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HEARING SHOFAR:

THE STILL SMALL VOICE OF THE RAM’S HORN

Book One – The Call of the High Holy Day

By Michael T. Chusid

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 1 © 2009, Michael T. Chusid


TABLE OF CONTENTS
FRONT MATERIAL

Title Page
About the Author
Notices
AcknowledgementsFrontMaterial.htm
Forward – by Rabbi Dr. Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

BOOK ONE – THE CALL OF THE HIGH HOLY DAYS

Prelude

PART ONE – The Call of Shofar


1-1 An Awakening: A personal account of how shofar awakens spirituality.
1-2 Five Translation Challenges: Biblical and rabbinic basis for shofar.

PART TWO – The Shofar of Elul


1-3 My Shofar is My Beloved’s: Teshuvah and preparation for the Days of Awe.
1-4 Meditations for each Day of Elul: Warm-up exercises for the spirit.

PART THREE – The Shofar of Rosh Hashanah


1-5 Blast, Break, Shatter, Blast: The blessings, the calls, and the code.
1-6 The Ram’s Midrash: What the Akedah teaches about listening to shofar.
1-7 The Ewe’s Horn: Shofar speaks in both masculine and feminine voices.
1-8 Our Father, Our King: Stories about kings, children and shofarot.
1-9 Remembering Shofar: To blow, or not to blow, that is the Shabbat question.

PART FOUR – The Shofar of Yom Kippur


1-10 The Dinner Bell and One Last Blast: An encore and a separation.
1-11 Azazel and the Goat that is Set Free: Two goats and two paths.
1-12 The Jubilee and the Prophet’s Words: The call for justice.
1-13 From the Belly of a Wail: Jonah revisited.

1-14 Epilogue – Elul Story

BOOK TWO – FOR THE SHOFAR BLOWER Click here.

BOOK THREE – THE PEOPLE OF THE RAM Click here.

This copyrighted book is offered as a free download. If you receive value from this work, please consider making a
tax-deductible donation to support Shofar Corps. Visit www.HearingShofar.com or click here to donate.
© 2009, Michael T. Chusid

Cover Illustration: Sefer Minhagim (Book of Customs), Amsterdam, 1722,


www.library.yale.edu/exhibition/judaica/brbml.20.html, January 7, 2006.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 2 © 2009, Michael T. Chusid


Prelude
Here we go a davening,1
These are the Days of Awe.
Soon we will be fasting
According to the Law.
Health and peace be to you,
And to you a good year too!
L’Shanah tovah v’tikatevu.
L’Shanah tovah v’tikatevu.2

(To the tune of the traditional


English New Year carol,
“The Wassail Song.”)

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

1
Yiddish for “praying.”
2
“L’Shanah tovah v’tikatevu” translates as “To a good year and [may you] be written [into the Book of Life],” a
traditional greeting during the Jewish New Year season.

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PART ONE – The Call of Shofar
“The great shofar is sounded and a still small voice is heard.”3

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

3
From the Un’taneh tokef” prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah. Illustration is from a French book published
about 1845. www.jhm.nl/objecten.aspx?database=museumcollectie&jhmnr=7439 SEPTEMBER 7, 2009

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 4 © 2009, Michael T. Chusid


Chapter 1-1 – An Awakening
“What is the sound of a shofar no one hears?”4

When, from time-to-time, a friend asks me, “Do you have a spiritual path?” I reply, “Yes,
I am Jewish.” Being well meaning, my friend might reply, “I didn’t ask about your
religion; I wanted to know if you had any spiritual practices.”

Until a fifteen year ago, I might have seen the dichotomy between Judaism and
spirituality in the same way. For while I intensely identified with the Jewish people and
was active in a synagogue, all I knew about spirituality was a vague, unnamed longing.
This emptiness was most apparent when I attended synagogue services on Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar.5 While
desperately wanting to know the Eternal, all I experienced was the eternity of sitting (and
standing and sitting and standing) as I passively listened to a Rabbi drone on in an
unfamiliar language and a performance by a choir of operatic wannabes. Towards the end
of the day, I noticed people around me started getting excited that they would soon hear
the shofar, and I figured it was because it meant they would soon be able to go home.

Now, I eagerly look forward to the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. The High Holy Day
services are filled with almost every emotion except the boredom and alienation I used to
experience. And when I hear the shofar, I am filled with the awe and trembling of which
our liturgy speaks. And not only do I hear the shofar; I blow it. I sound shofar both in the
synagogue for the congregation and throughout Elul, the month preceding Rosh
Hashanah, as a personal meditative practice.

The shofar is a musical instrument made from a hollowed horn of an animal, usually a
ram. Hearing it blown is central to the observation of the Jewish New Year and the
Jewish people’s identification with its voice is ancient and deep.

My personal discovery of the power of shofar and of other spiritual practices in Judaism
began during a period of personal trial during which I had to learn to depend upon a
higher power for strength. Then, as they say, “when the student is ready, the teacher
appears.” I was exposed to wonderful guides to Jewish spirituality including Rabbis
Jonathon Omer-Man who introduced me to Jewish meditation traditions, David A.
Cooper who lifted a few of the veils from the mystical paths of kabbalah, and Moshe
Halfon whose drumming workshops helped me connect unspoken sound with prayer.
From them and many fellow travelers on spiritual paths, I learned that prayer could be
transformed from rote recitation into an intimate conversation with the Eternal; that
Judaism was such a big tent that its devotional traditions ranged from sitting in silence to

4
Jewish koan. In Zen practice, a “koan” is a question or statement used to provoke thought.
5
Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew for “Head of the Year” is the beginning of the Hebrew Calendar and marks one
of several “New Year” days in the Jewish tradition. It is observed on the first day of the Hebrew month of
Tishrei and typically occurs around September. Yom Kippur translates as “Day of Atonement” and occurs
on the 10th of Tishrei. The ten day period is called the Yamim Noraim, meaning “Days of Awe,” is a period
for heightened spiritual introspection and making amends for our errors that have injured others.

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dancing with ecstasy; and that I had the opportunity, perhaps even the obligation, to re-
examine Jewish rituals to find a way to breathe fresh life into them. It was within this
context that, if you will excuse a pun, a full-blown passion for shofar arose in me.

When I was a child, my neighbor, Mr. Shapiro, blew shofar for our little congregation in
the soybean fields on the fringe of the Chicago suburbs. Mr. Shapiro was a big man with
a full beard and a European accent who conveyed an aura of Old World Jewish traditions
that most of my Jewish neighbors in our multi-cultural community had lost. I had not yet
developed into a religious cynic, and the loud noise and the exotic custom of the shofar
excited me. After the holidays, I asked to borrow his shofar and he lent it to me. I did not
ask for instructions, and none were offered. With great expectation, I blew into the horn,
and heard nothing. So I blew harder, and then harder still. I was quickly exhausted, and
my checks and sinuses hurt and I had developed a headache. I returned the shofar to Mr.
Shapiro, convinced that it was a very difficult instrument to play and that the skill it
required was beyond my ken. Being a shofar blower, I figured, required years of training
– like being a rabbi.

Fast forward thirty years, and I found myself led to spend the High Holy Days with
Makom Ohr Shalom (www.makom.org), a Los Angeles, California congregation
affiliated with Aleph (www.aleph.org) and the Jewish renewal movement and where, for
over a decade, I have had the privilege of celebrating the High Holy Days with Rabbi
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, an inspiring teacher who brings ancient traditions alive in a
contemporary context. Inspired by Reb Zalman, Makom’s services offered one delightful
surprise after another: Instead of being shushed in shul, I was actually encouraged to talk
with the people sitting next to me to discuss my shortcomings of the past year and to set
out my intentions for the new one! Congregants brought tambourines and got up and
danced when the spirit moved them! In the afternoon of the Yom Kippur fast, we had a
“hands-on” healing meditation! And when it came time to hear the shofar, more than a
dozen shofar blowers came forward. Oy! You should have heard the loud, wonderful,
soulful noise their combined blasts made. I was as excited again as I had been as a kid
that very first time I heard the loud, wonderful, soulful shofar blasts. For the first time in
decades, the sound pierced my calloused psyche and awoke a sleeping soul.

That year, I purchased a shofar of my own. To my delight, it turned out to be amazingly


simple to blow. Instead of having to puff my cheeks and huff with all my might, I just
had to let my lips vibrate as I exhaled into the horn. Like so many other obstacles in my
life, the only thing I had to overcome was an attitude problem and a little bit of
ignorance. When the next Rosh Hashanah came, I joined the congregation’s choir of
shofar blowers.

My learning about shofar had only just begun. As my studies of Jewish spirituality
continued, I was introduced to the practice of blowing shofar daily throughout Elul, the
month leading to the start of the new year. I began to understand that teshuvah – the
process of making amends for our flaws in character and behavior and for seeking and
giving forgiveness – takes time. We are given the month of Elul to take inventory of our
lives and make amend for our errors. The daily practice during Elul of blowing (and

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listening to) shofar encourages me to meditate for a few moments and consider where I
need to take action to do teshuvah or allow healing to occur.

A side benefit of this spiritual practice was that it also facilitated “practice” of the
rehearsal type. At the beginning of Elul, the toots emanating from my shofar are weak
and wavering. But with daily attention, the tones became purer and higher on both the
acoustical and spiritual planes. As Rosh Hashanah draws nearer, my daily practice takes
on added fervor. And by the final tekiah gedolah6 of Yom Kippur, my shofar and I are
ready to blast-off!

Over the years, I started getting recognition as a ba’al tekiah – a “master blaster” – of the
congregation. This opened a still deeper level of shofar insight, since people started
asking me to teach them to blow shofar. While working one-on-one with students, I
developed the “Chusid Method” that enables me to teach most individuals to get a
satisfying toot from their shofarot (the Hebrew plural of “shofar”) in as little as five to ten
minutes. “The rest,” I tell them, “is commentary. Go and study.”7

For those who wanted to go deeper into the practice, I began teaching workshops at the
University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University), to synagogue groups and
chavarot (study groups or social clubs), and at gatherings in private homes. So far, I have
taught nearly a thousand people to sound the shofar and have had a 98% success rate
among my students. (How’s that for tooting my own horn!) Makom Ohr Shalom has
formed a Shofar Corps that visits hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and individuals who
are unable to leave their homes to sound the shofar for them. And by listening to and
sharing feedback with their class and corps mates, participants also deepen their ability to
hear the shofar.

The call of the shofar is imprinted into the spiritual DNA of the Jewish tribe. It is to the
children of Israel what the didgeridoo is to the Australian aborigines, the conch shell8 is
to the peoples of Polynesia and South Asia, and the council drum is to the First Nations
of North America. It is the technology we use to assemble our community, call to our
higher power, and to bring down blessings from heaven.

Tradition tells us that we all stood at Mt. Sinai, even generations not yet born, when God
revealed Torah to us accompanied by the blasts of the mighty shofar.9 Those blasts
continue to resonate within you and me, seeking to emanate through our lips so that God
can enjoy hearing them again and we can be reminded of our Covenant.

6
A long, sustained blow, see Chapter 5 – Blast, Break, Shatter, Blast.
7
Hillel, Shabbat 31a.
8
Conch trumpets also existed in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean. Braum says, “The only
trumpet-instrument frequently attested archeologically in ancient Israel/Palestine is the one made from the
shell of the Charonia tritonis nodifera…” from the late Bronze Age on and serving as both a cultic
instrument and as a means of communication or signaling. (page 181-183)
9
Exodus 19 and 20.

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We are a nation of priests10 and, as we strive to live with mitzvah-consciousness, we each
gravitate to special areas of holiness where we can share our gifts with our community.
As I look around the sanctuary during the High Holy Days, I see members of my
community singing in the choir, caring for children in the nursery, bringing home-baked
challah for the break fast, and helping with the myriad administrative details it takes to
transform an assembly hall into a sanctuary; each is helping to raise the sparks of the
Divine. In the same spirit, the deeper I take my practice of shofar, the higher the prayers
of the entire congregation can go.

This book is written primarily for Jews and about Jewish practices and teachings. The
New Testament of the Bible11, the Qur’an12, and the ancient religions of Northern
Europe13 also contain teachings about horns and the trumpets that were patterned after
horns, however, and members of other religions also use horns in their rituals. I hope
readers of all faiths will find some value in this book. If, as Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
said, “the Holy Spirit shouts forth even from the tales of the gentiles,”14 then there is hope
that the tale of a Jew can speak to those who travel different paths. Let us learn from and
respect each other’s horn blowing traditions; as the kabbalist Moses Cordovero said,
“each type of bird sings a different language, but all sing to the Divine.”

I hope this book will inspire you to listen more closely to shofar, to deepen your spiritual
practice by raising your own horns, and to join the cadres of shofar blowers serving our
communities and our planet.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

10
Exodus 19:6.
11
For example, Matthew 24:31 – “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they
shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” King James
Version.
12
For example, Qur’an 6.73 – “And He it is Who has created the heavens and the earth with truth, and on
the day He says: Be, it is. His word is the truth, and His is the kingdom on the day when the trumpet shall
be blown; the Knower of the unseen and the seen; and He is the Wise, the Aware.” Translation by Shakir.
www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/006.qmt.html#006.073, January 3, 2006.
13
The Norse god, Heimdal, had a horn named “Gjallarhorn” that could be heard throughout heaven, earth,
and the lower world. It was believed that he would sound the horn the end of the world. See:
www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/259662/Heimdall June 21, 2009.
14
Quoted by Zalman Schacter-Shalomi in Fragments of a Future Scroll, 1975

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Chapter 1-2 – Five Translation Challenges
“Why do we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? Why do we blow it? The All-Merciful
told us: ‘Blow.’”15

Why do Jews blow a shofar during the High Holy Days? For many, “tradition” is an
adequate answer. Indeed, memories from childhood of hearing shofar while in the loving
embrace of parents or grandparents create a powerful momentum from generation to
generation. A friend recalls with warmth, “The first time I remember hearing the shofar, I
was a little girl, standing next to my father during the High Holidays, and he leaned down
and gathered me into his tallit.” That shared embrace implanted an indelible memory of
blessing, protection, and love.

Shofarot made from animal horns decay rapidly when buried in earth, and none have survived from
antiquity. However, this ivory trumpet found at Megiddo is from the 14th century BCE, and is testimony
that horns have been part of Semitic culture for hundreds of generations.

For many, the significance of a religious tradition is not in understanding it’s meaning,
but simply in the observance of its rituals. At Sinai, after all, we said, “We will do”
before we said, “We will hear,” even without understanding God’s commandments.16 It
has been observed that, “Provided the worshipper fulfilled the ritual with accuracy, no
one cared what he believed about its origin.”17 Or, as Tevye the milkman says, “Where
do our traditions come from? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition.”18

“The mitzvah of shofar has profound kabbalistic significance, which the saintly sages had
in mind during the shofar blowing. But in Heaven, the simple intention of blowing the
shofar because HaShem commanded it is cherished greatly.”19

15
Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16a.
16
Exodus 24:8
17
Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, London, 1901 as quoted it Theodor Reik,
Ritual: Four Psychoanalytic Studies, page 17f.
18
A character in Fiddler on the Roof, based on Sholom Aleichem’s book, Tevye’s Daughters.
19
Ma’or Vashemesh, Rimzei Rosh Hashanah, quoted in Meisel, pg 90

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Many contemporary Jews, however, have a spiritual hunger that drives them to ask
fundamental questions. Rapid changes in society make it necessary to reexamine ritual
and rejuvenate them so they remain vital in our lives. Heschel says:

“There are spiritual reasons that compel me to feel alarmed when hearing the terms
‘customs’ and ‘ceremonies.’ What is the worth of celebrating the seder on Passover
Eve if it is nothing but a ceremony? An annual re-enactment of quaint antiquities?
Ceremonies end in boredom, and boredom is the great enemy of the spirit. A
religious act is something in which the soul must be able to participate; out of which
inner devotion, kavanah, must evolve. But what kavanah should I entertain if
entering the sukkah is a mere ceremony?”20

The word, “Kavanah,” in the above quotation is Hebrew meaning “intention, mindset, or
intentionality.” A shofar blast with the kavanah of fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar will
have a very different meaning than a shofar blast used as a sound effect in a movie, even
if the two blasts sound the same. Delving further into questions about why we sound
shofar can help develop a clearer kavanah with regards to the ritual and attune our
listening to the shofar’s voice.

Because God Tells Us To


The sound of the shofar is the approved soundtrack for the Days of Awe. The Torah
makes it clear that sounding shofar on the High Holy Days is a mitzvah, a commandment
from God.

The pertinent clause governing Yom Kippur is:

“Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of
the month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the horn sounded
throughout your land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year.” Leviticus 25:921

While translated as “horn,” the Hebrew says “shofar.” The verse requires the blowing of
the shofar on Yom Kippur every fiftieth year, the Jubilee year.22 Torah prescribes a
sabbatical every seven years during which the land is to be left fallow. The Jubilee occurs
after seven cycles of sabbaticals and adds several additional requirements: slaves are to
be freed and land is to be returned to the family or clan to whom it was originally given.

20
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man’s Quest for God, 1954 as cited in The Wisdom of Heschel, Ruth Marcus
Goodhill, editor, 1975, page 232. A “sukkah” is a semi-enclosed structure in which Jews are commanded to
sit during the autumn harvest festival of Sukkot.
21
Bible translations are from JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, 2nd Edition, Jewish Publication Society, 1999
unless otherwise noted.
22
Some sources say the Jubilee is the forty-ninth year after the previous Jubilee, equal to the fiftieth year
since the start of the previous Jubilee. I like the power of squared Numbers, so I side with the 49th year
interpretation. From a practical side, this avoids the hardship that would occur observing a sabbatical in the
forty-ninth year and the Jubilee the following year since crops cannot be planted in either.

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While we (unfortunately) no longer observe the Jubilee, we now sound shofar on Yom
Kippur to memorialize this commandment and to symbolize our emancipation from sin
through atonement on the Day of Atonement. More will be said on the shofar of Yom
Kippur in Part Four of this Book.

Two other Torah verses lay the basis for blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the
seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a
sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” Leviticus 23:23-25

“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred
occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day
when the horn is sounded.” Numbers 29:1

While the sense of these two English verses is accurate, they present us with several
translation challenges.

