Sound the Shofar
Sound the Shofar
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.
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.
Tekiah, shevarim teruah, tekiah
Tekiah, shevarim, tekiah
Tekiah, teruah, tekiah
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.
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.