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Shofar, Explained

Rosh Hashana is described as the yom teruah – and the word teruah is not common in the Torah. It is used to describe the beginning of the national march, as well as the kickoff of the war against Midian. Other than that, teruah is used for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – and one other place: Bilaam’s bracha: Bamidbar 23:21. “Hashem Elokav eemo, ooserooahhs melech boy” Hashem his G-d is with Israel, and the clamor for the King is in him.”

This is where we are today: we blow to show our clamor for the King, because this is the coronation of Hashem.

But why the shofar? What is it about the Shofar itself?

Many people connect it to the Akeidah – but that is not the complete story, since the Shofar can be made out of ANY flock animal – not just a ram. So there is a significance to the shofar. And I will argue that the Shofar, like most mitzvos, actually reflect the core purpose of klal yisroel.

The shofar comes from a group of tahor animals that the Torah tells us are capable of being spiritually elevated to holiness.

But the shofar is not merely the horn of an animal. By itself, a horn is solid. To become a shofar, it must be hollowed out, to allow the air to pass through it. The tahor animal’s horn has human work invested in it to make it capable of being blown.

The last step is the blowing itself. What is blowing of such a horn? It is not merely allowing air to enter the shofar. Blowing a shofar is hard work as well – it requires highly pressurized air, being forced by the blower’s lungs into the animal’s horn. In other words, the blower’s body must be focused on getting compressed air into the horn, in just the right way to achieve the desired effect.

“Hakol Hevel.” Breath is everything. Without breath, there is no life. But even more than this: we know that Adam’s very soul – our own souls – are sparks of the divine, on loan during our lives. Words are a reflection of the power Hashem demonstrated when he created the world using just words. We can create with words, too. Mere sound waves that pass in an instant, can be so very powerful. A single word can have more of an impact on a person than a physical blow.

But words are not raw breath: they are filtered by our mouth, which can render them impotent or empty. Sung notes, by contrast, are less filtered, which is why music can often touch our neshamas in ways that words cannot. But when we force our ruchniyus – the spirit on loan from G-d – through the ram’s horn, it is not filtered by our guf at all. It is as raw an expression of our spirit as we can achieve.

So we are to use our body to compress the spirit within us, and force it through the horn of a kosher animal. Why?

Because this is, in fact, a reflection of the purpose of Jewish existence. Our job is to infuse the world with rucniyus, to spread G-d’s spirit throughout nature. Blowing the shofar encapsulates all of these elements: using our body and soul in concert to push Hashem’s spirit into the natural world. Because the Torah does not tell us that G-d is in nature – it says, instead, that His spirit is in mankind. And then we are, through our thoughts and words and deeds, commanded to close the loop, to combine heaven and earth.

Ze’ev Hall adds that the act of blowing shofar is therefore emulating Hashem: He breathed His creative spirit into us and we honor and commemorate that creative act by, in turn, breathing our own spirits into the shofar. The creation of mankind is commemorated on Rosh Hashanah!

Which brings us to the sound that comes from blowing the shofar. A shofar that does not make a sound is useless. Why? Because the commandment is that we hear its sound. On the first day of the year, we remember and renew our relationship with G-d, starting with the fundamental building blocks of Judaism. The sound that a shofar makes pierces our hearts and souls, touching us in a matter that is so primal that it can be frightening. It is a reminder to all the Jewish people of our purpose on this earth.

And there is another audience: the King Himself. When we blow the shofar we are also broadcasting our allegiance to the commandments given to us. We are to be holy, to create holiness in the world around us. We can be holy by uniting our body and soul (as with tefillin) when blowing the shofar. And we create holiness when, with effort, we introduce G-d’s spirit into the animal kingdom, into the rest of the world. The sounds of the shofar pierce everything around us with the bugle call of the Jewish people.

The clamor for the King is in Israel.

Comments are welcome!