1. The first is in the translation from Hebrew to English. Neither verse actually
mentions a “horn” or the word “shofar.” Instead, they both prescribe “teruah,” a word
that can be translated as “blast” or “blowing.”23 Leviticus, in other words, commands us
to “remember the blowing,” and Numbers commands that the first day of Tishrei, Rosh
Hashanah, shall be a “day of blowing.”

2. The second translation problem is in interpreting the intent of the original


language; what are we to “blow”? The clue is the reference to “remembering” – the
blowing we are to remember is the call of shofar at Mount Sinai:

“When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they [the people] may go up on the
mountain.”24

“On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a
dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the shofar; and all the
people who were in the camp trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp
toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount
Sinai was all in smoke, for the Lord had come down upon it in fire; the smoke
rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently. The
blare of the shofar grow louder and louder. As Moses spoke, God answered him
in thunder.”25

23
Teruah is related to the Hebrew word ruah and can also mean to make a loud noise, cry aloud (as in
weeping), shout, sound an alarm, or blow a trumpet or shofar. It is derived from the root “to break” or “to
shatter,” alluding to the fragmented blasts of teruah. The term if further defined in Chapter 10 – Blast,
Break, Shatter, Blast.
24
Exodus 19:13
25
Exodus 19:16-19

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“All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the shofar and
the mountain smoking…”26

The original production of The Ten Commandments had even better special effects than
the movie and was, the critics say, “unforgettable.” Tradition teaches us that “all the
people witnessed” God’s revelation, including you and me. How could we not remember
the teruah of shofar?

Now that we understand that the Torah bids us to observe teruah on Rosh Hashanah with
a shofar, our next two translation challenges are:
3. What, exactly, is meant by the word, “shofar”? And,
4. What is a “teruah” supposed to sound like?

There are two ways we determine the answers to these questions:

First, we can rely on tradition, the living Torah, as alluded to in the introduction to this
Chapter – we know the answers because “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and
handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; the Prophets
handed it down to the Great Assembly.”27 They, in turn, taught the rabbis, who told their
students, who told me, just as I now tell you.

The second technique is to search the written Torah for evidence that can be constructed
into proofs, a search that has produced the Talmud – particularly Babylonian Talmud’s
Tractate Rosh Hashanah – and twenty-five hundred years of commentaries.

Either methodology yields the same answers:

• A shofar is the hollow horn of an animal, preferably a ram and definitely not a cow or
bull, with a bore through the tip that allows us to blow through the horn and produce a
sound.
• Teruah is a fragmented blast of the shofar that can be compared to the sound of
crying or wailing.

These definitions will be augmented throughout this book.

5. The final challenge is to translate the sounds of shofar so they have spiritual
meaning and motivate us toward teshuvah – the process of making amends to those we
have harmed, correcting our defects of character and seeking and giving forgiveness.

Trumpets
Before we proceed, however, there is at least one more Torah passage that dictates
blowing on Rosh Hashanah. As the first day of the month of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah is

26
Exodus 20:15
27
Pirke Avot 1:1

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also a Rosh Hodesh, the head of the month marked by the first appearance of the new
moon, and governed by the following commandment:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Have two silver trumpets made: make them of
hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the
divisions [of the Tribes] in motion. When both are blown in long blasts, the whole
community shall assemble before you at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and
if only one is blown, the chieftains, heads of Israel’s contingents, shall assemble
before you.

“But when you sound short blasts, the divisions encamped on the east shall move
forward, and when you sound short blasts a second time, those encamped on the
south shall move forward. Thus short blasts shall be blown for setting them in
motion, while to convoke the congregation you shall blow long blasts, not short
ones.

“The trumpets shall be blown by Aaron’s sons, the priest; they shall be for you an
institution for all time throughout the ages.

“When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you
shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the
Lord your God and be delivered from your enemies. And on your joyous
occasions – your fixed festivals and new moon days – you shall sound trumpets
over the burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being.

“They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I, the Lord, am your God.”28


Silver trumpets used by the Aaron’s sons may have been like this one, found in Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s
tomb.29.

Like other commandments prescribed for the priests in the Mishkon and Temple, this
ritual is no longer observed in its original form. When Jews need to blow today, we use
the humble ram’s horn instead of silver trumpets. (I doubt the redactors of Torah
anticipated the silver trumpets we now blow at Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties and other
simchas or celebrations.) Still, these verses establish the precedent for blowing to
assemble our congregations and call us to action, to sound the alarm to struggle against
sin and injustice, to create holy noise at times of celebration, and to remind God of our
needs and prayers.

28
Numbers 10:1-10
29
www.touregypt.net/featurestories/music.htm, August 15, 2006.

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The drawing shows a trumpet being used in Egyptian military maneuvers.30

Shofar and Trumpet


The silver trumpets described in Torah are called “ĥatzotzrot” in Hebrew. Scripture
makes clear distinction between the two instruments; there is no verse that says, “sound a
shofar or a trumpet.”

Over the years and through translations, however, the distinction has become blurred. “It
is noted31 that since the destruction of the Temple, the names for the shofar and the
trumpet had been confused. The same complaint may be made against the
Septuagint…”32

Another scholar says, “Given the similar function and symbolism associated with the two
instruments, one can probably say that a certain continuity of tradition does obtain
between them. At the same time, the [ĥatzotzrot] was clearly a cultic instrument and a
symbol of the institutionalized, sacral-secular and autocratic power of the second temple,
while the [shofar] was from time immemorial an instrument associated with the magical
and mystical phenomenon of theophany”33

Silver trumpets have not played a major part in Jewish spiritual life during the past two
millennia. Throughout this book, I have taken the liberty of assuming that the meaning
and role of the ĥatzotzrot is now carried in the voice of the shofar.

30
hem.passagen.se/humba/sid5.htm, September 15, 2007.
31
Shabbat 36a. Compare Sukkah 34a.
32
Cyrus Adler and I.M. Casanowicz, “Trumpet,” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, pg 268,
www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=349&letter=T&search=shofar, July 22, 2006. Translation is
also complicated because of the variety of trumpet-like instruments. “As a rule "shofar" is incorrectly
translated "trumpet" or "cornet"; its etymology shows it to signify either "tuba" (comp. Jastrow, "Diet.") or,
more accurately, "clarion" (comp. Gesenius, "Dict." ed. Oxford).” (From Adler, et al, “Shofar,” ibid, pg.
301, www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=653&letter=S&search=shofar, July 22, 2006.) Writings
and sermons on shofar make frequent references to “the clarion call of shofar.” The meaning of this phrase,
seems to be lost on the current generation, few of whom know that the clarion is a medieval trumpet or that,
when used as an adjective, it means “brilliantly clear” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary). As
an idiom, “clarion call” means “a strong and clear request for people to do something” (Cambridge
International Dictionary of Idioms, Cambridge University Press, 1998, cited at
http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/clarion+call, January 12, 2008).
33
Braun, Joachim, Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine, translated by Douglas W. Stott (William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2002) page 16.

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The trumpets from the Temple are shown in this relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome, showing the Roman
booty from the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

New Moon
The injunction to blow a horn on Rosh Chodesh – the new moon – is restated in Psalm
81:4:
“Blow the shofar on the new moon… because it is a decree for Israel, a judgment
for the God of Jacob…”

One commentary on this verse makes it clear that, in the final analysis, it is not necessary
for us to fully understand why we blow shofar. “The Hebrew word for decree’ usually
alludes to a Torah law the reason for which is not revealed in Scripture. The Hebrew
word for ‘judgment,’ on the other hand, alludes to a law that has a readily understood
rationale. Thus, the mitzvah of shofar is a decree to Israel, for God has not revealed His
reasons for the commandment. Nevertheless, we are certain that to Him, in His infinite
wisdom, it is a judgment with a clear and logical base.”34

Translating Psalm 8135

In Hebrew, Psalm 81:4 is:

“Tiku ba-hodesh shofar ba’keseh l’yom chagaynu.”

A direct translation would be:

34
R’Shlomo Hakoen of Radomsk in Tiferes Shlomo, quoted in Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws,
and Prayers, pg 58.
35
Psalm 81 is traditionally read as part of the morning service on Thursdays.

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“Blow in the month a [shofar], In the new moon, at the day of our festival”. 36

There is uncertainty, however, about the meaning of “ba-keseh”, the fourth Hebrew word
in the verse and translated above as “In the new moon.” This translation links the verse to
Rosh Hashanah, a feast day that occurs on the new moon of Tishrei. Indeed, Rosh
Hashanah is also called, “Yom Keseh”, The Day of Concealment. The name emphasizes
that Rosh Hashanah is the only major festival to occur when the moon is concealed. It
also invites mystical interpretations: On other festivals, the Jewish people can be
compared to the radiance of the full moon; on Rosh Hashanah our light is eclipsed as we
stand in awe of the Day of Judgment. We do not blow shofar on the day before Rosh
Hashanah in order to conceal the court date from Satan. And God conceals our sins to
grant us forgiveness.37

The connection to Rosh Hashanah is also implied by Rash’s translation of “ba’keseh” to


mean, “at the appointed time.”

Alternatively, “our festival” could refer to the celebration of Rosh Hodesh in general.
This is implied in the translation:

“Sound the Shofar on the New Moon; in the dark of the moon, which is our festival.”38

It has been said that, “The Moon in our tradition represents Shechina, the Divine
Presence that is always present but sometimes hidden in shadow. The sound of the shofar
calls Shechina out from her hiding place and welcomes her back into our awareness.”39
Among the primitive tribes of our foreparents, I imagine the darkness of the full moon as
a time of fear and mystery when loud blasts would be used as magic to scare away dark
and harken the rebirth of light.

Most modern translations, however, interpret “keseh” as having something to do with


“fullness.” For example:

“Blow the shofar on the new moon, on the full moon for our feast day.”40

36
Young’s Literal Translation, 1898, http://www.ccel.org/bible/ylt/Psalms/81.html August 14, 2009.
37
http://jhom.com/calendar/tishrei/concealment.htm August 8, 2009,
38
Solomon B. Freehof, “Sound the Shofar: ‘Ba-Kesse’ Psalm 81:4”, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New
Series, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jan., 1974), pp. 225-228. The paper goes into additional detail on this subject,
including another translation: ‘Sound the Shofar on the New Moon; in the dark of the moon for (fixing) the
date of our festivals.”
39
Rabbi Shefa Gold, “The Call of Shofar”, Rosh Hashanah 5769/2008,
www.rabbishefagold.com/RHSermon2_2008.html, August 14, 2009.
40
JPS

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This could suggest that shofar should be blown on the pilgrimage holidays of Sukkot and
Passover, both of which begin on full moons. Indeed, I embrace this translation in
Chapter 3-6 – The Ram’s Horn of Passover because it suits a position advanced there.

A beautiful contemporary translation seeks a resolution to the conflicting meanings of the


verse:

“Sound a shofar at the New Moon… at the moment of concealment/potential for our
Celebration Day.”41

The author suggests that it is at the moment of newness that one has fullness of potential
and all hidden possibilities are present.42

More Reasons for Shofar


Saadiah Gaon43 articulated the following reasons for shofar:44

“There are ten reasons why the Creator, blessed be He, commanded us to sound
the shofar on Rosh Hashanah:

1. “Because this day is the beginning of creation on which the Holy One,
blessed be He, created the world and reigned over it. Just as is with kings at the
start of their reign — trumpets and horns are blown in their presence to make it
known and to let it be heard in every place — thus it is when we designated the
Creator as King on this day. As David said: ‘With trumpets and sounds of the
horn, shout ye before the King the Lord.’45

2. “Because the day of New Year is the first of the ten days of repentance,
the shofar is sounded on it to announce to us as one warns and says: ‘Whoever
wants to repent — let him repent; and if he does not, let him reproach himself.’
Thus do the kings: first they warn the people of their decree; then, if one violates
a decree after the warning, his excuse is not accepted.

41
Rabbi Shefa Gold, www.rabbishefagold.com/PsalmsPractice.html August 8, 2009.
42
Rabbi Shefa Gold, telephone conversation with author, August 14, 2009.
43
Lived 882 to 942 and was head of an academy (ga’on) in Babylonia.
44
Sefer Avudarham (Amsterdam, 1726). From The Rosh Hashanah Anthology, JPS 1993. Cited at
www.jhom.com/calendar/tishrei/shofar.html, January 7, 2006. Compare Agnon, pp 70-72.
45
Psalms 98:6.

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3. “To remind us of Mount Sinai, as it is said: ‘the blare of the horn grew
louder and louder,’46 and that we should accept for ourselves the covenant that our
ancestors accepted for themselves, as they said ‘we will do and we will obey.’47

4. “To remind us of the words of the prophets that were compared to the
sound of the shofar, as it is said: ‘Then whosoever hears the sound of the horn,
and takes not warning, if the sword come and take him away, his blood shall be
upon his own head... whereas if he had taken warning, he would have delivered
his soul.’48

5. “To remind us of the destruction of the Temple and the sound of the
battle-cries of the enemies, as it is said: ‘Because you have heard, O my soul, the
sound of the horn, the alarm of war.’49 When we hear the sound of the shofar, we
will ask God to rebuild the Temple.

6. “To remind us of the binding of Isaac who offered his life to Heaven.50
We also should offer our lives for the sanctification of His name, and thus we will
be remembered for good.

7. “When we will hear the blowing of the shofar, we will be fearful and we
will tremble, and we will humble ourselves before the Creator, for that is the
nature of the shofar — it causes fear and trebling, as it is written: ‘Shall the horn
be blown in a city and the people not tremble?’51

8. “To recall the day of the great judgment and to be fearful of it, as it is said:
‘the great day of the Lord is near, it is near and hastens greatly...a day of the horn
and alarm.’52

9. “To remind us of the ingathering of the scattered ones of Israel, that we


ardently desire, as it is said: ‘And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great
horn shall be blown; and they shall come who were lost in the land of
Assyria...and they shall worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.’53

10. “To remind us of the resurrection of the dead and the belief in it, as it is
said: ‘All ye inhabitants of the world, and ye dwellers on the earth, when an
ensign is lifted up on the mountains, see ye; and when the horn is blown, hear
ye.’”54

46
Exodus 19:19.
47
Exodus 24:7.
48
Ezekiel 33:4-5.
49
Jeremiah 4:19.
50
Genesis 22.
51
Amos 3:6.
52
Zephaniah 1:14-16,
53
Isaiah 27:13.
54
Isaiah 18:3.

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“Saadiah Gaon’s ten reasons for the shofar focus our attention on the aspects of existence
that, taken together, include all of life – from beginning to end of time and space, with the
most dramatic of archetypal mythic events in between. The shofar teaches past, present,
and future. It heightens consciousness and awareness of self – the self alone as well as the
self in relation to the universe.”55

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe left us the following additional reasons for shofar:

11. Its sound is compared to that of a child crying out to his/her parent (and, in
turn, to our crying out to God, our Father).

12. The use of an animal’s horn reminds us that even our most hardened
“animal-like” instincts are included in the service of God.

13. Although many ritual vessels can become “tameh” (ritually impure), the
shofar cannot – the shofar is the device with which we express our innate
connection with God; this connection can be neither severed nor sullied; it
remains intact and is always ready to be drawn upon.

14. The shofar preferably has a bend in it, symbolizing our willingness to
bend our will to that of God.

15. The mitzvah of shofar is only fulfilled when it is blown with the intent of
connecting to Godliness; the same is true of all mitzvot – they are not simply tasks
to be blindly carried out, but rather are spiritual tools to connect with God in a
meaningful way.56

Drawing upon the stories of women that inform our hearing of shofar (see Chapter 7 –
The Ewe’s Horn), we can add:57

16. To remind us of our mother Sarah who, upon hearing what God had asked
of her husband and son, sobbed and wailed like the cries of a shofar, and then
died.

17. To remind us of our mother, Hannah, whose horn was exalted when God
answered her heartfelt prayers.

I find the following additional reasons:

18. To remind us that there is “a time for war and a time for peace.”58 A time
for war as it is written, “When you hear a trumpet call, gather yourselves to me at

55
The Jewish Catalog, pg 69
56
Fred Toczek, “Rosh Hashanah: Selected Thoughts,” www.anshe.org/parsha/rosh-hashanah.htm, June 3,
2006.
57
Edwards, page 42.
58
Ecclesiastes 3:8.

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that place; our God will fight for us!”59 And a time for peace, as it is written:
“Joab then sounded the horn, and all the troops halted…and stopped the
fighting.”60

19. To remind us that Judaism evolved from and is still connected to the
Earth-based, shamanistic practices of a tribal cult.

20. To see that our journey through life follows a spiral path of growth.61

21. To help exorcise the dybbuks – demons – that we may bear.

22. To remind us that when the Holy One calls, we may hear light and see
62
sound.

23. To renew us in the Covenants of Noah, the Akedah, and Sinai.

24. To remind us, as God said to Cain, we can master the urge to sin.

25. To maintain a legacy of the High Priest’s Yom Kippur ritual with the two
goats, one sacrificed and the other sent to Azazel.

26. To call forth with the voice of a sheep to acknowledge our Shepherd.

These explanations for shofar form the scriptural and rabbinic basis for hearing shofar.
But the reasons we still respond to its call – may be even older than the written Law. This
topic will be explored in Book 3 of Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s
Horn.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

59
Nehemiah 4:14.
60
II Samuel 2:28
61
The “sacred geometry” of shofar will be discussed in Book 3 of Hearing Shofar.
62
Exodus 20:15

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PART TWO – The Shofar of Elul
“A hasid once hurried past his rabbi on the first day of Elul. The rabbi asked him, ‘Why
are you hurrying?’

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘I must look in the Machzor and put my prayers in order.’

“‘The prayer book is the same as it was last year,’ replied the rabbi. ‘It would be far
better for you to look into your deeds, and put yourself in order.’”63

God is Opening all of the Gates


Rabbi Sholom Brodt64

“What is Elul all about? Doing good. God is opening all of the gates.

“I want you to know that the teshuvah of Elul is not teshuvah for sins. That is for the ten
days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In Elul the important thing is, I am doing
teshuvah for all the gates that were open to me and that I didn't enter.

“Let me say something very deep. Can you image what kind of gate God opened to us on
Mt. Sinai? The deepest gate in the world. The gate was so wide open, the Gemara says,
that there was no longer any death in the world. We could have gone straight into Eretz
Yisrael. We could have fixed the entire world. But instead what did we do? We made the
Golden Calf. We said to God, we are not interested in Your gates.

