What’s the Meaning of Blowing the Shofar?
Dear Jew in the City-
What’s the meaning of blowing the shofar and why are there different shofar sounds?
Very often, to answer a question, I’ll take a roundabout path to ultimately arrive at the answer. In this case, the response is much more straightforward.
The shofar has a lot of significance. According to the Talmud in Rosh Hashana (16a), we use a ram’s horn as a reminder of the ram that Abraham sacrificed following the akeidah (the binding of Isaac). You may recall that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son to fulfill the will of God, and Isaac was willing to be sacrificed. It turned out that this was just a test and Abraham ultimately offered a ram in Isaac’s place. When God sees the Jews blowing rams’ horns, He remembers upon us this merit of our forefathers.
The sound of the shofar is a mournful wail; this is intended to stir our hearts to repentance.
The reason for the various tones is explained in the Talmud in tractate Rosh Hashana (33b-34a) and codified by the Rambam in the third chapter of Hilchos Shofar, Succah v’Lulav. Biblically, we are required to hear nine shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana. Referring to sounding the shofar, the Torah says “teruah” three times regarding Rosh Hashana and the Jubilee year. Each of these teruah sounds is to be preceded and succeeded by a long blast called a tekiah. Therefore, nine shofar blasts must be blown as follows: tekiah, teruah, tekiah; tekiah, teruah, tekiah; tekiah, teruah, tekiah.
Over the course of time, because of the many exiles endured by our ancestors, some uncertainty arose as to the exact nature of the teruah mentioned in the Torah. It could be like the wailing of a woman in distress or like the repeated sobs of a person in serious trouble. It might even be a combination of these two sounds. Because of this doubt, our practice is to perform all of these.
We call the crying sound teruah and the sobbing sound shevarim. Accordingly, the order of blowing shofar is as follows:
- The bracha is recited, followed by a tekiah, shevarim, a teruah and a tekiah. This sequence is repeated three times.
- This is followed by blowing a tekiah, shevarim and a tekiah. This sequence is also repeated three times.
- Finally, a sequence of a tekiah, a teruah and a tekiah, likewise repeated three times.
In this way, we blow a total of thirty shofar blasts, which takes care of any doubts.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
JITC Educational Coorespondent
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