plays on word. The Talmud even says that “Simana milsa hi,” symbolism has meaning on Rosh Hashanah. We don’t do such things any other time of the year. But on Rosh Hashanah we have a far more powerful connection to every detail of creation; we are attempting to unify each and every detail of creation under the rule of God. The shofar reminds us of this mission. It replicates the shofar of the Messiah who will be the great unifier.
Part 5: When We Blow the Shofar:
We usually approach Mitzvot with the attitude that; “Careful people rush early to perform Mitzvot.” If we were consistent we would blow the shofar during Shacharit, the Morning Service, and not wait until Musaf, the Additional Service. The shofar made the Romans nervous because it sounded so much like a war trumpet. When they would hear us blowing the shofar they would think that we were summoning an army to rebel, so they prohibited us from blowing the shofar. We had to find all sorts of ways to get around the prohibition. One of the solutions was to delay the Mitzvah until the late afternoon when it wouldn’t make them so nervous. We continue with this practice to this day, and blow the shofar during the Musaf rather than Shacharit.
Another explanation for the delay is that it gives us time to prepare for the Mitzvah which is filled with meaning and powerful lessons.
The Rosh Hashanah Musaf is divided into three major sections: Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot. We recite verses and a blessing describing God as King, as the Guider of History and as the Giver of the Torah at Sinai, Who will reveal Himself again with the coming of the Messiah.
We blow a set of ten sounds with each section of the service. Each section represents a different power and lesson of the shofar :
In the Malchuyot section, which describes the ascension of God as King, the shofar is the announcement of the coronation as we explained earlier.
In the Zichronot section, which praises God Who is Judge and the Guider of History the shofar is a way for us to have our remembrances brought before God. We do not think that God has forgotten us. God does not forget. We are asking that when God judges us He should remember us with love and grant us a share in the merit of our ancestors.
God does not have any limitations. God created Time, with a past, present and future for us to be able to live in this limited world. God is a unity. Time is not broken up into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years or past, present and future. He is One as is His sense of Time. He sees all time as a unity. Therefore, when we ask God to remember we could not possibly be asking Him to restore something that He has forgotten. God sees everything that has happened, that is happening and will happen as one unity. We are asking God to make the merits of what we perceive as the past a part of our reality at this moment in our perception of time.
We are actually reaching toward God’s sense of time. We are attempting to touch something that is beyond our comprehension. When we consider that we are trying to relate to an existence far beyond any of the limitations of a human being we are filled with awe; we are insignificant in the face of God. We are so restricted and limited, while God is Infinite. The shofar is; “A day of Shofar and Teruah, battle cries against the fortified cities, and against the high towers.” The shofar strikes awe into our hearts; awe of the Creator Whom we face today.
This awe comes from fascination with the power of atonement as it says, “Yours is the power to forgive so that You may be held in awe.”
In Shofarot we remember how God revealed Himself to us at Mt. Sinai with a sound of shofar that grew stronger and stronger; “The sound of the shofar grew continually much stronger; Moses would speak and God would respond to him with a voice.” The revelation at Sinai was so powerful that we were restored to the level of Adam before his sin. The world had reached an almost perfect state which would have been achieved had they waited for Moses to come down the mountain. We experienced a high state of perfection once and we blow the shofar to say that we believe that we will experience it again when the Messiah comes.
Part 6: Teshuva:
“Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if the shofar’s call is saying, ‘Wake up you sleepy one from your sleep and you who slumber arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, and remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save: Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil paths and thought.” This is similar to the verse, “Is the shofar ever sounded in a city and the people not tremble?”
The shofar above all the other concepts that we have studied is supposed to wake us up and remind us to do Teshuva. If we are aware that today is the coronation of God as King, that God has given us tremendous power, that God cares about us, that God is judging us, that we are supposed to unify the world under God, and that today is a day of judgment, how can we not be terrified?
We must do Teshuva. We must apologize to God for behaving towards Him in a way that He does not deserve.
Part 7: The Shofar and Satan:
We do numerous things with the shofar that are meant to confuse the Satan. Although we blow the shofar every morning during the month of Elul we do not sound the shofar on the day before Rosh Hashanah in order to confuse Satan. We sound the shofar while sitting, before we recite the Musaf Amidah in order to confuse the Satan who will not expect us to blow the shofar again while we are praying . He will not be prepared for our second “attack.” We conclude the sounding of the shofar with a Tekiah Gedolah , a much longer blast, in order to confuse the Satan, and to prevent him from accusing us of leaving our prayers and directly going to eat our holiday meal as if we aren’t frightened of the Day of Judgment.
We do not consider the Satan to be an idiot. Even if we were able to confuse him once or twice how would we be able to confuse him after thousands of years of doing the same thing? Would he not have figured things out by now? Will he actually be so confused by a double length Tekiah that he will not have the bearings to accuse of of running from our prayers to eat on the Day of Judgment?
The shofar was traditionally used by the Jewish court when they would excommunicate someone. Its sound was an announcement of the imposition of a terrible punishment. When Satan hears the sound of the shofar he believes that we are dealing with the evil in our community and that he has nothing left to prosecute. Satan will not prosecute us if we are dealing with the problems in our communities. He is only empowered when we ignore the sins around us. The shofar is our way of addressing everyone in the community. We are saying that we take responsibility for everyone and we are calling on everyone to repent. We are actually dealing with the mistakes and misdirection of the entire community. We are not fooling the Satan; we are taking care of the problems that he would usually prosecute.
We have already explained that the shofar is a symbol of the arrival of the Messiah; It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come together, and they will prostrate themselves to God on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” The shofar is also a hint of the Resurrection of the Dead; “He will eliminate death forever and my Master, the Lord will erase tears from all faces.” When Satan hears the shofar he will not know if it is the time of redemption when he will be defeated or if it is the time for the Resurrection when he will be destroyed. Satan will hear the shofar not as a symbol of those times but as an actual announcement that the redemption is at hand or the resurrection is imminent.
Satan will mistake ours for the shofar of the Redemption because the latter will be a heavenly sound on earth. Our shofar potentially can posses the power of the heavenly shofar. It is not simply a symbol. Its power is real. We can reach such heights that the redemption will be at hand.