“Gevald! How could we do that? How could we do that to God? So Moshe had to go
again to Mt. Sinai to re-open all the gates. In former good days, every city was closed
with gates. When they were opened, they blew the shofar. In Elul we blow the shofar to
let the world know, to let ourselves know, God is opening all the gates, God is re-opening
all the gates.”

“Rosh Hashanah is coming. I am so not ready. The other day, someone remarked to me
that Elul is coming early this year. I think he must have been joking; Elul comes early
every year.”65

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

63
Agnon pg. 38 attributes this to Rabbi Mordecai of Nadvorna and Likkute Mahariah. Translation is from
Bernard S. Raskas, Heart of Wisdom, 1962, Burning Bush Press, pg 344.
64
www.ruach.org/shofarline.php, November 17, 2007.
65
http://rabbiwithoutacause.blogspot.com/2007/08/shofar-practice.html, August 11, 2007.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 21 © 20


Chapter 1-3 – My Shofar is My Beloved’s
“In Psalm 150, ‘praise God in His sanctuary,’ the word ‘hallelu’ [praise], occurs
twelve times, corresponding to the twelve months of the year. Elul, the sixth month
of the year, matches the sixth Hallelu, ‘praise Him with the blast of the shofar.’ This
alludes to the custom of blowing the shofar during the month of Elul.”66

Many Jews hear the shofar daily throughout the month of Elul – the Hebrew month that
precedes Rosh Hashanah – to stimulate spiritual preparations for the Days of Awe. The
exceptions to this are that shofar is generally not sounded on Shabbat, nor on the last day
of the month (the day before Rosh Hashanah).

The tradition is linked to our hearing shofar at Mt. Sinai:

“After the sin of the golden calf, Moses pleaded with HaShem for forty days. At
the end of that period, on Rosh Hodesh Elul (the new moon beginning Elul),
Moses was told to ascend the mountain and remain in Heaven for forty days and
forty nights to receive the second Tablets. During each of those forty days, the
shofar was sounded throughout the camp, and an announcement was made:
“Attention please! Let it be known that Moses went up the mountain. He will not
return before forty days and forty nights!” this was done to prevent the people’s
miscalculation that occurred when Moses ascended to Heaven the first time,
which led to the making of the golden calf. To commemorate the month-long
sounding of the shofar, we blow the shofar during the month of Elul.”67

The thirty days of Elul plus the ten days of the Days of Awe represent the 40 days of
Moses’ sojourn on Mt. Sinai.

Spiritual Preparation
Elul is the secret to unlocking the power of the New Year. It is a time for self-inventory
and an opportunity to draw closer to God through spiritual preparation for the New Year.
The importance of this is summarized in the following poem:

Accounting of the Souls68


Reading the Torah is like reading your bank statement;
You know it's important, but it is indecipherable.
Some of what you read is obviously significant.
Much appears not to be.
Yet, if a single number or letter were to be different,
The Truth of the Total would be lost,
And all would be changed.

66
Yeitev Panim, quoted by Meisels, pg 9.
67
Tur Orach Chaim, quoted by Meisels, pg 10. See also Pirke DeRabbi Eliezer 46
68
By Billbob, aka Dr. Bill Finn, author of “Where Will the Atheists Pray? – Life and Laughter in Israel.”
Originally published in The Aquarian Minyan’s Newsletter, Sh'ma Kolaynum, Summer – Fall 1994.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 22 © 20


Somewhere in the past you made an error.
You search the text, seeking to restore balance.
The longer you wait to reconcile your accounts,
The harder it is to reconcile.

Some walk into their accountant's office once a year,


And throw a box of loose, unexamined receipts upon them.
Some appear before God once a year, unprepared and untidy.
They expect the Rabbi to do the reckoning.
But in the end, each of us stands alone before God.
Either your check is covered or not.

May none of you cash in this year.


May all of you be inscribed
in the balanced checkbook of life.

An older teaching also uses a financial metaphor to explain the shofar’s significance in
the spiritual work of the month:

“Beit din [rabbinic court] gives a debtor a thirty-day deferment to pay his bills
before his property is confiscated. Similarly, the shofar blasts of Elul remind us to
pay the debts we have accumulated with our shortcomings. We “pay off the debt”
by doing teshuvah, tefillah and giving tzadakah. We have thirty days to settle our
accounts, so we will not be found wanting on Rosh Hashanah.”69

The Alarm
Sounding shofar during Elul helps to rouse us to do the work that will prepare us to stand
trial on the Day of Judgment. The sense of this is explained in the following story:

“A native villager, born and reared in an obscure rural environment, came to a big
city for the first time and obtained lodging at an inn. Awakened in the middle of
the night by the loud beating of drums, he inquired drowsily, “What's this all
about?" Informed that a fire had broken out and that the drum beating was the
city's fire alarm, he turned over and went back to sleep.

“On his return home he reported to the village authorities: ‘They have a
wonderful system in the big city; when a fire breaks out the people beat their
drums and before long the fire burns out.’ All excited, they ordered a supply of
drums and distributed them to the population.

“When a fire broke out some time later, there was a deafening explosion of drum
beating, and while the people waited expectantly for the flames to subside, a
number of their homes burned to the ground.

69
Rabbi Moshe Galant, Elef Hamagen, quoted by Meisels, pg 10.

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“A sophisticated visitor passing through that village, when told the reason for the
ear-splitting din, derided the simplistic natives: ‘Idiots! Do you think a fire can be
put out by beating drums? They only sound an alarm for the people to wake up
and take measures to extinguish the fire.’

“This parable, said the Maggid of Dubno, applies to those of us who believe that
beating the breast during the Al Het (confessional), raising our voices during
worship, and blowing the shofar will put out the fires of sin and evil that burn in
us. They are only an alarm, a warning to wake up and resort to heshbon ha-nefesh
(soul-searching), so that we may merit the favor of God.”70

In Hebrew, “Elul” is an acronym for the verses: “And God, your Lord, will circumcise
your heart and the hearts of your descendants;”71 “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is
mine;”72 and “Sending gifts from a person to his friend and giving presents to the poor.”73

“Thus the verses allude to the three services: repentance, prayer, and charity which must
be eagerly performed in the month of Elul. ‘And God will circumcise…’ alludes to the
service of repentance. ‘I am my beloved’s…’ alludes to the service of prayer, which is ‘a
song of lovers.’ ‘Sending gifts…’ alludes to the service of charity.”74

A Daily Ritual
Shofar is incorporated into the weekday synagogue prayer service during Elul. Not only
is shofar sounded within the minyan, Psalm 27 is also read stating:

“I sacrifice in His tent with teruah (shofar blasts) of joy,


Singing and chanting a hymn to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
Have mercy on me, answer me.”75

Adopting these shofar practices as a personal daily meditation during Elul provides a
structure and discipline that has become essential to my preparation for the High Holy
Days.

70
Jacob ben Wolf Kranz, the Dubner Maggid, Paraphrased from The Rosh Hashanah Anthology, JPS,
1993, translator Alexander A Steinbach, www.jhom.com/calendar/tishrei/parable2.htm, July 9, 2006.
www.geocities.com/afinkle221/tales2.html, January 11, 2008 says the story is "The Alarm" by the Maggid
of Dubnow, condensed from the story by I. L. Peretz in I.L. Peretz Reader, Ruth R. Wisse, editor (Yale
University Press, 2002).
71
Deuteronomy 30:6.
72
Song of Songs 6:3.
73
Esther 9:22.
74
Based on Kitzer Shulchon Oruch, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, Chapter
1281:1, Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1991
75
Psalms 27:6-7. Some translations interpret “teruah” as “shouts.” While this is more poetic in English, it
misrepresents the central importance of hearing shofar as a wake-up call in the month prior to Rosh
Hashanah, the Day of Teruah, and ignores the blowing of shofar that occurred in “His tent” when sacrifices
took place.

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My regimen is simple, and you are encouraged to modify it to suit your temperament and
practices. I spend a moment getting centered in my body, feeling the earth beneath my
feet and the air coursing in and out of my lungs. If there is some aspect of my life in
which I want to stimulate the process of teshuvah, I say a prayer to ask God to help me
hear whatever it is I need to hear and to find the conviction to take appropriate actions.
Then I recite the blessing for hearing the shofar, and blow tekiah-shevarim-teruah-tekiah.
(See Chapter 5 – Blast, Break, Shatter, Blast for an explanation of the shofar blasts.)

And then I listen.

I listen as the shofar calls’ vibrations spread out into the universe and decay. I listen for
responses that ripple through my body. I listen to whatever images, thoughts, or feeling
come to my awareness. I listen to the arguments of my mind telling me that I should
ignore any pain, resentment, or sin around which I need to pursue teshuvah. I just listen.

Then I put away the shofar and I go about the rest of my day.

It is seldom that I have cosmic revelations during this practice. Instead, I have a slow
coming to grips with areas of my life that need reconciliation. Perhaps I realize that I
have to apologize to or forgive someone. Or I will remember a pledge I made that I have
not yet fulfilled. Or I realize that I have been holding onto a belief or attitude that is no
longer serving me. Teshuvah can be a slow process, and listening to shofar during Elul
has helped me, blast-by-blast and step-by-step, seek the “at-one-ment” with my self, my
neighbor, and with God that is the substance of atonement.

By the end of Elul, when Rosh Hashanah arrives, my shofar and I have both been
awakened, my lips are tuned, my heart is attuned, and I am ready to both sound and hear
the great shofar.

Meditations
For help in developing your own shofar practice during Elul, please see the meditations
for Elul in the next Chapter. Reading and reflecting on these meditations may help you
find more meaning in a daily shofar practice.

This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared76

“YOU ARE WALKING THROUGH THE WORLD HALF ASLEEP. It isn’t just that
you don’t know who you are and that you don’t know how or why you got here. It’s
worse than that; these questions never even arise. It is as if you are in a dream.

“Then the walls of the great house that surrounds you crumble and fall. You tumble out
onto a strange street, suddenly conscious of your estrangement and your homelessness.

76
Rabbi Alan Lew, www.twbookmark.com/books/46/0316739081/chapter_excerpt17383.html, July 22,
2006

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“A great horn sounds, calling you to remembrance, but all you can remember is how
much you have forgotten. Every day for a month, you sit and try to remember who you
are and where you are going. By the last week of this month, your need to know these
things weighs upon you. Your prayers become urgent.

“Then the great horn sounds in earnest one hundred times. The time of transformation is
upon you. The world is once again cracking through the shell of its egg to be born.”

Priming the Gong77

“Though the shofar is the Jewish sound-symbol par excellence for this time of year, the
gong offers an explanation (by analogy) of why we blow the shofar daily during Elul.

“Percussionists know that gongs are slow starters. With most musical instruments, a
physical action immediately creates a sound. But the big flat Chinese-style gongs are
different. If you take a mallet and strike a gong hard, you get some noise – a clank or a
clunk – but the sound is squashed, not loud, ringing, or deeply sonorous.

“To get a full, rich, ringing tone you have to prime the gong before you need the sound.
You do this by repeatedly tapping it with the mallet. Each tap reinforces the vibrations
already in motion. The sound slowly builds, layer upon layer, so that when the time
arrives to strike the big note, a strong slap of the mallet sends the metal disk into an
explosive “braaaaAAAASH" that reaches its peak up to several seconds afterward. To the
listeners it sounds as though the whole ocean crashed over us at once, but the truth is that
the wave spent a long time gathering strength out at sea before it broke upon the beach.

“Sounding the shofar repeatedly during Elul serves the same purpose for us. If Yom
Kippur arrives without preparation, it is as though we are struck suddenly. All the heavy
prayer-language of God's sovereignty, the lists of our sins, and the gut-wrenching
sacrifices of the ten martyrs – all of these together make a hefty mallet, and we, being
unprepared, respond with a clunk. Like gongs, we need to be primed.

“Each day of Elul when we hear the shofar, our souls vibrate a little more strongly,
resonate a little more in synchrony with the holy purpose of this season. With each
preparatory step, we grow more attuned to the music of teshuvah. When Rosh Hashanah
and Yom Kippur arrive, we are primed and ready for the big moment, quivering – no,
buzzing – with anticipation. The liturgical mallet makes contact with a human instrument
already alive and pulsating, and we respond with a resounding crescendo of teshuvah.
Our soul-wave breaks, splintering old patterns of behavior with a mighty roar.”

Finally, “May you be shofar-driven to a good, sweet year...”78

77
Rick Dinitz, “That Elul Time Of Year,” August 25, 1993,
www.mljewish.org/cgi-bin/retrieve.cgi?VOLUME=3&NUMBER=38&FORMAT=html, December 30,
2007.

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RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

78
Arnie Gotfryd, 30 August 2007, http://arniegotfryd.com/content/view/246/51/ December 26, 2008

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Chapter 1-4 – Meditations for Each Day of Elul
“In the few days remaining of this year, let us be smart enough to choose the
proper thoughts to concentrate upon during Rosh Hashanah.”79

It is a richly rewarding tradition to hear the shofar daily during the Elul, the month
preceding Rosh Hashanah. If you participate in a morning minyan – communal prayer
service, that is the best time for shofar. Otherwise, take a few moments to sound and
listen to shofar yourself or with your family.

Reading and reflecting on these meditations may help with the inner work or required to
spiritually prepare for the Days of Awe, and with the external work required to make
amends to yourself and others.

It is customary to not blow shofar on Shabbat. Instead, either skip that day’s reading or
read the meditation and try to remember the voice of shofar without sounding one. (See
Chapter 9 – Remembering Shofar.)

Meditation for First Day of Elul


“In the beginning…God said…”80

The world was not created by thought, but by action. God’s speaking created a vibration,
a ripple in the cosmos, that continues to move outward from its source and exchange
energy with everything it contacts.

When we blow shofar, we are acting in God’s image, creating change in the world
through sound.

In the physical world, sound vibrations transfer mechanical energy and generate minute
amounts of heat due to molecular friction. In the physical world, the energy of shofar,
like any other sound, entropies, dissipating until its impact is lost and forgotten.

In the higher worlds, however, the vibrations of shofar becomes amplified when they are
heard and act as a stimulus for teshuvah, the process of making amends for our sins
(missing the mark) and returning to a life more in alignment with divine purpose.

Hearing is more than the passive registration of acoustic energy by our auditory nerve; to
hear shofar requires us to be spiritually present. We must become so receptive that the
vibrations enter our minds, hearts and souls and move us towards taking the actions that
produce teshuvah.

79
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, www.breslov.org/dvar/zmanim/rosh3_5758.htm, July 11, 2006
80
Genesis 1:1-3.

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Teshuvah is not created by thoughts alone; action is required. For sins between us and
God, we must ADMIT our error, FEEL regret and RESOLVE to not repeat the sins. For
sins between us and another person, we must also ASK forgiveness and MAKE
restitutions.

If we do not actively hear shofar in a way that prompts teshuvah, then the vibrations
merely pass through us, doing little else than imperceptibly raising our body
temperatures.

Years ago, a professor gave me the assignment to calculate how much sound energy was
required to heat a cup of tea. During Elul, the month proceeding Rosh Hashanah, we can
do better than that. We can use the energy of shofar to move us to brew an entire pot of
tea, and then to sit down and share a cup with our family, neighbors and associates to
settle old scores, heal festering wounds, ask for forgiveness for our offenses, and forgive
those against whom we may hold grudges.

When we do this, we are truly acting in the image of God, moving against the flow of
entropy to create a new world. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, visualize sitting down with a cup of tea with your worthy
opponents. What would you like to say and hear that may lead to healing?

Meditation for Second Day of Elul


“The Lord God formed man… He blew into his nostrils the breath of life…”81

This is the breath we return when we blow shofar.

The connection between breath and knowledge of God is so deep that it is rooted in our
languages. In English, “respiration” and “spiritual” share the same root. In Hebrew,
“neshamah” (soul) and “neshēmah” (breath) share the same root, while “ruach” can
mean either “wind” or “spirit.”

One could reasonably assume that a powerful exhalation is the breath required to produce
a strong shofar blast. As a shofar blower, however, I have found that the most important
breath is my inhalation before blowing shofar.

On the practical level, filling my chest with air provides the substance that will later be
channeled into the shofar. Plus, it oxygenates my blood so I do not faint during a
prolonged tekiah gedolah.

But on a deeper level, the inhalation fills us with life. In that first breath, Adam had to
inhale to receive the breath God blew into his nostrils. In the same way, inhaling
continues to fill us with the spirit of life.

81
Genesis 2:7.

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We are reborn with every inhalation. Then, like a newborn baby, we cry. Our cry is the
voice of shofar announcing the birth of a New Year, a new world. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, feel the spirit flowing through your body with each breath.

Meditation for Third Day of Elul


“And the Lord said to Cain,
‘Why are you distressed,
And why is your face fallen?
Surely, if you do right,
There is uplift.
But if you do not do right
Sin couches at the door;
Its urge is toward you,
Yet you can be its master.’”82

The voice of shofar blares out of the story of Cain, introducing fundamental themes that
resonate throughout the liturgy of the Days of Awe.

11th Century Romanesque ivory bas-relief shows God accepting Abel’s sacrifice of a sheep over Cain’s
offering of grain, and the events that followed.83

82
Genesis 4:6-7.
83
Photo: Gérard Blot. Location: Louvre, Paris. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux /Art Resource, NY,
Reference: ART155406,
www.artres.com/c/htm/CSearchZ.aspx?o=&Total=68&FP=578425&E=22SIJMY9NY3CV&SID=JMGEJ
NTMACX93&Pic=39&SubE=2UNTWAO9C8N7,
August 12, 2006.)

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The story of Cain is not usually associated with shofar and the High Holy Days. But
consider the evidence; Genesis introduces four motifs that are interwoven into the Days
of Awe:84
1. The sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel are the first instance of WORSHIP in Torah.
2. Abel’s slaying is the first mention of SIN in Torah.85
3. God’s exhortation to Cain, above, is the first place in Torah that lays out the basic
tenets of TESHUVAH, an individual’s opportunity to chose to do right.
4. When Cain prayed, “My punishment is too great to bear!” we have the first instance
in Torah where God, by placing a mark of protection on Cain, shows MERCY.

