Rosh Hashana Prayers: Shofarot
The Shofar is the instrument that not only arouses both Malchuyot and Zichronot, but merges them together as well. We find in Halachah that its sound is considered prayer, cry and song. It reminds us of judgment, sacrifice, Revelation, unity and power. It is at this point of the Shmone Esrei that we connect all the themes of Rosh Hashanah together.
1) שמות פרק יט פסוק טז
ויהי ביום השלישי בהית הבקר ויהי קלת וברקים וענן כבד על ההר וקל שפר חזק מאד ויחרד כל העם אשר במחנה:
“And it was on the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning, a heavy cloud was on the mountain and the sound of the Shofar was very strong, and the entire people in the camp trembled.”
Before the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, there was Revelation. The people saw God in more clarity than people would ever again. Much of what we believe and know about God was perceived at Sinai. (See Derech Hashem, Section 1, Chapter 1, paragraph 2.) The Shofar is a symbol of the Revelation.
Rashi, in a famous comment on this verse, teaches us that God appeared on the mountain and waited for the people to come to Him. The imagery is powerful. God did not wait for us to appear. He came and waited for us. He reached out to us. He wanted a relationship with us. On Rosh Hashanah when we blow the Shofar we realize that Hashem is rushing to be there first. Hashem is reaching out to us. He wants the relationship.
2) שמות פרק יט פסוק יט
ויהי קול השופר הולך וחזק מאד משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול:
“And the sound of the Shofar became increasingly stronger, Moshe would speak and Hashem would repond with a voice.”
Rashi explains that the sound of the Shofar became increasingly strong, which is not what we naturaly expect. Hahem was “breaking our ears,” so that they could understand beyond human comprehension. Torah is beyond our understanding. It is infinite. We must understand when we are studying Torah that it is beyond Human reach. It is Divine. Yet, it was given to us. We have the ability, through Torah, to reach beyond our limitations into the infinite. It is this that empowers a successful Rosh Hashanah. We must use this opportunity to reach beyond ourselves, to grasp for the greatest heights.
The Haamak Davar explains that this verse alludes to the Oral Law, “Moshe would speak,” to this too God would respond.
The Oral Law is the strongest expression of the partnership that we can have with God. We determine what God’s will is. We decide when Rosh Hashanah will be, for it is we who declare the New Month. Even to the point of ”תורה לא בשמים היא“, Torah is not in heaven. Even if God would send a miracle to tell us what the Halachah is in a given situation, we would not be bound to listen. As long as we follow the basic system of the Oral Law we are empowered to determine the Halachah.
3) שמות פרק כ פסוק יד
וכל העם ראים את הקולת ואת הלפידם ואת קול השפר ואת ההר עשן וירא העם וינעו ויעמדו מרחק:
“And the entire people saw the sounds and the flames and the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled and they stood from afar.”
They saw sounds! The Ibn Ezra explains that all the senses are connected. Rabbeinu Bachya says that each sound immediately took on a physical form.
The Revelation and Torah go beyond what we know as our senses. They unified our sensations and took us to a higher level even as we maintained our physical forms. Torah has the capacity to change even the way we experience the physical world. We have that potential on every Rosh Hashanah as we blow the shofar and recite Shofarot.
4) תהלים פרק מז פסוק ו
עלה אלהים בתרועה ידוד בקול שופר:
“The Lord has ascended with a blast, Hashem, with the sound of the shofar.”
The Gemara in Berachot 6b draws a parallel between the sounds at Sinai and the sounds of joy at a wedding. “One who joins at a wedding feast merits Torah which was given with five sounds, just as there are five sounds associated with the rejoicing of a groom with his bride.” The giving of the Torah at Sinai is often described as the wedding between God and the Jewsih People. Sinai was held over the people’s heads as a chupah, the two tablets are the gift from the groom to the bride. The Torah was the marriage contract. We recall that joy today, and yearn for that level of relationship. The joy of Rosh Hashanah, the day of Coronation is equal to thejoy of that day.
5) תהלים פרק צח פסוק ו
בחצצרות וקול שופר הריעו לפני המלך ידוד:
“With trumpets and shofar sound, call out before the King, Hashem.”
We are familiar with this verse from קבלת שבת. These paragraphs address the idea of the world being completed with God as the King. The opening psalm speaks of the promise of the Jews in the desert and how it was lost to their constantly testing Hashem even as He was constantly taking care of them with the most awesome miracles. We know that to reclaim that potential we must “Sing a new song,” start fresh. Then we speak of Hashem coming to judge, to set all the parts of this world in their correct places. This perfected world is the context of this verse. We are rejoicing as a world that has been fixed, a world in which everything has a place, and balance has been restored.
The Midrash Tehillim on this verse comments that the joy of the world cannot be complete until the Jewish People have been redeemed. We pray for that redemption, and understood that this day isfilled with the potential for that redemption.
6) תהלים פרק פא פסוק ד
תקעו בחדש שופר בכסה ליום חגנו:
כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלהי יעקב:
“Blow the shofar when the moon is covered, at the time appointed for our festive day. Because it is a decree for Israel, a judgement day for the Lord of Jacob.”
The moon is a metaphor for the Jews who reflect the light of the sun, the metaphor for God. On Rosh Hashanah, the new moon is covered, it doesn’t reflect the light of Hashem. That it why it is a time of judgment. We are not reflecting the light of God.
We blast the shofar to awaken ourselves to reflect the light of Hashem and be deserving of His Mercy.
The Gemara in Beitzah 16a learns from this verse that all of a person’s sustenance for the entire year is set on Rosh Hashanah. It derives this from the word חק which also means sustenance. Everything is set on Rosh Hashanah. It is the day of potential. (One of the reasons we read the Akeidah is that it was an act of potential; the sacrifice never actually took place.) It is the day on which we pray for potential.
The shofar is the symbol of potential, because it is a sound of air, or the soul, it is the music of the soul. All the potential of a human being is latent in his soul.
7 -10) תהלים פרק קנ
א) הללו יה הללו אל בקדשו הללוהו ברקיע עזו:
(ב) הללוהו בגבורתיו הללוהו כרב גדלו:
(ג) הללוהו בתקע שופר הללוהו בנבל וכנור:
(ד) הללוהו בתף ומחול הללוהו במנים ועוגב:
(ה) הללוהו בצלצלי שמע הללוהו בצלצלי תרועה:
(ו) כל הנשמה תהלל יה הללו יה:
“Hallelukah! Praise God in his Sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of his power. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him as befits His abundant greatness. Praise Him with the blast of the shofar; praise Him with lyre and harp. Praise Him with drum and dance; praise Him with organ and flute. Praise Him with clanging cymbals; praise Him with resonant trumpets. Let all souls praise God, Hallelukah!
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik spoke of a father who was absent from home for an extended period of time. His son fantasizes that upon his father’s return he will relate in detail everything that has happened while his father was away. Once his father returns, with all the excitement of the reunion the son forgets most of the details he had been waiting so excitedly to tell. He ends up with fragmented and disorganized stories and ideas. A Jew often has similar feelings at the end of davening; he has spoken, yet said nothing. How could he possibly say all that he wants to say, all that he is desperate to say? How can he describe everything that he is going through, all that he feels, all his love and longing for God?
In this final Psalm we imagine all the souls, and musical instruments singing to God. Above all, there is the sound of the shofar. Even if we have not been able to say all that we wanted to say, the shofar will take all that we feel inside and express it for us.