“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For it shall be for you a day for blowing the shofar. (Numbers 29:1)”
This Wednesday night, September 24th, begins Rosh HaShananah. The central and most visible component of Rosh HaShanah is the blowing of the shofar. Have you ever really thought about the significance of the shofar and the deeper meanings of each sound?
In the Torah, Rosh HaShanah is called Yom Teruah (literally, “the day of sounding”). The very sounds of the shofar hold the key to unlocking the hidden mysteries of Rosh HaShanah, for within its cries are the stories of creation, victory, and redemption.
The shofar is mentioned over 100 times throughout the Bible and it is actually the oldest known wind instrument. Traditionally it is made from a ram’s horn, recalling the Akedah and allusions to Mashiach (both alluded to in Rosh HaShanah readings). It also implies simplicity and humility and it’s shrill cry is meant to recall our primeval origins, and hearken us back to Gan Eden.
There are three types of shofar blasts on Rosh HaShanah. And each of these sounds contains themes revealing the deepest mysteries of the holiday. These primary themes are:
- Judgment – (תקיעה – A call to action)
- Teshuva (שברים/תרועה – The sound of stifled sobs and groans)
- Coronation of G-d as King – Messianic Redemption (תקיעה גדולה)
–תקיעה “The Sound of Alert”
Tekiah is a call to action. In Biblical times it was sounded to assemble the people, sound an alarm, announce a message, raise awareness, or to announce judgment. Interestingly, in Biblical times, if you were looking to purchase a shofar, you would inquire at your “local arms dealer.” Quite the opposite of today, where we purchase shofars at Judaica stores selling “religious articles.”
According to the Talmud, the shofar blast confuses HaSatan and prevents him from bringing charges against G-d’s people, because he is made to believe that Messiah has arrived and his power and influence has come to an end.
On Rosh HaShanah the shofar calls us to together as a community to do Teshuva. It beckons us to repentance. According to the Rambam (Maimonides), the shofar pleads:
“Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves, you slumberers, out of your slumber! Examine your deeds, and turn to G-d in repentance. Remember your Creator, you who are caught up in the daily round, losing sight of eternal truth; you are wasting your years in vain pursuits that neither profit nor save. Look closely at yourselves; improve your ways and your deeds. Abandon your evil ways, your unworthy schemes, every one of you! (Hilchot Teshuva 3.4).”
The first call of the shofar, Tekiah, is a call to action. Teshuva requires action. We cannot sit idly by when an alarm is sounded.
–שברים/תרועה “The Sound of Stifled Sobs and Groans – Sound of Crying”
The word Teshuva literally means “to turn.” Within the loud blasts of the Shofar is the instruction to listen. To listen not just with our ears, but with our neshamot! The Shofar calls our our souls to repentance.
The Machzor teaches us that the Gates of Repentance are always open to the prayers of the righteous. This is the central message of the readings during the Torah service on Rosh HaShanah – to pray without ceasing. To keep knocking until G-d answers.
While the High Holiday prayers are solemn and serious, they are also filled with joy and hope. Judaism teaches us that G-d is ready and very willing to forgive the transgressions of those who come in sincere repentance.
–תקיעה גדולה “Victory, Coronation, and Messianic Redemption”
Tekiah G’dola, the final long blast, is sounded to announce victory – the sound of triumph. It is the sound of Divine forgiveness (that is why it is blown at the end of Neilah, the concluding service of Yom Kippur). It is the sound of the coronation of the King. As such, Tekiah G’dolah will also be sounded to announce the coming of Mashiach.
“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven and with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with Him in the air. And thus, we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thess. 4:16-18)”
So What? What’s the Big Deal???
The shofar is calling out and we cannot stand idly by! It’s Rosh HaShanah, and we have 10 days to make things right between ourselves and G-d, and with those around us. So we must ask ourselves, what is keeping us from hearing the cry of the shofar? What is keeping us from responding to its call?
Through Tekiah – G-d has sounded an alert to us. He has called us to action – something is not right, and we need to fix it!
Through the Teruah/Shevarim – We must understand that true repentance requires a full turning to G-d (there is no halfway). We must pour our hearts out in repentance, to turn from that which is evil, and do what is right. Like our Ancestors – we must never give up. We must continue to cry out until we get an answer.
Tekiah G’dolah reminds us – Victory is at hand! G-d has already given us the victory – but we must take hold of it.
On Rosh HaShanah we proclaim the coronation of our King. Mashiach is coming! Will we be ready?!?!
“L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!”