Further:
• Abel was a keeper of sheep, and his offering was accepted while Cain’s offering from
the fruit of the soil was not. This is the first mention of sheep in Torah and
foreshadows the myriad instances in which sheep are woven into the historical and
spiritual identity of the Jewish people, including: the binding of Isaac86, the blood of
the lamb that marked our doors on the night of the Passover, the blaring of the ram’s
horn at Sinai.
• From Cain descended Jubal, the father of all musicians. Talmud explains that his
name means “ram”, signaling the significance of the ram’s horn in our tradition and
tying the generations of Cain to the shofar.
• We are told that both Cain and Abel (and their twin sisters) were born on Rosh
Hashanah.
• Legend has it that the mark God placed on Cain was a horn.

When I blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah, I viscerally experience God’s declaration, “Hark,
your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” While shofar’s sound is produced
by buzzing my lips, I feel it as a vibration rising out of the earth, coursing through my
body, and rushing out the shofar to create a conduit between heaven and earth.

We are the children of Cain, “a restless wanderer on earth.” Yet in the sound of shofar,
we remember that we can be masters of the evil inclination. There is sin, but there is also
teshuvah and mercy. There is hope. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, ask for strength and courage to master your urge to sin.

Meditation for Fourth Day of Elul


“Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not
understand one another’s speech.”87

84
Genesis, Chapter 4.
85
Adam and Eve’s fall is not considered sin because they had innocence of right and wrong.
86
The Moslem tradition identifies the sheep sacrificed by Abel as the same one sacrificed by Abraham
during the Akedah. See Chapter 6 – The Ram’s Midrash.
87
Genesis 11:7.

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The shofar is a tool for amplifying and modulating sound. Perhaps anthropologists can
tell us which came first, spoken language or the use of tools; spoken prayer or horn
blowing. I do not know.

However, I do know that before any of these things, we did quite well communicating
emotions using non-verbal sounds and body language. Like many other animals, we
expressed ourselves with grunts and growls. Thumping our chest and puffing our chests.
Flailing our extremities and shaking heads. And roaring and howling – just as shofar still
does.

Hearing shofar enables us to return to a time before Babel when we all shared a common
language. Now, as then, we understand clearly the raw emotions and instinctual
behaviors aroused by shofar: fear, awe, love, courage, bewilderment, passion,
commitment, release, joy, and…

There is no need to process the voice of shofar through the higher speech centers of our
minds, only to hear it.

The Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgies are floods of words. Even if we read
Hebrew, Aramaic, and the other languages in which our prayer book is written, how
many of us really understand them? Do the words have the same meaning to me as they
do to you? Can they possibly have the same meaning now as when first spoken on the
other side of the world and the millennia?

Halfway through services, are we even capable of hearing more words? Or have they
become burnt hard like bricks and stacked one on top of the other in an attempt to build a
tower of words with its top in the sky?

But then shofar sounds. The tower of words tumble and we return, if only for an instant,
to an ancient primal language we all understand. We look at each other and know that
nothing we propose to do will be out of our reach.

Stripped of our words and reduced to naked souls, we stand trembling together. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, quiet the flood of words in your mind and simply hear sound.

Meditation for Fifth Day of Elul


“…but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”88

The wild sheep of the ancient world was an important source of protein, fat, and hide. But
it was also a terrifying animal that was strong, fast, and crowned with powerful horns that
outmatched the primitive weapons of our ancestors. The creature was literally the source
of life and death to the Paleolithic hunter, and inspired magical attempts to influence its

88
Genesis 22:7.

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behavior. Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man has said that the early humans who attributed divine
qualities to the forces of nature were the “spiritual geniuses” of their age.89 The ram was
a god to the ancient Semites that wandered between the Tigris and Nile Rivers.

Later, when horned animals were domesticated, they were no longer seen as gods beyond
human control. Yet the memory of an all-powerful ram still existed; a god that still
demanded death to be propitiated. By then, our agriculture had advanced enough to
afford the sacrifice of an animal now and then, especially since our flocks yielded more
males than were needed for breeding.

This was the world in which Isaac was reared. His father’s god was no longer in the
shape of a beast, but still demanded blood, smoke, and the crackle of sizzling fat.

Still later, we were taken as slaves into Babylon, and we no longer had the fat of the land
to burn. Worship turned from Temple-based sacrifice, to the offering of all we had left to
give – our voices. Yet the memory of the ram still existed. And then, as today, we mark
the vernal New Year with a charred bone of a sheep, and the autumnal New Year with the
voice of sheep, shofar.

There is a story about the Hasidic master who, on the New Year, would go to a certain
spot in the woods, and recite a particular blessing, and it was enough. Later, his disciples
no longer knew the certain spot in the woods, but would welcome the New Year with the
particular blessing, and it was enough. Today, we no longer know the certain spot in the
woods or the particular blessing. But we tell the story, and it is enough.

When we now blow shofar to welcome the New Year, it tells the story of nearly six
thousand years of spiritual growth. And it is enough. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, let the modern self and your primitive self embrace.

Meditation for Sixth Day of Elul


“Go to the flock and fetch me two choice kids, and I will make of them a dish for
your father, such as he likes…and she covered his hands and the hairless parts of
his neck with skins of the kids.”90

Our sages tell us that, when we hear shofar, the ram’s horn should remind us to meditate
on the faith of Abraham and how he was tested. The Akedah, the binding of Isaac, is a
story of infinite significance, yet sometimes I question why it was singled out to be read
every year on Rosh Hashanah. The entire Torah is sacred, after all, so what would it be
like if we read a different story on the New Year?

If, instead, we read about Esau and Jacob, on what would we then meditate when we
heard the ram’s horn?

89
Class at Metiva, Los Angeles, circa 1994.
90
Genesis 27:33.

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Meditation often produces surprising leaps of creative association, and our thoughts may
turn to Chad Gadya, the allegorical Passover song about the “one kid my father bought
for two zuzim,” two coins. Except that in this story, there are two kids – Esau and Jacob –
who bought one zuz – their father’s inheritance.

These two kids fought each other from the womb like rams in rutting season. Moreover,
they are both symbolically offered as a sacrifice when Rachel makes a meal for Isaac
with “two choice kids” from the flock. When the father eats the sacrifice, he gives a
blessing that is along the lines of what the Patriarchs hoped to receive when they offered
a kid to The Father. During the Days of Awe, we too pray for a blessing from Father.

The Pesach song can be understood as a parable about how powerful regimes fall, one
after another, just like the estates of Esau and Jacob fall one to the other. Was the mix-up
in Jacob’s blessing due to just the machinations of a mother playing favorites, or is the
unseen hand of God working behind the scenes. The answer is implied in our question
during the High Holy Days, “Who shall be humbled, and who exalted?”

The competition between the sons of Isaac turns to hostility and then to threats of death.
The family is torn apart, and the brothers do not see each other for 20 years. Eventually,
Jacob decides to seek reconciliation with his brother. While Jacob is returning to his
homeland, a divine messenger renames him Israel. From this, we learn the
transformational potential of teshuvah, a Hebrew word that means, “to return.”

Israel makes amends to his brother by gifting him with flocks and bowing to the ground
to ask forgiveness, and is accepted in love by his brother. What started as a dreamy
meditation now comes into focus as a tale about blessings, standing in judgment before
God, and teshuvah – the process of healing rifts and returning to wholeness.

Then came the Holy One, blessed is He. Chad gadya, chad gadya. Amen.

As you hear shofar today meditate on the unseen hand shaping your destiny. Where is
there estrangement in your life? To where or what must you return?

Meditation for Seventh Day of Elul


“When Joseph came up to his brothers, they…cast him into a pit.”91

The Talmud says, “If one blows a shofar into a pit… the law is as follows: If he heard the
sound of shofar without an accompanying echo, he has fulfilled his obligation. But if he
heard the sound of shofar’s echo, he has not fulfilled his obligation.”92

For most of us, the image of blowing shofar into a pit seems so preposterous, that we may
not immediately grasp why the sages considered it. But time and again, it has been

91
Genesis 37:23-24.
92
Rosh Hashanah 27b.

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necessary for Jews to perform the mitzvah of shofar clandestinely, hiding in cellars and
caves, to circumvent oppression.

What did Joseph do while at the bottom of the pit? Perhaps he napped and had another
prophetic dream. Or did he pray for release? For courage to face his ordeal? For
compassion to forgive his brothers? Or for…

If he prayed, would his prayers have ricochet off the walls of the cistern? And if so,
would his prayer echoes have become invalidated before God heard them?

Topologically, a shofar is a tube, a hollow space that acts as a megaphone to modulate


and amplify vibrations. Understood this way, Joseph was at the bottom of a huge earth-
based shofar. Dug vertically into the ground, the pit was on an axis passing through the
planet’s center and straight into the heavens. His prayers from the bottom of the pit, even
whispered, would have been amplified far beyond any tekiah gedolah (big shofar blast)
emanating from an ordinary ram’s horn.

But there is a qualification. Joseph’s prayers would only have escaped the gravity of self-
pity or recrimination if his kavanah, the intention behind his prayer, was inclined towards
teshuvah – making whole the worlds.

Otherwise, his words would have done little more than bounce from one wall to the other.
Inside the pit, the reverberation would make his voice sound big and booming; very
satisfying to hear on a superficial level, but not nearly as effective as the still small voice
of the heart for communicating with the One. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, meditate on the pits in which you are confined. Are you dozing
or praying? What is your kavanah?

Meditation for Eighth Day of Elul


“I am the Lord your God…”93

A more literal translation of the Hebrew is, “I am Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay, your God…,” using
the four letter name of God that is beyond translation and beyond pronunciation.

Rabbi Arthur I. Waskow has written about pronouncing The Name and asks, what if there
are no vowels in The Name, only the consonants yud, hay, and vav? Pronouncing these
letters sounds like, “yyyyyyyyy-hhhhhhhh-vvvvvvvv-hhhhhhh,” a rush of air that is only
slightly modified by our lips and tongues.94

The voice of shofar is, similarly, only a rush of air slightly modified by our lips and
tongues and amplified by a conical horn. It is, perhaps, as much of The Name as we are

93
Exodus 20:2
94
Arthur I Waskow, Godwrestling-Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths, Jewish Lights Publishing,
1998.

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able to hear as humans, the rest of the name is on spiritual or dimensional bandwidths to
which mortals cannot attune.

While the Temple still stood, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies on Yom
Kippur and utter The Name. Now, during the Days of Awe, we must each be our own
high priest and enter the Holy of Holies that is indwelling within each of us. There, we
can hear “yyyyyyyyy-hhhhhhhh-vvvvvvvv-hhhhhhh” – the Eternal Exhalation of shofar
– as The Name whispered in a rush of air. Amen.

When you hear shofar today, remember standing at Sinai and hearing, for the first time,
“I am yyyyyyyyy-hhhhhhhh-vvvvvvvv-hhhhhhh, your God…”

Meditation for Ninth Day of Elul


“...the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God.”95

Most Jewish communities do not sound shofar on Shabbat. The rabbinic prohibition
against doing so is assurance against someone carrying shofar or doing anything else that
might be construed as work; it is a fence around Torah to protect the sanctity of the day
of rest.

Even if you drive or do other “work” on Shabbat, you may want to refrain from shofar
blowing on Shabbat as a symbolic way of embracing the day of rest.

Hearing shofar is a call to make teshuvah, the making of amends for our errors. But on
Shabbat, we do not have to make anything; we simply have to be.

While teshuvah is a worthy goal, pursuing it relentlessly may be counterproductive. I


have heard that a historian studied the records left by the wagon trains of American
settlers moving west across the great plains and mountains. The records indicate that the
groups that observed the Sabbath, resting themselves and their horses one day out of
seven, actually made the journey in less time, on average, than those who hitched-up their
wagons every day. Amen.

When you hear shofar today, unhitch your wagon to enjoy the blessings of the moment.

Meditation for Tenth Day of Elul


“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from
labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest…”96

Including a day of rest for animals was one of the ethical revolutions of the Torah. In this
restatement of the Fourth Commandment, animals are not just a beneficiary of the

95
Exodus 20:9.
96
Exodus 23:30.

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Sabbath; they are the reason for it. While the ox and ass are named in this verse, we
should understand it to apply to all livestock, including sheep.

A shofar can be made from the horn of any animal whose horn has a bone core, with the
exception that it cannot be made from horns of the cow, ox or similar bovines. Most
often, it is made from the horn of a sheep, particularly a ram’s horn.

Long before Sinai, when our ancestors discovered that blowing into a horn could produce
sound, they made its call a central feature of their primitive rituals. They believed that
blowing the horn enabled them to magically acquire the animal’s power and gain control
over the forces of nature.

Our rituals have become more sophisticated today, and we do not recognize animals as
avatars of the divine. If we listen, however, we can still hear the voice of the animal
resonating from its horn whenever we blow shofar. The essence of the living animal that
remains in the horn is what distinguishes the sound of a shofar from that of a metallic
trumpet.

When you rest on Shabbat, let the essence of the animal from which your horn came rest
too. Amen.

When you hear shofar today, offer a blessing in honor of the animals that provide horns
for shofarot.

Meditation for Eleventh Day of Elul


“You shall make the altar… Make its horns on the four corners, the horns to be of
one piece with it; and overlay it with copper.”97

There are spiritual lessons hidden in even the most prosaic verses of Torah; what can we
learn from the altar horns that will illuminate our understanding of shofar horns and our
blasts during the Days of Awe?

Some scholars say the horns are vestiges from when our altars were shaped like horned
animals such as the Golden Calf. Others posit that the beaten metal horns are a legacy
from when altars were decorated with horns of animals that had been sacrificed upon
them. Certainly, horns are symbolic of power and fertility and have been used in
mythology and ritual since very primitive times. From this we learn that shofar connects
us to one of the oldest, most deeply rooted needs we have as humans. If the use of horns
did not serve us, the practices would not have survived thousands of years.

The altar horns are called “keren” in Hebrew. Keren means “horn,” but also “ray” or any
sort of eminence. From “keren” comes the Latin “cornu” meaning “horn” or “point” and

97
Exodus 27:1-2. Other Torah verses that refer to the horns of the altar are: Exodus 29:12 and 38:2,
Leviticus 4:18, 4:34, 8:15, 9:9, I Kings 1:50:51, 2:28 and Psalms 118:27. Horns are also on the altar
described in Ezekiel’s vision, Ezekiel 43:15 and 43:20.

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the English word “corner.” Architecturally, the altar horns are part of the ancient tradition
of erecting prominences at the corners of structures, like the acroteria that add emphasis
to corners of classical Greek pediments. Where structure meets sky, the horns act as a
sort of visual and spiritual lightning rod or antennae to join heaven and earth.

That they were copper suggests the horns could conduct electromagnetism, so why not
other energetic fields as well? From this we learn that shofar blasts, in the acoustical
spectrum of the electromagnetic field, serve as focal points to our worship at the altar of
prayer.

Perhaps the Temple’s alter had horns similar to these on the corners of a small limestone altar from
Megiddo in Israel, dating from the Iron Age (1000-586 BCE).98

There were four keren on the altar, and four calls on shofar – tekiah, shevarim, teruah,
and tekiah gedolah. Talmudic discourse indicates that shofarot are made of keren, the
horn of an animal. But not all keren, such as the horns of cattle, are acceptable for use as
a shofar. Keren is of the physical plane; shofar enters the spiritual plane when it channels
our prayers. From this we learn that we must breathe life and intention into our horns in
order to imbue them with ritual meaning.

From other references in Torah, we know that blood of sacrificed animals was dashed
against the horns during Temple rituals, and that someone grasping the horns was to be
granted asylum and refuge from attackers. From this, we learn that shofar sounds must be
energetic blasts, just as the blood was dashed against the horns and not dribbled. Also,
that hearing the blasts of shofar offers us relief and protection from the evil inclination.

Finally, we learn that the shofar has to be of one piece with our worship. We must enter
into the shofar blasts and hear them, feel them, and become one with them. Our offerings
on the altar, then and now, are made holy by wholeness. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, visualize yourself grasping the horns of the altar. From what
do you seek refuge?

98
Location: Israel Museum (IDAM), Jerusalem, Israel, Photo: Erich Lessing /Art Resource,
www.artres.com/c/htm/CSearchZ.aspx?o=&Total=428&FP=600929&E=22SIJMY9NQMX3&SID=JMGE
JNTMAZKIT&Pic=255&SubE=2UNTWA79GTX8, August 12, 2006.

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Meditation for Twelfth Day of Elul
“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete
rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts…and you shall bring an
offering by fire to the Lord.”99

This is one of the injunctions establishing the Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah. An “offering
by fire” originally required the sacrificial burning of an animal on the altar in the
Mishkon, the Tent of Meeting, and later at the Temple in Jerusalem.

How are we to observe this commandment today when we no longer observe Temple-
based rites?

Now, our offering is tefillah, prayer. However the mere recitation of words from the
prayer book does not satisfy the requirement. To serve as our sacrifice, our prayers must
be offered with our souls on fire.

The High Holy Day liturgy says “Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzadakah” – repentance, prayer
and performance of good deeds – temper the harsh decree as our record is reviewed by
the Judge. Taking this T-cubed path can reduce sin to ash that is rich in nutrients that can
be mixed into the soil of our soul to support growth.

Authentic prayer is a catalyst that creates transformation without mechanical effort,


allowing us to pray while still observing complete rest. It is also, like fire, an exothermic
reaction that releases energy in the form of teshuvah. The loud blasts of shofar amplify
our prayer; it is the bellow that blows air onto a spark to create flame. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, breathe deeply to fully oxygenate your blood and stoke the fire
of teshuvah.

Meditation for Thirteenth Day of Elul


“Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the
month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the horn sounded throughout your
land…You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall
be a jubilee for you; each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall
return to his family.”100

“Jubilee” is derived from the Hebrew “yovel,” a word that also means “horn.” In ancient
Israel, the yovel created a periodic redistribution of economic wealth. It blocked the
establishment of a landed aristocracy, for example, because land-use rights that had been
acquired over five decades returned to the clan to which the land had originally been
assigned. Slaves and indentured servants were granted their freedom. Debts were
forgiven. And everyone had an equal opportunity to make a new beginning.

