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Sound the Shofar

Yom Teruah   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What comes to mind when you hear the sound of a trumpet? Why do we blow the Shofar? What is the Tekiah, shevarim teruah? Why is the SHofar associated with Yom Teruah? What does all of this together mean?

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Sound the Shofar

When you hear the sound of a Shofar or Trumpet blast what comes to mind? Some may think of a celebration, a warning, a battle cry, the sound of hope, a signal to gather or the arrival of some one important. All of these in fact is what it has been used for in the past.
In we read when Israel arrived at the mountain in the wilderness of Sinai Adonai told Moshe that the people where to approach at the sound of the Shofar. In and we see that it is commanded to announce both Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur with blasts from the Shofar. We read about the Israelites marching around the city of Jericho and they sounded Shofar. When the people heard the Shofar they would shout as loudly as they could. The watchmen of a city where responsible for sounding the Shofar when an enemy approached and many battles where begun a the sound of a shofar. According to the Talmud, six blasts of the shofar were blown on Friday afternoon (Shab. 35b). At the first sounding, the laborers in the fields ceased their work. At the second, shops were closed and city laborers stopped working. The third signaled that it was time to kindle the Sabbath lights. The final three blasts of the shofar formally ushered in the Sabbath. In modern Israel, the shofar has been used to mark solemn occasions, inaugurate new presidents, and celebrate the liberation of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 1967.
We can easily see the instrument is a tool and method of communication through out ancient Israel. What is the significance of the instrument though? First understand what was considered a proper Shofar.
Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 191.
We can easily see the instrument is a tool and method of communication through out ancient Israel. What is the significance of the instrument though? First understand what was considered a proper Shofar.
The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions Shofar (שׁוֹפָר)

According to the Talmud, the ritual commandment to hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah can be fulfilled using a shofar made from an antelope, gazelle, goat, mountain goat, or ram (RH 27a). All of these are kosher animals that have horns with removable cartilage. This second feature is important because a shofar must be hollow, since it is derived from the word “shefoferet” meaning “tube.” The Talmud explicitly forbids using a cow’s horn because it is known as a “keren,” not a “shofar,” adding that it is forbidden because our advocate on Rosh Hashanah should not be a reminder of the Golden Calf, our great sin and accuser. We do not want our past transgressions to bias God against forgiving our current sins (“the accuser may not act as defender”; RH 26a). The Rabbis strongly recommended the use of a ram’s horn as a shofar because of its association with the story of the Akedah (see p. 194) (RH 16a). A ram’s horn is also desirable because it is curved, which is symbolic of our bowing in submission to God’s will (RH 26b). The shofar may not be painted but may be covered with gold, as long as its tone is unchanged and the mouthpiece stays natural. It is permitted to pour water, wine, or vinegar into the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah to make a clear sound, because this is not considered to be “repairing,” which is forbidden on a festival.

So the instrument is specifically crafted. The symbolism in the craftsmanship is meaningful and important. Not just anything would do and it is was more than just a thing to make noise with.
The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions Shofar (שׁוֹפָר)

Since biblical times, the shofar has been associated with messianic redemption. According to the Midrash, the left horn of the ram that Abraham sacrificed instead of Isaac was sounded on Mount Sinai, while the right will be blown “in a time to come at the assembling of the dispersed” (PdRE 31). Isaiah (27:13) prophesied: “And in that day a great ram’s horn shall be sounded; and they who were lost in the land of Assyria and they who were dispersed in the land of Egypt, shall come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” In addition to the traditional belief that the shofar will announce the resurrection of the dead, according to a medieval legend Elijah will blow the shofar three days before the arrival of the Messiah.

The sound of the Shofar has significance as well. The 3 notes used for traditional purposes is the tekiah which is Hebrew for blow. The tekiah is a long blast. Then there is the shevarim a moaning or wailing sound. Lastly we have the teruah which is the series of 9 swift cries. During the talmudic period, doubt arose as to the exact nature of the teruah. The talmudic sages disagreed as to whether the sound should be the shevarim or the teruah. Since a crying person may make both of these sounds, it was unclear what God wanted. The final decision was to use all three possible combinations—the first set of sounds should include both shevarim and teruah, whereas the other two sets should contain only one or the other.
Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 192.
The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions Shofar (שׁוֹפָר)

Tekiah, shevarim teruah, tekiah

Tekiah, shevarim, tekiah

Tekiah, teruah, tekiah

This is a good example for us. In some congregations there would be some kind of split about this. We would have the church of the Shevarim Shofar and the Church of the Teruah Shofar. If that approach was not taken then we would see some kind of firm stance taken to not leave room for grace or forcing the other side to submit. Instead they choose to do both.
Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 192.
So why do we sound the Shofar on Yom Teruah? A common reason is it was ram that was used instead of Issac. When the Shofar is blown it is a reminder of the merits of Abraham and Isaac. Another reason is blowing the shofar is announcing the coronation of God as King.
The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions Shofar (שׁוֹפָר)

In the 10th century, Saadiah Gaon offered 10 reasons for sounding the shofar. In addition to ones already mentioned, he suggested the following:

• To announce the beginning of the period of repentance and to warn people against transgressing.

• To remind us of the warnings of the prophets, who raised their voices like the shofar to touch our consciences.

• To remind us of the alarms of battle that accompanied the destruction of the Temple.

• To cause us to be in awe and do the will of God, for as Amos (3:6) asked, “When a ram’s horn is sounded in a town, do the people not tremble?”

• To remind us of the great Day of Judgment, when the horn will be sounded as a summons to the heavenly court (Zeph. 1:16).

• To remind us that the shofar will herald the ingathering of Israel’s scattered remnants to return to the Holy Land in the Messianic Age (Isa. 27:13).

• To remind us of the revival of the dead.

Maimonides stated that the act of blowing the shofar is the equivalent of an alarm clock, rousing us from our spiritual slumber with a call to examine our deeds, return in repentance, and remember God our Creator.

The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions Shofar (שׁוֹפָר)

Later interpretations in the Hasidic tradition include considering the shofar as a “prayer without words,” the highest form of prayer, and the concept that within each of us is a little shofar that needs to be blown (especially the broken-noted shevarim) to penetrate deeply into our hearts and lead to serious repentance.

• To announce the beginning of the period of repentance and to warn people against transgressing.
Which brings us to this season. We are entering the days of awe. We need to perform Teshuvah we need to go to those we have hurt or sinned against and make it right if we can. As we hear the sound of the Shofar we need to let it penetrate our soul. Let it pull those emotions from you of repentance. Let it make you cry and change you and stir the Ruah Kodesh that is with in you. So that one day when the Shofar is blown and the Messiah rides in on the clouds the shofar blast for you will be one of celebration and not one of sorrow.
• To remind us of the warnings of the prophets, who raised their voices like the shofar to touch our consciences.
• To remind us of the alarms of battle that accompanied the destruction of the Temple.
• To cause us to be in awe and do the will of God, for as Amos (3:6) asked, “When a ram’s horn is sounded in a town, do the people not tremble?”
• To remind us of the great Day of Judgment, when the horn will be sounded as a summons to the heavenly court ().
• To remind us that the shofar will herald the ingathering of Israel’s scattered remnants to return to the Holy Land in the Messianic Age ().
• To remind us of the revival of the dead.
Maimonides stated that the act of blowing the shofar is the equivalent of an alarm clock, rousing us from our spiritual slumber with a call to examine our deeds, return in repentance, and remember God our Creator.
Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 195–196.
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