Dvar Torah: Rosh Hashanah

For the Jews, the shofar is one of our most profound symbols.
Why do we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana?

What are the 3 different kinds of sounds, and what do they mean?

  • Tekiah — one long, straight blast
  • Shevarim — three medium, wailing sounds
  • Teruah — nine quick blasts in short succession

What should we be thinking about when we hear the sound of the shofar sounded one hundred times on Rosh Hashana?

I have found many explanations and ideas that help focus our attention on the significance of the shofar while listening to its blasts on Rosh Hashana:

1. Rosh Hashanah is the day that commemorates the creation of the world and it is described as the ‘coronation’ of God as our King. As it is customary to sound a trumpet at a king’s coronation so we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
It should be remembered, however, that in Jewish tradition, a king is first and foremost a servant of the people. His only concern is that the people live in happiness and harmony. His decrees and laws are only for the good of the people, not for himself. (see Maimonides, Laws of Kings 2:6)

2. The Torah was given by God to the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai amidst shofar blasts. The Jewish people uniformly proclaimed their acceptance and commitment to Judaism. Similarly, on Rosh Hashana we acknowledge our direct link to this tradition which has been passed from parent to child for over three thousand years and renew our resolution to a Jewish life.

3. The shofar reminds us of the words of our prophets who cautioned us to improve our behavior and ordered the blowing of the shofar as an impetus for change.

4. The shofar recalls the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago. The shofar was sounded throughout the Temple’s glory of over eight hundred years as the center of Jewish life and inspires us to pray for its rebuilding.

5. According to a Midrash, the binding of Isaac (akeida) occurred on Rosh Hashana. Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, and at the last moment was prevented from fulfilling the command by an angel of God. Instead, Abraham sacrificed a ram (ram’s horns are used as shofars). On Rosh Hashana we pray that we strengthen our resolve to Judaism to be like that our forefather Abraham.

There are even more explanations, but I will conclude with this one:

Rosh Hashana begins the Ten Days of Repentance which culminates on Yom Kippur. The shofar blasts proclaim the imminence of our judgment by God, and the necessity to refine our character.

The first call of the torah is tekiah. We understood it to be the proclamation of God’s sovereignty, hailing Him as ruler of the world, like the herald’s trumpets that announce the king.

The second call of the shofar is shevarim, the broken note that articulates the fractures in our lives, the losses and disappointments. But do not be constrained by the past. We have the capacity to move forward and accomplish many things.

And finally, with teruah , the shofar sounds its wake-up call, reminding us to make an honest effort to maximize the gifts He gave us. To make the right choices. To live a life of values and caring for others. We need to take the time everyday to reconnect with our deepest desires and essence. The solution is to spend time alone everyday, asking: Am I on track? Am I focused? Am I pursuing goals which will make the greatest overall difference in my life and in the world?

Wishing you a Shana Tova, a New Year filled with happiness, good health, prosperity and peace.

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