99
Leviticus 23:39.
100
Leviticus 25:9 –10.

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What would our country be like if we observed a nation-wide yovel? Would the land be
returned to the Sioux, Chumash and Iroquois? Would the time remaining until the yovel
be so factored into loans as to make the forgiveness of debts meaningless? Would it
really be justice if giving freedom to the indentured meant turning them out onto the
street without the means to support themselves?

There is one aspect of the yovel that is still available to us, and we can enjoy its blessing
each Yom Kippur and without waiting until the fiftieth year – the opportunity to make a
new beginning.

We are granted the right to return to the spiritual home of our ancestors; I am not
referring to the Land of Israel, but to live in a sukkot shalom – a divine shelter of peace.
Our emotional debts – all the baggage we carry about the “could haves,” “should haves,”
and “would haves” of human existence – can be blasted into forgiveness by shofar. And
we are granted the right to choose freedom from our servitude to addictions and false
gods. We truly have an opportunity to make a new beginning.

Some of us may feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the opportunity presented by


the yovel that we become paralyzed and choose to stay in bondage. So here is a
suggestion. It is not essential, nor is it likely, that we will be able to completely liberate
ourselves in a single moment of atonement. Be we don’t have to – it is enough to take
even a small step into the yovel. You will have another opportunity next year, God
willing, to take another step along the spiraling path towards liberation.

Rabbi Mordecai Findley has put it this way: instead of praying to be freed from all sin in
the coming year, “pray for a better class of sin,” for the ability to make better choices and
take healthier actions in our lives.101 When we do this for ourselves, we also become
better able to “proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.”
Amen.

As you hear shofar today, meditate on the meaning of the yovel in your life. What can
you do to liberate yourself? How can you help others enjoy the blessings of liberty?

Meditation for Fourteenth Day of Elul


“Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve
you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion. When both are
blown in long blasts, the whole community shall assemble before you at the
entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and if only one is blown, the chieftains, heads of
Israel’s contingents, shall assemble before you. But when you sound short blasts,
the divisions encamped on the east shall move forward; and when you sound short
blasts a second time, those encamped on the south shall move forward. Thus short
blasts shall be blown for setting them in motion, while to convoke the congregation

101
Sermon, Makom Ohr Shalom, circa 1995.

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you shall blow long blasts, not short ones. The trumpets shall be blown by Aaron’s
sons, the priests; they shall be for you an institution for all time throughout the
ages. When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you
shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the
Lord your God and be delivered from your enemies. And on your joyous occasions
– your fixed festivals and new moon days – you shall sound the trumpets over your
burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being. They shall be a reminder of you
before your God: I, the Lord, am your God.”102

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the new moon of Tishrei, the first day of the seventh month of
the Hebrew calendar.

Torah commands us to sound two kinds of wind instruments; the ram’s horn (shofar) and
the silver trumpets described in this verse. Now, the only Jewish rites in which we still
use silver trumpets are during b’nai mitzvot, wedding parties, and other joyous occasions.
When we need a more spiritually potent instrument, we rely today on shofar.

During the High Holy Days, shofar still summons us to assemble. The blasts call us to
teshuvah, to set ourselves in motion to return to wholeness. In our struggles to overcome
moral weakness, fear, addiction, and other character defects, shofar remembers us to our
Higher Power and strengthens us in our struggles with our enemies within.

Happy are the people who know the sound of shofar, for we will enjoy the new moon of
Tishrei as a day of sounding and remembering shofar, and will experience a sacrifice in
honor of our well-being. Happy are the people who sound and hear teruah, shofar blasts,
as “an institution for all time throughout the ages.” Amen.

As you hear shofar today, meditate on what you will offer as your sacrifice of well-being.

Meditation for Fifteenth Day of Elul


“Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too difficult for you,
nor is it far off. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go
up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may hear it?’ Neither
is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side
of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may hear it?’ No, the thing is
very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”103

In an important way, shofar is not the horn, but the energy that flows through the horn. It
is both the mechanical energy of acoustic vibration and the spiritual energy of prayer.

Many people have told me, “I could never blow shofar, it’s just too difficult. I could
never get to where I could sound it. I guess it is just not in me.” I remind them of the
above words of Moses. Then I add, “The shofar is already in you. You are the shofar.”

102
Numbers 10:2-10.
103
Deuteronomy 30:11-14

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In physics, objects each have a fundamental frequency at which they will vibrate. If the
pitch of a sound impinging on an object is a harmonic of the object’s fundamental
frequency, the sound will set the object into motion. As the sound continues, more and
more of its energy is transferred into the object, and the amplitude of the object’s
vibration increases. This is called resonance.

In the same way, each soul has a fundamental frequency that resonates to the sound of
shofar. Our fundamental frequencies are not across the sea or in the heavens; they are
programmed into every one of us. Activated by the harmonics of shofar, the amplitude of
our vibrations increases and causes us to tremble.

This effect only occurs, however if we hear and listen to the sound. Otherwise, our
inattentiveness and distractions act as dampers to suppress any spiritual resonance. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, remove all stops from your hearing and tune into shofar’s
resonance with your soul.

Meditation for Sixteenth Day of Elul


“On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing
the horns. And when a long blast is sounded on the horn – as soon as you hear that
sound of the horn… the people shall advance, every man straight ahead.”104

I am not a pacifist, for I understand the need to take up arms in self-defense. Our taking
of Jericho and the rest of Canaan, however, was an outright war of conquest. The words,
“God is on our side” have been spoken by too many aggressors for them to justify our
actions. We can only redeem our history if we learn from it to improve our character –
individually and as a nation.

One way we can do this is by hearing shofar as a call for peace.

104
Joshua 6:7.

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“Shalom al Yisrael – Peace upon Israel” appears in mosaic floor of 6th century synagogue in Jericho. Note
lulav, menorah, and shofar – ritual implements from the Temple and common graphic motifs in early
synagogues.

Jericho has fallen and been rebuilt many times throughout the ages. During the Roman
era, a synagogue was built in the city with a tile mosaic of a shofar and Hebrew letters
spelling out, “For the peace of Israel.”

In my meditation, I see a conference table. The descendents of Jacob and the descendents
of Ishmael105 sit around it, each clan stiff-necked and barricaded behind stony walls of
suspicion and intransigence. When their words no longer translate, one tribe stands, and
walks around the conference table, an exercise that allows them to see their adversary and
the possibilities from all possible angles. Then, the other tribe walks around the table and
also gets new perspectives.

For six days, wordlessly, they take turns circumambulating and watching the other and
looking into their own hearts. Then, on Friday evening, at the intersection of the seventh
day of the Islamic calendar and the seventh day of the Hebrew calendar, the customary
Jewish proscription against shofar on Shabbat is suspended because the mitzvah of
making peace is given precedence. The two tribes circle the table together, seven times,
like a bride and groom under a chuppah – bridal canopy, each taking in the full essence
of the other.

Then, when a long blast is sounded, the walls of separation fall. Each people advances,
every man and woman straight ahead, to embrace cousins. Together, they rebuild a new
Jericho with an inscription, “For the peace of all the children of Abraham.”

It is only a vision, but I have been to the mountaintop and I have seen the promising land
of peace. May it come speedily and in our own lifetime. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, listen closely for someone who is responding with his or her
call for a truce, forgiveness, and peace.

Meditation for Seventeenth Day of Elul


“[Gideon] divided the three hundred men into three columns and equipped each
with a ram’s horn and an empty jar… Gideon and the hundred men with him
arrived at the outposts of the camp… They sounded the horns and smashed the jars
that they had with them, and the three columns blew their horns and broke their
jars…[and] they shouted… They remained standing where they were, surrounding
the camp; but the entire camp ran about yelling, and took to flight. For when the
three hundred horns were sounded, the Lord turned every man’s sword against his
fellow…and the entire camp fled…”106

105
According to Jewish tradition, the Jewish people are descendants of Jacob (also known as Israel);
Arabic people are descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son.
106
Judges 7:19-22.

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There is nothing like the surprise attack to confound an adversity. Mindful of this
principle, our shofar blasts have been designed to yield maximum strategic value in our
struggles with Satan, the evil inclination and angel of death, who acts as the chief
prosecutor arguing the case against us when we are judged by God on Rosh Hashanah.

Our sages offer many strategies for confounding Satan. We are told, for example, that
God will slay the angel of death at the end of time and that, since “The Great Shofar” will
herald the end of time; our vigorous and repeated blasts during Rosh Hashanah bewilder
Satan into thinking its time is up.

In the synagogue, we announce the approach of each new month on the Sabbath before
the new moon. But we do not announce the coming of Tishrei because it coincides with
Rosh Hashanah and we do not want to remind Satan of this fact. Similarly, we do not
sound shofar on the final day of Elul, the day before Rosh Hashanah, in order to confuse
Satan into thinking it has missed its date in court to testify against us.

I cannot attest to the effectiveness of these gambits. However, there is a spiritual


offensive in which I do have faith: teshuvah, returning to the light of Torah. Shofar calls
us to create teshuvah, and hearing shofar daily throughout Elul gives us many
opportunities to atone for our sins. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson
says, “When a Jew repents properly prior to the onset of Rosh Hashanah, then he is
already assured that he will be written and sealed in the Book of the Righteous. In other
words, by repenting prior to Rosh Hashanah, his judgment for the good was already
assured during the month of Elul.”

When this happens, the prosecutor shows up in court only to be surprised that the case
has already been dismissed. Amen.

When you hear shofar today, remember that cases can be settled before the Court date.
Make the most of this opportunity for teshuvah.

Meditation for Eighteenth Day of Elul


“Abner then called to Joab, ‘Must the sword devour forever? You know how
bitterly it’s going to end! How long will you delay ordering your troops to stop the
pursuit of their kinsmen?’ …Joab then sounded the horn, and all the troops halted;
they ceased their pursuit of Israel and stopped the fighting.”107

In too many chapters of Torah, the ram’s bugle calls the charge into battle. Fortunately, it
can also sound the call for a truce. We must be like Abner and speak the truth to
warmongers and those who profit from fear. There are no winners and losers in war, only
the dead and the survivors.

107
II Samuel 2:26-28.

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We are given a choice between life and death, and are commanded to choose life. To the
question, “Must the sword devour forever?,” we must answer, “NO!”

A Christian once asked me to blow shofar in his church where they were trying to
understand the meaning of the shofar blasts at Sinai. Most of the preaching during the
Sunday worship service was in a language I did not know, but I was startled by the
minister’s frequent shouts, fist in the air, for, “Victory!” Sensitized by history and the
congregation’s unfamiliar ethnic culture, I became frightened and wondered if he was
exhorting his congregation to go to war against Jews.

Eventually I realized that, indeed, he was calling them to battle. But the enemy was not
you nor I, anyone nor any nation. It was a call for victory in the eternal struggle against
temptation to do wrong and an exhortation to his flock to struggle against the evils of sin,
oppression, and injustice. His call for “Victory,” in reality, was what we also hope to hear
when we blow shofar during the Days of Awe.

In reflecting on how his words had seemed, initially, like a threat, I realized how often
the sword is drawn simply because neighbors do not understand their neighbors, even
when they and we are calling for the same things. It is my prayer that we are allowed to
hear shofar as the voice of “Victory” announcing the end of fear and that the sword had
been forever sheathed. Amen.

When you hear shofar today, listen for the call of Victory in your life.

Meditation for Nineteenth Day of Elul


“David whirled with all his might before the Lord…Thus David and all the House
of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts and with blasts of the horn.”108

My sister, Hanna Chusid, quoting her teachers, explains why we remember the yahrzeit –
the anniversary of a person’s death – rather than their birth date by saying, “When a
person dies, their essence becomes more available to all of us.” Applying this concept to
the Temple in Jerusalem, the reality of its loss makes its sanctity more accessible to each
of us.

In David’s time, only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. Now,
we are each capable of entering the inner precincts through prayer and meditation.

Then, the King and the priests performed the sin offerings to propitiate the Lord. Now,
we must each perform teshuvah, tefillah and tzadakah – repairing the rifts in our soul,
offering sincere prayer, and performing acts of justice – as our sacrifice.

Then, the presence of the Eternal was most accessible within the walls of a structure.
Now, we can also know the indwelling presence of Spirit.

108
II Samuel 6:14-15.

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It is fitting and proper that we mourn the destruction of the Temples. Yet we redeem the
loss whenever we worship with all our might before the Lord and praise God with cheers
and blasts of shofar. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, visualize yourself in the presence of the Ark and offer praise.

Meditation for Twentieth Day of Elul


“But Absalom sent agents to all the tribes of Israel to say, “When you hear the
blast of the horn, announce that Absalom has become king in Hebron.”109
“Joab…took three darts in his hand and drove them into Absalom’s chest. Absalom
was still alive in the thick growth of the terebinth, when ten of Joab’s young arms-
bearers closed in and struck at Absalom until he died. Then Joab sounded the horn,
and the troops gave up their pursuit of the Israelites; for Joab held the troops in
check.”110

This pair of verses marks the beginning and end of Absalom’s rebellion against King
David. The references to shofar do not, at first reading, advance the narrative or appear to
impart spiritual or moral instruction.

Regarding Biblical references to shofar, Cyrus Adler says in his scholarly paper, “The
Shofar – Its Use and Origins,” published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1893, that,
“the shofar is not as frequently mentioned as the constancy of its use for certain purposes
might lead us to expect. The infrequency of its mention is in a way, however, a sort of
evidence of the frequency of its use. The blowing of the bugle is as regular a part of a
charge as the horses on which the cavalry is mounted. Its picturesqueness would naturally
strike the mind of a poet and so references to the shofar in the prophetical books are
numerous.”

Understood this way, these references to shofar are used as literary devices to mark the
beginning and end of an episode.

We can still use shofar this way, to mark the beginning of new chapters in our lives and
the end of behaviors or attitudes that are no longer healthy or useful to us. This is shofar’s
call to teshuvah, a call to end our inner struggles with the parts of ourselves that are in
rebellion against our higher purposes. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, hear its voice announce a new beginning. What rebellion –
against yourself, your family, your community, or God – are you ready to end?

109
II Samuel 15:10.
110
II Samuel 18:16.

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Meditation for Twenty-First Day of Elul
“And in that day, a great ram’s horn shall be sounded; and the strayed who are in
the land of Assyria and the expelled who are in the land of Egypt shall come and
worship the Lord on the holy mount, in Jerusalem.”111

Sounding shofar recalls the prophetic vision of the ingathering of exiles. May the day not
be distant, of course. But meanwhile, what are we to do until the Messiah comes?

The answer is, create tikkun olam – the healing of the world.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has compared the world to a living organism. Within
the world, each nation or tribe is an organ vital to the well-being of the organism.
Similarly, each person is like a cell necessary to the functioning of the nation or tribe. If
too many cells become unhealthy, the organ becomes diseased and can no longer do its
part to sustain the whole organism.

Each of us lives, to one degree or another, in exile from ourselves. Our hearts argues with
our heads. Our feet don’t follow our visions. And it is all too easy to close our eyes to
truth. We put on psychological armor when we need extra protection, but forget to take it
off when we among friends and loved ones.

We do not need to wait for the “great” ram’s horn to get started; even a very ordinary
shofar will suffice. By hearing and heeding shofar’s call to teshuvah – the return from our
exiles – we can move towards health and wholeness.

Then, when we pray, “May the one who creates peace in the heavens create peace on
earth,” the reverse will also be true: by creating peace – wholeness – on earth, we create
wholeness throughout all the worlds. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, listen for the faint voices of the parts of you that are in exile.
Allow shofar to be a beacon to guide your fragmented self back into wholeness.

Meditation for Twenty-Second Day of Elul


“Cry with full throat, without restraint;
Raise your voice like a ram’s horn!
Declare to My people their transgression.
To the House of Jacob their sin.
“To be sure, they seek Me daily.
Eager to learn My ways.
Like a nation that does what is right,
That has not abandoned the laws of its God,
They ask Me for the right way,

111
Isaiah 27:13.

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They are eager for the nearness of God:
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?
“Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
Your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
“Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
“No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry.
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to cloth him,
And not to ignore your own kin.”112

The words of the prophet are as urgent today as when first spoken. In our individual quest
to feel the nearness of God, we must not forget the needs of others. Our liturgy for the
Days of Awe tells us that we do not merit Divine mercy by prayer and repentance alone;
we must also perform tzadakah. While often translated as charity, a fuller meaning of this
concept is to take actions that lead to justice. When we hear shofar, it calls us to
tzadakah.

Even when we do not hear shofar, we must be the shofar and cry out against injustice
with our own voices. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, become the shofar and raise your voice as a call to action.
What steps will you take today and in the coming year to create justice?

Meditation for Twenty-Third Day of Elul


“Thus said the Lord;
Stand by the roads and consider,

112
Isaiah 58:1-7.

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Inquire about ancient paths:
Which is the road to happiness?
Travel it, and find tranquility for yourselves.
But they said, ‘We will not.’
“And I raised up watchmen for you:
‘Harken to the sound of the horn!’
But they said, ‘We will not.’
“Hear well, O nations,
And know, O community, what is in store for them.”113

The road to happiness is not the road of comfort and ease sought by so many in our
society. Instead, the prophet maps for us the road of living according to God’s
commandments and in moment-to-moment Torah-consciousness.

The ancient path is rigorous. It requires us to perform acts of loving kindness without
measure. To seek peace and pursue it. To leave the corners of our fields unharvested so
the widow and orphan can feed themselves. To care for the sick. To love the stranger in
our midst. To maintain fair weights and measures. To redeem the enslaved. To refrain
from poisoning the land. To remove the stumbling blocks before the blind.

Torah-consciousness is Jewish spirituality. There is a prevailing illusion that the spiritual


path goes from peak to peak of blissful awareness of the Divine. If we pursue only those
moments of awe, we loose sight that all of life is holy, and that we can sanctify every
moment by observing mitzvot and lifting up holy sparks.

The watchman has blown the shofar: The ice caps are melting, yet we maintain our
addiction to fossil fuels. We do not maintain the levees because we cannot afford
sandbags, yet war profiteers stuff their sacks with gold. Our leaders lie and are caught in
their lies, but are not held accountable.

Soon after Jeremiah issued his warning, we were led away as captives to Babylon. Today,
as I write this, we are again captives in Babylon, in the quagmire of a war without end in
sight.

Oh, indeed, the watchman has sounded the horn. Hear it well for the prophet has told us
what will happen if we fail to head its clarion call. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, reflect on how you can help our nation return to the path of
happiness.

