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Home » Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah: The Shofar Cries; A Nation Journeys

Submitted by on September 15, 2010 – 3:32 pmNo Comment | 6,459 views

The Cry

Its plaintive sound sets the heart throbbing; its haunting cry like the sob of a young child. It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, and the sound we speak of is the call of the Shofar. Tekiah, the long plain blast, is the drawn out howl a child emits when wracked by pain. Shevarim, the three broken sounds are the groans of a grown man in pain. Teruah, the nine miniature blasts give voice to the wailing commonly heard at funerals in the Middle East.

The progression from childhood pain to adulthood groan and ultimately mournful wailing reflects the experience of our souls. The soul came into existence in a splendorous abode on celestial heights. Enwrapped in light and aglow with rapture it luxuriated in the lap of the Divine. Then one day it was entrusted with a mission; descend to earth below and vivify a physical body; give life to a material being; a young woman or man.

The soul initially balks at this awesome task; it fears the journey of descent. It will mean not only distance from G-d, but a descent into the bottomless pit of self absorption, greed, envy and lust. In this cesspool of human experience there is hardly room for nobility and grace; G-d has almost no place in the constant steam of human consciousness. What does the soul want with the likes of us?

Yet it is here for a purpose; to be a light unto the body; to radiate the warmth and passion of the Divine. The soul seeks to kindle a flame that will inspire ascent; a climb into the reach of the sublime.

Sadly, you and I know how fleeting the soul’s successes are. Despite its greatest efforts, the soul remains trapped in a body that has little interest in the currency of heaven. And so the soul cries. It is not a silent cry; it cries long and hard, but its cries go unheard; largely because we are too preoccupied with matters of the material to take note of our soul or its pain.

On Rosh Hashanah we give voice to the soul’s plaintive cry. We take a forty-eight hour break from the constant pursuit; take stock of our inner rhythm and listen to the cry of our soul. And when we do, we hear its cry. The cry that is constant, but unheard. The cry that is constant, but now, suddenly heard.the shofar cries a nation trembles - innerstream

The Shofar is not a soul; it is a horn. But it is a symbol. Its purpose is to remind us that a bitter cry can be heard within; if only we pause and listen.

Three Sounds

The cry is heard on three levels.

Tekiah: Some souls are able to breathe and are not even ill. In other words they are given regular opportunity to perform Mitzvot. However, from time to time, they are hit, square in the face, with a terrible barrage of selfishness or greed. At such times the soul howls with pain.

Shevarim: Other souls are not that lucky; their Mitvot are few and far between. The neglect of charity and nobility is so marked that the soul grows ill. It groans in constant and acute pain.

Teruah: Then there are souls that are so starved for holiness that they are literally at death’s door. Their cry is the wail of death; the mournful cry heard at ancient funerals.

The Cure

Hearing this cry we are shaken to the core and resolve to repent; to make our lifestyle more hospitable to the soul. And so we begin the process of rectification; we reflect, regret, repent and are forgiven. But the process must be authentic; one cannot cut corners and still hope to reach the destination.

Here we look to the laws of the Shofar for guidance. The word Shofar in Hebrew means to beautify; that is to say, correct our behavior and improve our lifestyle. The Shofar is only kosher under certain conditions, which tells us that the process of beautification is only complete if it means with the criteria laid out for the Shofar. Let us review some of these laws.

•    The Shofar is only Kosher if there are no holes in it. A hole is a defect; sinful behavior or a negative trait. To have improved, to create beauty; one must be clear of all defect.

•    A Shofar is Kosher if there is a crack along its width, so long as a sufficient length of Shofar remains. That tells us that sinful patterns are most easily reversed when they are corrected in youth. However, a crack along the length of the Shofar renders the Shofar invalid. Sins that stay with us throughout life are most difficult to change. Not impossible, just difficult. We must be careful not to turn sinful patterns into habits. Patterns can be broken; habits are much more difficult.

•    The Shofar is most desirable if its shape is bent and if it is of a Ram’s horn. Change does not come easily. To affect it we must be both yielding and unyielding. We must have the unyielding determination of a battering ram, but like the Shofar is bent, so must our hearts be bent; ready to yield to new ways. The conceited cannot recognize the error of their ways, but the soft don’t have the endurance to effect true change. To repent we must be stern in determination, yet humble and open to change.

•    The Shofar that is turned inside out is not Kosher. We must beg forgiveness for the offenses that we give. However, we cannot beg forgiveness in private for offenses given in public and we cannot beg forgiveness in public for offenses given in private. The former is unfair because the offender should not seek forgiveness without first ameliorating the public humiliation he caused. The latter is unfair because the very begging of forgiveness can shame the victim in public.

•    The Shofar is not kosher if the mouth piece or end piece are coated with gold or silver. Offenses against our fellow cannot be wiped clean with financial gifts. Too often bullies offend their victims and rather than asking forgiveness they assuage their conscience by extending an arm in friendship as if offense had never been given. This puts the victim in an unfair position; he is still smarting from the wound and the offender is acting like a friend. It is worse when the offender repeats the offense the next day. It is almost as if the gift has earned him the right to offend again. How can the victim protest when he benefited yesterday from the offender’s largess?

•    Little parts of different Shofars glued together does not a Kosher Shofar make. We must account for and repent for every sin separately. One cannot steal from a fellow and compensate by praying extra. One cannot intermarry and compensate by keeping Kosher. A hodgepodge of sins and Mitzvahs glued together does not a proper beautification make.

•    Finally a Kosher is only kosher if it can be held in the fist and extent from both ends. Repentance is not complete unless it is noticeable both at home and outside. To often people are known as kindhearted in the community, but are difficult at home. When we are not on our best behavior the ugly truth springs forth. True repentance encompasses both ends; the outside and the inside. Even when no one is watching and where we are not required to be on our best behavior we must be beautiful.


We began with Rosh Hashanah we will conclude with Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah was the Day of Judgment; Yom Kippur is a Day of Atonement. It is not a time to reflect on sin, but on being readmitted into G-d’s good graces. We wear white – the color of purity. We refrain from food and drink – just like the angels. It is a day of holiness and purity.

The Shofar is sounded to mark the end of this holy day, but amazingly its sound undergoes a radical shift; at this point is not one of wailing, but of victory. A majestic blast; loud, proud, long and fierce. It is a triumphant sound emitted by a people exonerated in judgment and granted a good year. It bids farewell to the days of awe and trumpets our march into the joyful festival of the tabernacle, Sukkot.

This essay is largely based on the commentary of the Shaloh on the tractate of Rosh Hashanah.

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