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The Sounding of the Shofar Awakens The Soul

One of the highlights of the high holidays is to hear the shofar.

The shofar, a hollowed out ram’s horn, is the most ancient musical instrument used throughout history as a rallying call to bring people together. In ancient Israel, the shofar announced the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), was blown in the desert as a battle cry to declare war and celebrate victories, was blasted on Mount Sinai when the Jewish people received the Ten Commandments, and the Hebrew tribe Levites of the Holy Temple played the shofar as one of their musical instruments.

In modern times, the shofar most commonly blown like a trumpet to signal the coming of the New Year—Rosh Hashanah—and to awaken our souls and bring us closer to God.

Traditionally, the most common place to hear the shofar is in synagogue, but this year because of covid19, many of us will hear the blast of the shofar outdoors, in a park, on a neighborhood street, in our backyard, or virtually on a computer.

During the preceding month of Elul and at the end of Yom Kippur, the shofar is blown every day, and on Rosh Hashanah the sound is blasted 100 times!

“The shofar is not only a wakeup call but also marks the coronation of God being King over mankind. We blow the shofar like we blow a horn at the coronation of an earthly King,” said  Rabbi David. “Rosh Hashanah marks the birthday of the world, with the birth of Adam and Eve, the first human beings born with a soul. The shofar taps into the energy of creation which allows every human being to recreate themselves on  this first day of the New Year.”

The mitzvah of hearing the shofar live teaches us a history lesson as well.

“The blasts of the shofar heralded the national revelation of Mount Sinai, to remind us that the purpose of creation is engaging in the Torah’s wisdom and instructions for living,” added Rabbi David. “The shofar reminds us to realign ourselves with Torah at this auspicious time.”

This video shows Rabbi Yosef David, of  Aish HaTorah St. Louis, making the four distinct sounds of the shofar — tekiah,  shevarim, teruah, and tekiah gedolah.

These four blasts are symbolic and remind us of a crying voice, both tears of joy and tears of sorrow. The shofar is a wakeup call to our slumbering souls that might have veered off path this past year.  The wailing sounds of the shofar is a reminder for us to look inward, repent for our mistakes of the past year, and deepen our connection to God. Hearing the shofar encourages us to start the New Year with a clean fresh slate, and focus on what’s most important to us.

The tekiah, the first sound, signals joy and happiness. Then we hear the long wailing blast reminiscent of crying, of shevarim and teruah, sounds of sadness, pain and suffering. The stark contrast in emotions reminds us of God’s presence in our lives always, in the most difficult, challenging times as well as the days of ease and  and sheer bliss. Next, we hear tekiah again, to signify that our Creator is all around us, guiding us to follow our divine purpose. The call of the shofar is the call to teshuvaTeshuva, often, translated as “repentance,” literally means “return,” and refers to “returning” to the ways of life outlined in the Torah.

The physical shofar is nothing more than the hollow horn of an animal, usually a ram. When the breath of a human is blown through it, however, the shofar becomes alive again. One idea is that the shofar represents each of our journeys. The narrowing end of the shofar, where the lifeforce enters, represents the narrow straits that we all have traveled, and the wide open end where the sound blasts out symbolizes setting us free of restraints from the past year and coming together once again to gather strength as a Jewish nation.

As Rabbi David explains in the video, each blast is different from the other. The various notes of the shofar that are blown are:

teki’ah–one long blast

shevarim–three broken sounds

teru’ah‑-nine staccato notes

The shofar blasts follow a prescribed pattern:

teki’ah‑shevarim teru’ah‑tekiah;

teki’ah‑shevarim‑teki’ah;

teki’ah‑teru’ah‑teki’ah.

The final tekiah is prolonged (it is called teki’ah gedolah, a “great blast”). The world’s record for the longest blowing shofar is 1 minute 53 seconds!

It takes practice to learn how to blow a shofar—and now Aish can show you how to toot your own horn. Join Rabbi David for an upcoming Zoom tutorial on Thursday, September 10 and Sunday, September 14, 8-8:30  p.m. CDT. Mimi David will give a more in-depth  class on the themes of shofar blowing, “What’s All The Noise About?” on Sunday, September 13, 7:50-8:30 p.m.

Sign up today for your own PopUpShul that includes a real kosher shofar and learn how to make the most of the High Holidays—including blowing your own horn with a real kosher shofar. Go to www.PopUpShulSTL.com for a list of pre classes and more details on creating your very own meaningful and memorable Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

L’Shanah Tovah—Wishing you a happy, sweet New Year 5781!