113
Jeremiah 6:16-18.

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Meditation for Twenty-Fourth Day of Elul
“All you peoples, clap your hands, raise a joyous shout for God… God ascends
midst acclamation; the Lord to the blast of the horn.”114

This Psalm is typically read in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy just before the blowing of
shofar. It is an appropriate verse for the occasion because of its reference to shofar and
reiteration of two major themes of the High Holy Days: God’s coronation (malchuyot)
and glorification (shofarot). Beneath the surface, however, it is also a parable about the
power of teshuvah, repentance.

While most Psalms are attributed to King David, this is one of eleven written by or
dedicated to the “Sons of Korah.” Numbers115 tells how Korah orchestrated a rebellion
against the leadership of Moses. While the language of his challenge is an intriguing
appeal to a more egalitarian society, midrash expounds that Korah was a demagogue who
clothed himself as a populist to advance his own agenda. God, apparently, agreed, for the
ground, “opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households.”

Yet, when Korah’s story is restated several chapters later, we learn that, “the sons of
Korah, however, did not die.”116 Not only did they become psalmists, they merited
producing the prophet Samuel among their descendants.

Midrash explains the discrepancy by saying the sons honored their father by appearing to
follow his lead, but realized that his cause was, ultimately, a rebellion against God. This
led the sons to feel remorse and to feel the stirring of repentance in their hearts. While
they remained in the rebel camp, even this small stirring of teshuvah, repentance, was
sufficient to merit God’s mercy. Instead of going to Sheol, the pit, when the earth
swallowed them, they were preserved in a special place in Gehenon – a place of perdition
– where they composed and sang their songs of gratitude and praise to God.117

During the Days of Awe, we are like the sons of Korah, neither condemned to Sheol nor
fully pardoned, dependent upon God’s mercy. We read their Psalm for its reassurance
that there is yet hope for us. If the sound of shofar creates even a small stirring of
repentance in our hearts, there is yet hope for us. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, have the courage to look into even the darkest corners of your
soul and know that there is yet hope.

114
Psalms 47:2, 6.
115
Numbers, Chapter 16.
116
Numbers 26:11.
117
See Sanhedrin 110a. Also, "The Song of the Shofar: The Lesson of the Sons of Korach," Hubscher,
Malka. Vehigadet Levitekh, Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, http://jofa.org/pdf/uploaded/373-
BVGD9535.pdf, February 5, 2006

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Meditation for Twenty-Fifth Day of Elul
“Happy is the people who know the joyful shout; O Lord, they walk in the light of
Your presence.”118

This verse is read in many congregations after shofar is blown.

The shofar blast is a joyful shout.

We do not know what tomorrow brings, but we have had the gift of life for the past year;
so we shout with joy.

We have enough breath within us to blow the horn. The Ba’al Shem Tov says that “the
difference between nature and miracles is its frequency.” So we shout for the miracle of
breath.

Despite our disappointments with God, our fears of God, and even our anger at God, we
still shout. Rabbi Jonathon Omar-Man says, “God always answers our prayers, even if
sometimes the answer is ‘No’.” So we shout with joy because our God is a true God.

Oy! We have sinned. The alphabet is not long enough to enumerate all the ways we have
missed the mark. But we know that through tzadakah, tefillah and teshuvah – acts of
justice, prayer, and sincere effort to improve our ways – we can avert the harsh decree.
So we shout with joy because we have a merciful God.

There is no problem too enormous, no attitude too intractable, and no problem too
complex to resist being bathed and purified in the sonic mikvah of the shofar. Happy,
happy, happy are the people who know how to release their cares into the joyful shout.

Even when it cries, the shofar blast is a joyful shout. It is the raucous, joyous cry of a
newborn year.

Yes, the shofar blast is a joyous shout. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, feel the joyous shout wash your soul.

Meditation for Twenty-Sixth Day of Elul


“Nebuchadnezzar spoke… ‘Now if you are ready to…worship the statue of gold
that I have set up when you hear the sound of the horn…well and good; but if you
will not worship, you shall at once be thrown into a burning fiery furnace, and what
god is there that can save you from my power?’”119

118
Psalms 89:16.
119
Daniel 3:14-15.

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In most of these meditations, I have used the first person plural, “we,” after the manner of
making our confessions as a people during the Days of Awe. Here, however, I am
confronted with a personal recognition that I must confess as an “I.”

In my enthusiasm to understand all the teachings of shofar, I have come perilously close
to making it into an idol or at least a physical presence in which I recognize the divine.
As I read the story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, a tongue of the
super-heated furnace in which they were tested leaps out and singes me as a warning
against worshiping a physical object, whether made of gold or of common horn.

It is not the instrument that makes shofar precious. Neither does the breath that animates
the calls nor even the blasts that we are commanded to hear – they too are of the physical
realm. What makes shofar dear is the kavanah, the intention we have to obey the
HaShem’s commandment to remember shofar.

Maimonides says the following about the kavanah of shofar: “If the person hearing had
the intention of fulfilling his obligation, but the person blowing did not have the intention
of facilitating the latter’s performance of the teshuvah, or the person blowing had the
intention of facilitating his colleague’s performance of the teshuvah, but the person
hearing did not have the intention of fulfilling his obligation, the person hearing did not
fulfill his obligation. Rather, both the person hearing and the one allowing him to hear
must have the proper intention.”120

Hearing a blast of the horn had no power over our three friends in Babylon because it was
neither sounded nor heard with the kavanah of remembering God’s revelation at Sinai.
Amen.

As you hear shofar today, concentrate on your intention to hear its voice in fulfillment of
the mitzvah – God’s commandment.

Meditation for Twenty-Seventh Day of Elul


“As for the builders, each had his sword girded at his side as he was building. The
trumpeter stood beside me. I said… ‘There is much work and it is spread out; we
are scattered over the wall, far from one another. When you hear a trumpet call,
gather yourselves to me at that place; our God will fight for us!’”121

I was only eight or nine years old the first time I read the story of Ezra and Nehemiah in
my Child’s Book of Bible Heroes. There was something that set the two of them apart
from other Bible heroes, something attractive to me even as a young child.

Many of the heroes in the book were men (that’s how they taught it back then) of faith
who wrestled with ideas I could not yet understand. And others were exciting action
figures who could triumph against seemingly impossible odds. However, the resolute

120
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shofar 2:4
121
Nehemiah 4:12-14.

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pioneers who returned to Zion from exile in Babylon had the best qualities of all the other
heroes combined. Moved by faith, they built something tangible, practical, and
magnificent while fighting off an enemy at the same time. They were our good guys, and
they were cool!

Now, I too wrestle with ideas that I still don’t understand. And against all odds, I am also
a survivor of too many struggles to recall. But Ezra and Nehemiah and their followers are
still my heroes.

Only now I know that the true heroes are not just those we read about in books. Heroes
are also very ordinary men, women and children who quietly and steadfastly live their
lives one day at a time, build their communities, create tikkun olam – the repair of the
world, and defend the weak, the hungry and the needy even while struggling with
questions of faith they do not understand.

It takes a real hero to listen to the call of the trumpet. Shofar asks, “Will you respond
when your community needs you?” “What are you building?” “Are you engaged in a just
struggle?” “With what tools have you girded yourself?” “Is this a wall that should be
built or a wall that should be removed?” “Have we spread ourselves too thin?” “Are we
too far from one another?”

The prophet says, “Our God will fight for us.” But first, he says, we have to respond to
the trumpet call. The Hebrew term for, “that place” – “Ha’ Makom” – is also used as a
name for God. Are you ready to gather at “That Place”? Are you listening for the call?
Amen.

When you hear shofar today, listen to hear where you are called.

Meditation for Twenty-Eight Day of Elul


“Whoever would not worship the Lord God of Israel would be put to death, whether
small or great, whether man or woman. So they took an oath to the Lord in a loud
voice and with shouts, with trumpeting and blasts of the horn.”122

Asa, the King of Judah, was King Solomon’s great grandson. We are told that, “Asa did
what was good and pleasing to the Lord his God.”123 He rid Judah of altars to other gods,
built defenses so “the land was untroubled for ten years,”124 won a stunning victory over
a much larger invading force, and restored the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem.

We are also told that, “He ordered Judah (the nation) to turn to the Lord God of their
fathers and to observe the Teaching and the Commandment,”125 and that, “All Judah

122
II Chronicles 15:13-14.
123
II Chronicles 14:1.
124
II Chronicles 13:23. Compare 14:5.
125
II Chronicles 14:3.

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rejoiced over the oath, for they swore with all their heart and sought Him with all their
will.”126 (Emphasis added.) These two statements seem at odds with each other.

If the people were in a mood to rejoice over their oath, why did they have to be ordered at
the price of their lives to take the oath? Can true teshuvah, the return to God’s ways,
really be ordered at the edge of a sword? It does not seem to work when Jews are forced
to convert to another religion. During the Spanish Inquisition, for example, many people
who sang the loudest in church continued to practice as crypto-Jews at home. One of the
origins of the Kol Nidre prayer we recite on Yom Kippur was to release ourselves from
vows that we were forced to make in order to preserve our lives.

Perhaps the reason for Asa’s ardor in imposing his Faith was that he, himself, had little
faith. We are told that he eventually stopped trusting in God, bringing wars upon the
country and illness upon himself as a consequence.127

Asa was not trying to convert gentiles; his order was to members of the tribes of Judah
and Benjamin whose allegiance to the God of Israel had lapsed. Perhaps there may have
been a more effective way for him to promote teshuvah. Instead of forcing the fallen to
take an oath and then hear shofar, he should have tried blowing shofar first. For over
three thousand years, its cutting cry had turned the children of Israel back to the Lord,
God of their fathers and mothers, even without the threat of blood.

In the language of 12-Step programs, shofar’s calls work by “attraction, not promotion.”
It’s the nonviolent alternative in teshuvah. Amen.

As you hear shofar today, feel gratitude for the freedom you have to decide for yourself
whether “to observe the Teaching and the Commandment.” Then, make the right choice.

Meditation for Twenty-Ninth Day of Elul


Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah. It is customary to refrain from sounding the shofar on this
day.

There are many legends that say this abstention is done to confuse the Satan – the
accusing angel – so Satan will not know when to appear before God to present the
evidence against us. For example:
“Not blowing the shofar on erev Rosh Hashanah confuses Satan, the Accuser.
When he does not hear the shofar blasts on erev Rosh Hashanah, he becomes
bewildered. He wonders if Rosh Hashanah has already passed. He believes that he
missed the day on which HaShem judges the world, and that he passed up his
chance of denouncing the Jewish people. Baffled and perplexed, he is speechless
and remains silent.”128

126
II Chronicles 15:15.
127
II Chronicles 16.
128
Magein Avraham, quoted in Meisels, pg 18

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Others offer a more prosaic explanation. For example:
“We do not blow shofar on erev Rosh Hashanah to make a distinction between the
sound of the shofar during Elul, which was instituted by the Rabbis, and the sound
of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, which is a mitzvah of the Torah.”129

I find more inspiration from another explanation rooted in human nature: After nearly a
month of hearing shofar, we may have become habituated to its sound. By refraining
from blowing shofar today, the blasts we hear tomorrow will seem fresher and more
powerful. Amen.

May you be written and sealed for a good year.


RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

129
Turei Zahav, quoted in Meisels, pg 18

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PART THREE – The Shofar of Rosh Hashanah

Areshet S’fataynu Prayer130


May the utterance of our lips be pleasant before You, exalted One.
You understand and give ear.
You see and you harken to the sound of our shofar.
Accept with favor and compassion our meditations on
Malchuyot – Majesty, Zichronot – Memory, and Shofarot – Redemption.

131

As Below, So Above
“Once, when Rav Abba was studying with Rav Shimon, he said to him, ‘I have often
enquired about the significance of the shofar but I have never yet received a satisfactory
answer.’ Rav Shimon replied, ‘When the Supernal Shofar – that which contains the
illumination of all – removes itself and does not shine on the people, then judgment is
awakened. But when the people return to the Divine Will accompanied by the sounding
of the shofar below, the sounds ascend on high to awaken the Supernal Shofar of mercy.
Subsequently, judgment is removed.’”132
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

130
From Rosh Hashanah Shofar Service. Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers, pg 123,
says, “According to Midrash Tehillim… the Hebrew word for “utterance” is related to the Hebrew word for
“permission or authority,’ and refers to the authority granted God’s chosen to issue requests which He will
fulfill. Thus, ‘areshet s’fataynu’ means ‘the authority vested in our lips.’”
131
Artist unknown, illustration from first decade of 20th Century, New York.
132
Zohar, Emor 99a-100a, translation from The Zohar, Vol. V, pp 124-127, Soncino Press, (1934) 1973.
My source is Wosk.

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Chapter 1-5 – Blast, Break, Shatter, Blast
“On Rosh Hashanah you must be joyous… and on Rosh Hashanah you must
weep.”133

There are four traditional patterns or types of blasts for sounding shofar on Rosh
Hashanah: tekiah, shevarim, teruah, and tekiah gedolah:

PATTERN GRAPHIC NOTATION RYTHYM134


Tekiah _____________ tuuuuuu
Shevarim ____ ____ ____ u-tuuu, u-tuuu, u-tuuu
Teruah _________ tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu
Tekiah Gedolah ___________________ tuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

These calls are also notated as follows, read from right to left:

135

The first three motifs should have approximately the same overall duration. That is, each
of the three parts of shevarim is about 1/3 the duration of tekiah, and all the trills in a
teruah add up to the same duration as the tekiah. The tekiah gedolah should be sustained
for a great a duration as possible. Examples of these motifs can be heard at
www.HearingShofar.com and elsewhere on the internet.136 There are many ethnic and
regional variations of the calls; one, from the Ashkenazi tradition, is scored as follows:

137

Medieval manuscripts gave graphic depictions of the blasts:

133
Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom 21.
134
Based on The Book of Customs, 2004, Scott-Martin Kosofsky.
135
www.JewishEncycleopedia.com.
136 Jewish National and University Library – National Sound Archive has examples from several different
Jewish communities at http://jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/music/holydays/holydays_eng.htm#shofar, January 28, 2006.
137
JewishEncyclopedia.com.

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13th – 14th Century: Great Machzor of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Israelitische Houfdsynagoge uses acronyms
and symbols (in second line) to notate shofar blasts.138

13th Century: Codex Adler, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, Codex no. 832, fol. 21b.

138
Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 14, pg. 1443.

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10th Century: Siddur of Saadiah Gaon, Oxford, Codex Hunt 448, fol 149r.

Tekiah translates approximately into “blow” or “blast,” and describes a loud, single blow
of the shofar. Tekiah shares its root with the word takua means “set” or “fixed” in its
place, and can be translated as “to be fixed, driven into the ground,” in the sense that a
blow with a mallet can drive a peg into the earth.139 From this, we can understand that
tekiah, in the sequence of shofar blasts, grounds us; it gives us a place of beginning and
then helps anchor us in a new state of being after hearing the broken notes of shevarim
and teruah.

“Tekiah also means to rivet, to connect with force. We want to connect our lives to the
hidden realm, the world beyond renewal.”140

The duration of tekiah is typically two to three seconds, about the same time as an
exhalation in normal breathing. Tekiah should be loud and piercing, as if you shouting
forcefully to get someone’s attention, sound an alarm, or startle someone awake from a
deep slumber.

Shevarim is the plural of the word shever that translates as “broken” Indeed, the single
blast of tekiah is now broken into a sequence of three shorter wavering blasts delivered
within a single breath. It is as if someone was insistently calling to you, “Wake up! Wake
up! Wake up!” or, depending on where you are in your process of teshuvah, “Beware!
Beware! Beware!”

Teruah translates approximately as “shattered” and minces the shofar blast into very
rapid short bursts of sound. In musical terms, teruah is a “tremolo,” a quivering effect
produced by the rapid reiteration of the same tone.141

Teruah comes from the same root word as ra’uah that means “shaky" or “tremor” and
brings to mind the trembling or powerful emotions one might feel while one is being

139
Symbols of Judaica, Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Editions Assouline, Paris 1995 pg 62.
140
Moshe A. Braun, The Jewish Holy Days: Their Spiritual Significance, page 14, based on the teachings
of Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter – the Sfas Emes.
141
Encyclopedia Judaica 1971, 14:1444 describes shevarim as a tremolo and teruah as a staccato,
descriptions that are at odds with my understanding of the traditional shofar blasts or the meanings of the
musical terms. If authors living in the same century can differ on how best to describe or transmit the
shofar, it is easy to imagine how the sages working across a millennium might differ in their descriptions of
shofar.

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judged or during a time of rapid transformation. It is also related to teraim, the Hebrew
word for “shatter” as in, “Shatter them (tero’eim) with an iron rod.”142

With very different and equally meaningful connotations, teruah is also related to the
Hebrew for “‘affection and friendship’ as in, ‘and the friendship (veteruot) of the King is
with him.’143 The commandment to blow the shofar expresses God’s great affection for
us.”144

“Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Teruah, rather than Yom Tekiah, for the sound of the
teruah – the whimpering sound of remorse and inner turmoil – perfectly symbolizes the
spirit of Rosh Hashanah.”145

“Gedolah” means “BIG” or “GREAT,” and tekiah gedolah is distinguished from regular
tekiah by being drawn out for as long as possible. It is analogous to the long blast of
Exodus 19:13 that marked the departure of the Shechinah – Devine Presence – from Mt.
Sinai after the acceptance of the Torah.146

“The long blast of the tekiah gedolah awakens HaShem’s mercy. The Torah tells us that
at the giving of the Torah, “there was a sound of a shofar, increasing in volume to a great
degree.”147 The sages comment that the longer the sound went on, the stronger it became.
This was unlike the sound produced by man: the longer he blows, the weaker the sound
becomes. We blow a long tekiah with diminishing strength. What message are we
sending with the diminishing sound of the shofar? After 210 years of Egyptian bondage,
the Children of Israel did not listen to Moses, ‘because of shortness of breath [also
translatable as “broken spirit”] and hard work.’148 All the more so is it hard for us, after
two thousand years of exile and oppression, to obey HaShem. The steadily weakening
sound of the tekiah gedolah conveys this plea for HaShem’s compassion.”149

Shofar and Teshuvah


The High Holy Day liturgy says we have three tools that can help us avert the harshness
of the decree by the divine Judge, and shofar is implicated in all three:
1. Teshuvah (repentance and correcting the errors of our ways) – Teshuvah requires
us to take personal inventory, make amends for errors we have made, offer
forgiveness to ourselves and to others, accept the genuine apologies of others, and
set the intentions by which we wish to live in the coming year. Yet each of us is
stuck, to one degree or another, in our ways. We do not change course easily.

142
Psalm 2:9.
143
Numbers 23:21.
144
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, Sefer Ham’amarim Kuntreisim, Vol. 1, pg 124 as cited in Days of
Awe, Days of Joy, pg 34.
145
Menoras Hama’or 293 quoted in Meisels, pg 55.
146
Maharil quoted in Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers, pg 119.
147
Exodus 19:19.
148
Exodus 6:9.
149
D’var Hameluchah, quoted by Meisels, pg 98.

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Shofar, then, is likened to the alarm that wakes the sleeping soul to take account
of itself and return to the right path.
2. Tefillah (prayer and supplication) – Shofar is a type of unspoken prayer. The
shofar service proclaims the majesty of God, begs that we be remembered with
compassion, and pleads, in the metaphoric voice of a bleating sheep, that we are
allowed to pass under the staff of our Shepherd.
3. Tzadakah (observing God’s commandments, including performance of charitable
acts) – Hearing shofar fulfills the central mitzvah – commandment – of Rosh
Hashanah. In addition, shofar blowers perform tzadakah when they enable others,
especially the ill and shut-in, to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar during the
Days of Awe. There is a great need in most communities for shofar blowers who
will visit the homes of the sick and the hospitals, nursing homes, prisons.150

When understood in this way, further metaphors can be employed to understand the
relationship of shofar and teshuvah. For example, our sins often feel as weighty and
unyielding as a huge block of stone. How can we ever be free of the burden?
• We begin with tekiah, which is like a mighty blast with a sledgehammer that can
break the stone into chunks.
• Next, shevarim are like the repeated blows used to shatter each of the chunks into still
smaller pieces.
• Then teruah is the rapid striking used to pulverize each of the pieces into small
particles. As it is written, “My word…is like a hammer that shatters rock!”151
Through teshuvah, our huge, immutable shortcomings are reduced to dust.
• But we should not leave our environment polluted with the dust of our sins. Instead,
we can recycle the particles by gathering them together like cement and reshaping our
intentions, our spirit, and our actions into a new, solid commitment for mindful
living. This is the purpose of the tekiah that is sounded after each sequence of broken
notes.152

There are other metaphors that are gentler yet no less effective. For example, our sins are
like klipot, Hebrew for shells or husks; like barnacles, they have a hard shell and grip our
souls tenaciously.153 Shofar can remove them by immersing us in a sonic mikvah (ritual
bath). Like the ultrasonic and acoustical techniques used in industry for cleaning,154 the
psychological, spiritual, and physical vibrations of the shofar blasts can wash away the
grip of our sins so we can find the freedom or courage to perform teshuvah. While
teshuvah work can occur anytime of year, the focused intensity of being in community

150
This topic will be discussed in Book 2 of Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn.
151
Jeremiah 23:29.
152
Based on R. Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, Makom Ohr Shalom, late 1990s.
153
Rabbi Jonathon Omer-Man, Metivta Academy, early 1990s.
154
The metal horns used in acoustic cleaning are sometimes curved and bear a striking visual resemblance
to a ram’s horn. One manufacturer explains the principal of their technology, stating, “Acoustic cleaning
encompasses the realm of sound transmission through solids. It is best described by the creation of rapid
pressure fluctuations. These pressure fluctuations are transmitted into the particulate matter or ‘bonded’ dry
material causing the solid particles to resonate and dislodge from the surface they are deposited on or
bonded to. Once dislodged, the materials fall, either due to gravity or are carried away by the gas or air
stream within the process.” www.primasonics.com/acoustic_cleaning.htm, January 10, 2009.

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for the High Holy Days infuses our efforts towards teshuvah with extra intensity. Still,
people report that they spend the Days of Awe still feeling trapped by the sins of their
past. For many of them, the spiritual wave of the shofar’s sonic mikvah provides energy
that, in an instant, can free them from the grip of their past, give them hope, and boost
their teshuvah-making into high gear.

Maimonides on the Shofar’s Call to Teshuvah

Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your
slumber. Search your deeds and turn in teshuvah. Remember your Creator, O you who
forget the truth in the vanities of time and go astray all the year after vanity and folly that
neither profit nor save. Look to your souls, and better your ways and actions. Let every
one of you abandon his evil way and his wicked thought, which is not good.155

ANOTHER TRANSLATION
“Awake, ye sleepers, and ponder your deeds; remember your Creator and go back to him
in penitence. Be not of those who miss realities in their pursuit of shadows and waste
their years in seeking after vain things which cannot profit or deliver. Look well to your
souls and consider your acts; forsake each of you his evil ways and thoughts, and return
to God so that He may have mercy upon you.”156

The Code
The sequence in which the four types of blasts are sounded on Rosh Hashanah is a code.
When understood, it provides a guide through the emotional and spiritual work of the
High Holy Days. The code can be understood in many ways:

“Each series of blasts begins and ends with tekiah - a whole note. In between is shevarim
and teruah - broken notes. This reflects a theme of Rosh Hashanah: We begin whole.
Along the path of life we become broken (through pain, mistakes, loss, failure, illness,
weakness, etc.). The end is whole; we will be whole again. There is hope.”157

“HaShem created man upright and flawless. Through his sins, man became warped and
twisted. By turning to the shofar in teshuvah, he is straightened out again. This thought is
reflected in the sounds of the shofar: tekiah-shevarim-teruah-tekiah. The first tekiah, a
straight, clear sound, represents man’s original rectitude and virtue. The broken shevarim
sound is indicative of the spiritual breakdown that comes as a result of sinning. This is
followed by the sobbing teruah sound, which mirrors the sinner’s brokenheartedness,
inner turmoil and deep remorse, the forerunners of teshuvah. The culmination is reached
in the steady tone of the final tekiah, which signifies the inner tranquility of the ba’al
teshuvah [penitent] whose missteps have been forgiven.”158

155
Maimonides, Hilkhot Teshuvah 3.4, quoted in Agnon pp 74-75.
156
Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz, Forward to Soncino Sefer Mo’ed, 1938, www.come-and-
hear.com/talmud/moed_h.html, July 27, 2007.
157
Hassidic Teaching (As taught by R. Ayla Grafstein)
158
Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, quoted by Meisels, pg 97.

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“The clear, straight sound of the tekiah suggests “love,” a person’s straightforward
feeling of adoration. The shevarim-teruah sound represents “awe and fear” – a person
who is afraid shakes and trembles. The sound of the shofar tells us to resolve anew to
love HaShem and be in awe of Him, keeping His Torah and fulfilling His mitzvot.”159

“The Gemara says: In a place where ba’alei teshuvah are standing [in Heaven] the
perfectly righteous cannot stand. 160 The Shelah says that the straight sound of the first
tekiah symbolizes the tzaddik who has not sinned. The broken shevarim sound stands for
the sins that cause an inner breakup in a person’s soul, which leads to the weeping sound
of the teruah. When he does teshuvah, he is straightened out again like the second tekiah
sound. The final tekiah gedolah indicates that a ba’al teshuvah is on a higher level than a
tzaddik who has never sinned.”161

“Each of the three shofar notes denotes the soul in a different stage of spiritual well-
being. The unbroken, unwavering sound of the tekiah indicates that the soul was created
pure and straight. Any impurities, crookedness, or spiritual malady was introduced by the
sufferer himself. The broken groan of the shevarim calls to mind the moaning of the sick,
while the staccato sobbing of the teruah represents uncontrolled crying over the death of
a dear one. Nevertheless, at the very end, the tekiah is repeated to teach that God is
always ready to receive the penitent who sincerely attempts to return to his original state
of spiritual purity.”162

“The shofar cries out… “I was whole, I was broken, even smashed to bits, but I shall be
whole again.”163

“Grace – Judgment – Compassion – Grace”164

God reigns. God reigned. God will reign forever. 165

“Rav Kook once explained the order of the shofar-blowing on Rosh Hashanah by relating
each blast to a major stage in world history. All of history may be divided up into three
periods, corresponding to the three parts of the verse:

‘God reigns; God reigned; God will reign forever.’166

159
Hayashar Vehatov, quoted in Meisels, pg 97.
160
Berachos 34b.
161
Vayageid Yaakov, Rosh Hashanah 24. quoted in Meisels, pg 98.
162
Rabbi Avie Gold, Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers, pg 64.
163
Rabbi Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name, pg 174.
164
Source unknown.
165
Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah pp. 62-3; Celebration of the Soul pp. 38-9]
www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/ROSH61.htm, May 18, 2007
166
From Yom Kippur liturgy, recited in the final moments before the shofar blast at the end of Yom
Kippur.

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“‘God reigned’. This refers to His sovereignty in the past, before the sin of Adam… This
is the first tekiah – the ancient, simple, constant blast.

“Likewise, in the end of days, the era of the tekiah will return. After all the tribulations of
history, the simple, pure tekiah will be heard again. God will be King over the entire
world. This is the future period of ‘God will reign forever’.

“In between the two constant tekiah blasts, however, comes the difficult intermediate
stage. Here we struggle to attain the level of ‘God reigns’ – in the present. This period
corresponds to the broken shevarim blows and the weeping of the teruah blasts. It is a
volatile era, wracked by anxieties and doubts, alternating progress and failure.

“This is the meaning of the verse, ‘Fortunate is the people who knows the teruah’.167
Fortunate are those who know how to overcome all misfortune, who know how to
transcend the teruah blasts of war and danger. Despite all doubts and confusion, ‘they
walk in the light of Your Presence.’”168

ABBA, ABBA HAVE PITY!169

Said the Ba’al Shem Tov


Tekiah –
a simple scream
Abba, Abba have pity!
Abba, Abba, save!
And this simple scream
needs no words,
no further modulation,
only to scream
so as to unite
with the sound of Creation
and the thunder of Revelation
and the calling of Redemption
The great AMEN.

Tekiah is the name


and the grace of Abraham.
He is kind and warm and gentle.

Shevarim is the name Elohim,

167
Psalms 89:16.
168
Ibid.
169
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, “Shofrot,” Hashir V’hashevah – The Song and the Praise, undated booklet,
B’nai Or Fellowship, Philadelphia, page 23.

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and the terror of Isaac,
his sighs
at the binding on the altar.
He is afraid yet wants to take our place
in the rigors of the judgment.

And Teruah is Jacob,


all broken into tribes,
his weeping for Rachel, for Joseph,
for Dinah, for Shimon;
His blessing for which he had to
risk so much
yet also the Compassion of Yhwh.
Grace - Rigors-Mercy - Grace
Grace - Rigors - Grace
Grace - Mercy - Boundless Grace

All begins and ends in grace


Thus in the deepest, least verbal way
the ear can hear
the heart can be one
the innards are stirred
and together they scream.
Abba, Abba take pity!
Abba, Abba, save!

So we scream as loud as we can


and echo the shofar
in a way no one but God can hear
Abba, Abba pity, save!

Blessing Before Hearing Shofar


The ritual blowing of the shofar begins with the blessing:

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu
lishmo-ah kol shofar.

Blessed are you, Eternal One our God, Universal Sovereign, who sanctifies us with holy
ways and commands us to hear the voice of the shofar.

Note that the blessing is to “listen” or “hear” to shofar, not to “blow” shofar. The root
word of “lishmo-ah” is the same as the root of “shema,” the prayer that harkens us to,

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 65 © 20


“Listen, people of Israel! The Lord is our God. Our God is One.” The spiritual
implications of this commandment to listen are explored in depth in Book 3 of Hearing
Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn.

Before blowing the shofar for the first time in a service, the blessing above is followed by
the shehechayanu blessing:

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam,


shehechayanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Yah, spirit guide of the world. You have kept us alive, sustained us, and
brought us to this moment.

The Arrangement of Blasts


Each community has its own minhag (custom), and local tradition should be followed. In
general, most communities use the following sequence of blasts:

Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah


Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah170

If it is the last blast of a sequence, the final Tekiah is sustained as Tekiah Gedolah.

Many congregations expand this basic series of ten blasts so that the shofar is heard up to
100 times on each day of Rosh Hashanah. For example:

After Reading the Haftorah 30 Blasts


These are called the tekiot meyushav – sitting blasts – because the congregation, which
has been seated during the reading of the Haftorah – reading from the Prophets – remains
seated while the shofar is blown.

Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah


Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah

Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah


Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah

Tekiah Teruah Tekiah


Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

170
These sequences can be referred to by the following abbreviations:
Tekiah SHevarim-teRuah Tekiah = TaSHRaT
Tekiah SHevarim Tekiah = TaSHaT
Tekiah teRuah Tekiah = TaRaT.

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Tekiah Teruah Tekiah Gedolah

During the Musaf (Additional) Service 30 Blasts


These are called the tekiot me’ummad – standing blasts – because the congregation is
standing for the Amidah prayers when these blasts are sounded. This section of the
service has three parts: Machuyot (Majesty), trumpets God’s majestic rule. Zichronot
(Remembrance), asks God to remember the Covenant and have mercy on us for the sake
of our ancestors. Shofarot (The plural of “shofar”) alludes to divine revelation and our
redemption – both heralded by the sounds of shofar. Each of these parts begins with short
scriptural readings related to its theme, followed by sounding shofar.

Zichronot
Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

Malchuyot
Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

Shofarot
Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah Gedolah

During Kaddish after Musaf 30 Blasts

Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah


Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah

Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah


Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah

Tekiah Teruah Tekiah


Tekiah Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah Gedolah

At Conclusion of Services
10 Blasts
Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah Gedolah

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These multiple sets of multiple blasts form a persistent and concussive attack on spiritual
complacency. The repetition of simple sound patterns work like a niggun, a wordless
song, to help the listener express prayers that cannot be articulated with speech.

100 Blasts on Rosh Hashanah


How many blasts should be sounded on Rosh Hashanah? While Talmud requires a
minimum of thirty, the practices of various sages and scattered communities added
additional blasts to their liturgy. Thus, we have traditions that call for 30, 40, 41, 42, 60,
61, 70, 100, or 101 blasts.171 The Yemenite tradition is to sound 41 blasts.172 Take your
pick.

Today, most communities sound shofar 100 times on each day of Rosh Hashanah. The
origins of this custom are lost in time.173 It is often explained that the 100 blasts are to
counterbalance the 100 groans said to have come from Sisera’s mother described in
Judges 5:28-30.174 (See Chapter 1-7 – The Ewe’s Horn.) While she undoubtedly groaned,
there is no basis for assuming her cries numbered 100, and I suspect that the 100 blasts
tradition predates the events in the book of Judges.

In place of this legend, I offer the following thoughts:

Ten is a very significant number in our heritage. For example, there are:
• Ten utterances that created the world.175
• Ten commandments given at Sinai.
• Ten Sefirot in the kabbalah’s Tree of Life.
• Ten plagues struck Egypt before the Exodus.
• Ten Days of Awe – the period from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.
• Ten people required for a minyan for group prayer.
• Ten times during Yom Kippur, in the time of the Temple, that the High Priest would
pronounce the name of God to invoke divine pardon.176

100 is ten squared; a minyan of minyanim. It maintains the spiritual energy of 10 and
multiplies it into an additional dimension. It is clearly a very significant number.

“During the month of Elul we blow ten blasts every day in order to evoke and to
influence each of the ten powers of the soul.177 On Rosh Hashanah, however, we blow

171
See, for example, Jonathan Baker, September 21, 2006,
http://thanbook.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_thanbook_archive.html January 7, 2007
172
http://ohr.edu/ask/ask249.htm, July 28, 2007
173
The custom is cited in Shulchan Aruch HaRav 596:1, Mateh Ephraim, and Mishneh Berurah 596:2
where it is ascribed to the Shela'h. This information is from Eliezer C. Abrahamson,
http://members.aol.com/LazerA/archive/year.html. February 9, 2006.
174
It is mentioned in Tur Orech Chaim 592, citing the Aruch (erech Erev). This information is from Eliezer
C. Abrahamson, http://members.aol.com/LazerA/archive/year.html, February 9, 2006.
175
Chapters of the Fathers, 5:1 referring to the ten locations in Genesis 1 and 2 where the word “vayomer”
[and He said] is used in the story of Creation.
176
Yoma 39b, cited in Phillip Goodman, The Yom Kippur Anthology, pg 329.
177
This is a reference to the ten Sefirot or divine emanations on the kabbalah’s Tree of Life.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 68 © 20


100 blasts, to influence each of the ten powers with all their aspects (each power is
compounded of all the others, which yields ten times ten – i.e., wisdom of wisdom,
understanding of wisdom, knowledge of wisdom, etc.).”178

But there are many other quantities that appear to have special significance in Torah. 40
days of rain in the time of Noah, and 40 years in the desert. 12 tribes of Israel, and 12
months of the year. 7 days of creation, and 7 patriarchs and matriarchs. With all these
possibilities, why then are the shofar blasts in a base-10 numbering system?

Perhaps it is because we have ten fingers. Compared with 7, 12, 40 and all other numbers,
10 is the number most closely identified with the human body and is the fundamental
system by which humans reckon.

Mark Twain said, “Humans are the only animals that blush, or need too.” And humans,
apparently, are the only specie that has the opportunity for teshuvah, or the need for it.
When seen in this manner, it seems only right that the shofar blasts, the call to teshuvah,
be counted in the human-centric number system based on ten digits.

In ordinary time and space, our ten-fingered identities commit a plethora of sins. But in
shofar time-space, an added dimension is offered us to stimulate teshuvah, and we are
summoned by ten to the second power blasts of shofar.

“When a woman gives birth, she wails and cries out one hundred times. 99 of those cries
are out of the conviction that she is going to die, and the final, hundredth cry is out of the
realization that she is going to live after all. Similarly, we blow one hundred tekiot on
Rosh Hashanah. 99 are blown out of our fear of the judgment of the day, but with the
one-hundredth we demonstrate our confidence that we will emerge from our judgment
blessed with life.”179

“…at the time of sounding the shofar and beseeching HaShem for mercy we should
always keep in mind that we have fallen short of what we are capable of doing and the
most compelling reason for having a positive verdict is simply that we ask for an
undeserved present, GRATIS. The word for this is “b'chinom," whose letters Beis-Ches-
Nun-Mem have the numerical value of 100.”180

Before hearing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to recite Psalm 47 that begins,
“All you peoples, clap your hands, raise a joyous shout for God.” The gematria

178
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Likkutei Sichot, vol 2, pg 446 as cited in Days of Awe, Days of Joy,
pg. 37.
179
“The Meshech Chochmah (Parshas Tazria), citing midrash (Vayikra Raba 27:7),
http://dafyomi.shemayisrael.co.il/rhashanah/insites/rh-dt-34.htm, May 7, 2006.
180
Zvi Akiva Fleisher,
www.shemayisrael.co.il/yomtov/rosh-yk/fleisher64.htm, August 11, 2006.

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(numerical) value of the word translated as “clap,” the Hebrew word “kof” (spelled chof
pay), is 100 and alludes to the 100 shofar blasts.181

Visualization of 100 Blasts


God’s revelation at Sinai so overwhelmed those witnessing the event that it jumbled their
senses; Exodus 20:15 states that people “saw” the voice of shofar. An artist has recently
given us the means to have a similar experience by transcribing the 100 shofar blasts of
Rosh Hashanah into visual meditations. American-born artist Avraham Loewenthal
paints and studies kabbalah in Tzfat, Israel (www.kabbalahart.com). He says his work
create spiritual maps of transcendental harmonies that describe concepts of kabbalah and
reflect meditative states of consciousness. He continues:

“In one of the many kavanot (meditations) of the shofar blowing, the sounding of
the shofar is associated with the aspects of right, left, center, and completion. In
kabbalistic spiritual language, the aspects right, left, and center represent spiritual
states of consciousness, and not directions in space. Right corresponds
metaphorically to our experience of thankfulness and our aspect of giving. Left
corresponds metaphorically to our experience of lack and our aspect of receiving.
The center is the harmony of right and left. These three aspects of giving,
receiving, and harmony, come to completion in the fourth aspect of completion –
the realization of unconditional love and oneness. These four stages of conscious-
ness correspond to the four letters of the Divine Name, yud – hey – vav – hey.

181
This teaching is from the Chazah Zion and is contained in The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet Rabbi
Michael L. Munk, Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 1983, page 137.

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“The kavanot of the shofar blowing breaks down on one level into the four
aspects as follows:
tekiah------------long sound---------right/giving------------yud
shevarim---------3 sounds-----------left/receiving----------hey
teruah------------9 sounds-----------center/harmony--------vav
tekiah gedolah--extra long sound--completion/oneness—hey.

“In this painting, the 100 sounds of the shofar are depicted horizontally, starting
from the bottom of the painting. One triangle represents the whole sound of the
tekiah. 3 triangles represent the 3 sounds of the shevarim. 9 triangles represent

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the 9 short sounds of the teruah. The larger triangles represent the extra long
sound of the tekiah gedolah.

“The long whole sound of the tekiah is associated with giving. The 3 broken
sounds of the shevarim are associated with receiving. The 9 sounds of the teruah
are associated with harmony. In addition to the shevarim being associated with
receiving, it contains 3 sounds that correspond to all 3 aspects of giving,
receiving, and harmony. In addition to the teruah being associated with harmony,
its 9 sounds correspond to giving, receiving and harmony of giving + giving,
receiving and harmony of receiving + giving, receiving and harmony of harmony.

“The right column is discussed in the kabbalah as the consciousness of


thankfulness – feeling in our hearts overflowing with thankfulness. This
corresponds to the sound of the tekiah, which is a whole sound. The left column
corresponds to the sound of the shevarim that is the 3 broken cries of the shofar –
our feelings of brokenness and lack. The center column corresponds to the
teruah, whose sound is so broken that it is whole. The central column is
associated with faith and prayer. It is taught in the kabbalah that when we reach
our truest prayer of the heart, all our brokenness is brought to wholeness in the
realization of complete oneness and unconditional love at the root of all creation.”

101 Blasts – A Sephardic Minhag


In some Sephardic communities, the minhag – custom – is to sound 101 shofar blasts. It
is explained that 100 is the gematria (numerical) value the Hebrew letters sameach (60) +
mem (40) that spell the unpronounced name of the accusing angel (Satan). On the other
hand, the value 101 is equivalent to equal to name of the angel Michael, the righteous
angel whose name means “the one who is like God.”182 Michael is spelled mem (40) +
yud (10) + chaf (20) + aleph (1) + lamed (30).183

According to legend, it was Michael who was sent by God to stop Abraham from slaying
Isaac184, a legend binding Michael to the central Torah reading of Rosh Hashanah and to
the sacrificed ram of the Akedah whose voice is memorialized by the shofar (See Chapter
6 – The Ram’s Midrash).

Call and Response


In the Torah, speech brings reality into being; God spoke and the world came into
existence.185 And so it is in the shofar service. It is customary for each shofar blast to be
announced before it is blown. The caller who announces the blasts is a “makrei” and the
shofar blower is a “tokea.” Another term for the shofar blower is “ba’al tekiah”
(masculine) or ba’alat tekiah (feminine), term that poetically translate as, “master
blaster.”

182
ohr.edu/ask/ask249.htm, July 28, 2007
183
www.isolomon.com/channel.aspx?channel_id=162, July 28, 2007
184
The Book of Legends, pg 41b.
185
Genesis 1:3.

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Jewish life is full of similar call and response rituals. For example:
• The question: “Who knows One?” brings the reply, “I know One” in a traditional
Passover song.
• A blessing is answered with an “amen.”
• God asks his prophets, “Where are you?” They reply, “Heneini – I am here and
spiritually present.”

The Rosh Hashanah ritual is designed to ask each of us, “Where are you?” To which the
shofar replies for us, “Heneini.”

“I think the reason we have a Makrei is based on the verse: ‘Moses spoke, and God
answered him by a voice.’186 We now see that the voice was the sound of the shofar.”187

When the calls are chanted with the traditional cantillation, they form a musical unit with
sound of the shofar; the pronouncement of “tekiah” combine with the blasts from the
horn to comprise the tekiah as it is experienced. The calls are raiment that adorn the
blasts and gives them a fitting liturgical setting.

First, they add to the power of the shofar to speak to the listener. For while we have
pointed out that the voice of shofar can take the place of unspoken words, we yet need
words to create the space in which the blasts can occur. It is as if the blast of the shofar
can take the place of a thousand words, but we still need a word for the sound of the
shofar. The shofar speaks to the right side of the brain – the side that governs emotions
and patterns – while the spoken name calls to left side of the brain – the rational mind;
together, the full mind is stimulated.

On a pragmatic level, the calls are also necessary to cue the shofar blower. Standing at
the ready, with the shofar in my hands, I am often unable to follow the progress of the
services in the machzor – prayer book. Moreover, in my meditations preceding blowing
the shofar, I frequently enter such a deep place that I no longer hear what is being spoken.
But somehow, when the call for “tekiah” rings out, I raise the shofar to my lips and blow
without having to think or remember what I am supposed to do. Like the infantry bugler
who blows the charge on the verbal command of his officer, I am able to follow
instructions and discharge a volley from the shofar. The demands on the spiritual warrior
are high, and the shofar blower needs the makrei the same way that a Torah reader relies
on a gabbai – prompter, for assistance in following the sequence of the Torah reading.

The Dual Call of the Shofar188

186
Exodus 19:19.
187
Greg Gershman, posted October 1, 2003 at http://presence.baltiblogs.com/2003/10/01/the_shofar.html,
January 27, 2006.
188
Adapted from Midbar Shur pp. 56-58,
www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/ROSH63.htm, May 20, 2007

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“The ram's horn is blown not once but twice during the holiday prayers. The first time is
immediately before the Musaf prayer. These blasts are called the ‘tekiot demeyushav’
(blasts while sitting). The second set of blasts takes place during the Musaf prayer itself.
These are called ‘tekiot deme'umad’ (blasts while standing), as they are blown while the
congregation is standing in prayer. Why do we blow the shofar twice?

Two Areas to Correct


“’Seek out God when He is found. Call out to Him when He is near.’189

“This verse draws our attention to two issues which every ba’al teshuvah (penitent) must
address. He must ‘seek out God,’ and also ‘call out to Him’. What is the difference
between the two?

“First, it is necessary to ‘seek out God.’ We need to regain the soul’s light, dimmed by
our mistakes and sins. Before going astray, we were aware of the pleasantness in serving
God. We were conscious of God’s greatness, and amazed by the opportunity to study His
Torah and fulfill His will.

“Sin, however, blinds the mind and numbs the heart. All of the wonderful revelations
from God’s immanence are lost. Therefore, the ba’al teshuvah must ‘seek out God.’ He
needs to strive intellectually to recover his former enlightenment, to restore the joy in
knowing God and His ways.

“The second area requiring attention is the lost feeling of God's closeness and protection.
The ba’al teshuvah needs to recover the perception of Divine favor, in both material and
spiritual matters. To correct this loss, he must ‘call out to God.’ He needs to reach out to
God in prayer. He needs to bridge the emotional estrangement, and restore the feeling of
God’s closeness. ‘Call out to Him when He is near.’

Shofar Blasts to Clear the Mind and Open the Heart


“The shofar is the tool that helps us accomplish both of these functions: to seek out God
with our minds, and call out to God with our hearts.

“The first set of blasts is blown before praying, while sitting. They correspond to the
repentance of the mind: the calm and thoughtful introspection on man’s smallness and
God’s infinite greatness. These blasts rouse us to contemplate God and His ways.

“The second set of shofar blasts takes place during the Musaf prayer. These blasts are an
integral part of prayer. Like prayer, they are an emotional service of God. The blasts
frighten and humble us. They call out for us to reconnect with God, to perceive His
closeness and protection.

Confusing Satan

189
Isaiah 55:6.

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“The sages wrote that blowing the shofar on this Day of Judgment confuses Satan, the
prosecuting angel, and blocks his accusations.190 How?

“The prosecuting angel has two possible lines of attack.

“He can accuse us of not acting in a manner appropriate to our great spiritual capabilities.
We are blessed with a sublime soul, formed from God's Splendor. Yet we fail to correctly
evaluate our place and purpose in life.

“Or, the prosecuting angel can use a diametrically-opposed argument: we are such small
and insignificant creatures, our powers and intellect are so weak – how dare we sin before
the omnipotent King?

“The prosecuting angel just has to decide which accusation will be most effective. And
this is where the dual function of the shofar comes in. For each argument has a flaw that
the shofar blasts point out. If he mentions our great spiritual potential, the shofar serves to
awaken our minds to contemplate God's infinity. And if he mentions our insignificance,
the shofar blasts humble us, reminding us of our weakness and smallness. We then turn to
God to have compassion on us and accept our pleas for forgiveness.

“Not knowing which argument to use, the prosecutor is confused and silenced.”

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

190
Rosh Hashanah 16.

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Chapter 1-6 – The Ram’s Midrash
“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
The birds of the sky, they will tell you,
Or speak to the earth, it will teach you;
The fish of the sea, they will inform you.”191

Any naturally hollow animal horn (beside a bovine horn) can be used as a shofar.
However, the sages say that a ram’s horn is preferred on Rosh Hashanah because of its
association with the ram that Abraham sacrificed instead of his son Isaac in the Akedah,
the Torah portion read during the New Year’s services.192

But what do we know about this ram?

Legend has it that God created the ram even before the first day of creation,193 allowing
the potential for redemption of humans even before the creation of humans. In the
Moslem tradition, the ram is, “the very same animal which Abel had once sacrificed to
God.”194 The Torah, however, is silent about the ram; its thoughts, feelings, and voice are
not recorded.

The artist placed the ram in the foreground of the Akedah.195

In this regard, the ram is like the other central figures in the Akedah drama, for the Torah
does not document what Abraham and Isaac said to each other during their three-days
march to Mount Moriah, what each thought as father bound son to the altar, or what
Sarah felt when she intuited, from afar, that Abraham had raised his knife. But in another
regard, the animal is different than the humans; while midrash after midrash delves into
the psyches of the people, little is said about the beast’s.

191
Job 12:7-8.
192
Genesis 22,
193
See Book 3 of Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn for legends about the origin of
the ram.
194
Louis A. Berman, The Akedah: The Binding of Isaac, Rowman and Littlefield (1999), pg. 191).
195
David Avisar, 1998, www.jewish-art-and-gifts.com/DavidAvisar.html, August 12, 2006.

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Book 3 of Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn posits that the ram is
the totem of the Jewish people and that the voice of the shofar, the ram’s horn, is the
symbolic voice of our people. If we accept this conceit, then it is time for us to listen to
what the ram of the Akedah has to tell us. As it is written, “The righteous person knows
the soul of their animal.”196

While our scriptures tell stories about lions, whales and other animals, only the serpent in
Eden197 and Balaam’s ass198 are endowed with voices. Schochet’s study of Jewish
attitudes towards animals describes how Torah “demythologized” animals. The sages, for
the most part, reinforced this teaching. It has been said, for example, that, “as soon as
[Balaam’s talking ass] finished speaking, she died, so that people should not say, ‘This is
the animal that spoke,’ and so make of her an object of reverence.”199 While animals
were “remythologized” to a certain extent by the early rabbis, it was, “more accurately,
perhaps, a poetic remythologization of the animal kingdom… It constituted no real threat
to the supremacy of man, and carried within itself no practical implications vis-à-vis the
powers of the beast. To the popular mind, the animal was neither divine nor demonic, it
was merely subordinate to man, created by God to serve him.”200

Later, Jewish mystics stressed, “the underlying kinship of all living creatures, man as
well as beast.” They noted that, “divinity is manifest in all of creation, with divine life
pulsating as surely as any animal as it does in man.”201 Despite this, “at no time did the
animal occupy an exalted place in Jewish religious symbolism, certainly nothing
comparable to that of the lamb in Christian religious motifs. The animal was essentially a
nonsymbolic creature… man’s spiritual development entails a lonely climb to the
summit. He must ascend far above the level of the animal and must leave the animal
behind in his quest for ideal interpersonal relationships.”202

This is in marked contrast with other ancient wisdom traditions that describe many
interactions between humans and other intelligent species. Recall, for example, the
Native American legends that describe lessons Coyote taught to humans, or the Vedic
writings about elephant-headed Genesha and Hunaman the monkey.

“The notion that members of the animal kingdom, like human-kind, utter paeans of glory
to God is, of course, a biblical one, but its development in midrashic literature is
extensive and striking. In many respects, however, this is a perfectly natural
development. After all, animals once possessed the power of speech, and their silent
thoughts are still discernable to wise and sensitive humans. Furthermore, if even trees,

196
Proverbs 12:10, translated by Gershon Winkler, Magic of the Ordinary, pg. 159.
197
Genesis 3:1-5
198
Numbers 22:28-30
199
Numbers Rabah 20:4 cited in Schochet, pg 95.
200
Schochet, pg. 109.
201
Schochet, pg. 235.
202
Schochet, pg. 299 f.

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plants, and inanimate objects are endowed with the capacity to praise the Lord, it is only
natural for animals to be able to do so as well.”203

Had the Hebrews never been given their Torah, their divinely inspired scriptures, they
would have been able to learn all they needed to know from the animals.”204

Anthropomorphizing (let alone deifying) animals seems to go against something in the


Jewish cosmology; it comes too close to the ban on idolatry. When we left Egypt – where
sheep, cats, jackals and falcons represented gods – spiritual communication with animals
was prohibited, a dicta reinforced by our encounter with a golden calf.

While honoring this stricture, can we allow ourselves the mental exercise to imagine the
ram as an intelligent, sentient being with whom we can communicate? What could we
learn from a dialog with the ram that might deepen the shofar’s ability to inspire teshuvah
and spiritual awakening?

If we could hear, what is the ram saying to us? Listen to what the ram might tell us:

Yeah. I was there. Of course I was there. I was stuck in


that bush since before He-Is-Whom-He-Is created the world,
just for this occasion. I couldn’t have missed it if I
tried.

By the way, you do know what bush that was, don’t you?
Well, if a bush can burn without being consumed, this was a
bush that could grow since before the start of time without
getting larger. You figure it out.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah, I was there all right.

Really, a very sad sight watching this old man and his son
climbing the hill. The old guy had tears running down his
checks. And the son just looked ashen. Wouldn’t you? I
mean, he was too old to be called a kid anymore.205 But he
was a smart fellow; he knew what was going on in the
neighborhood; that old, “harvest a child or two if you want
a good crop,” business. Wasn’t it enough that Pop had
already sent his brother off to who-knows-what-fate in the
desert?

You sure wouldn’t catch any of us sheep doing that. Yeah,


sure, we guys have to bash each other every now and then; a

203
Schochet, pg 134.
204
Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 100b.
205
Isaac’s age at the time is estimated to be either 25 or 37. See Louis A. Berman, The Binding of Isaac,
Rowland & Littlefield (1997) pg. 62.

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ram’s got to ram, after all. But snuff out our own
lambkins? No way!

I had understood since the Big Bang the purpose for which I
was stuck on that hilltop. And for me, beating it out of
the bush was my path to liberation. Glory, Halleluiah! So
as Abe and Yitz came close, I started shaking the shrubbery
and bleating to say, “Come on Abie, light my fire.”

But they didn’t seem to hear me, no sir. Each too wrapped
up in his own mishegoss, listening to his own troubles, to
pay attention to anything else.

Abraham should have known what was what. When he said, “God
will provide the lamb,” he had it almost right. I mean, how
can some sheep older than time be considered still a lamb?
But he was generally right. He knew it didn’t make sense to
kill our kids. God knows, humans ought to be at least as
smart as us sheep. But Abe was caught up in this game of
“people” (I won’t insult my fowl friends by calling it a
game of “chicken”). Abe, he was sort of toying with HaShem,
testing God’s sense of justice while God was testing
Abraham’s faith – and neither wanted to be the first to
blink.

And what was it with the lad? Was he caught in a bush, too?
Why didn’t he put up a fight or run away?

Too bad Jewish summer camp hadn’t been invented yet, ‘cuz
if they had been, he might have learned the lesson in that
song, “Who told you a ‘lamb’ to be? Why don’t you have
wings to fly with, like the swallow so swift and free?”206

So there they are – Isaac in denial on the altar, Abraham


raising his knife, and Sarah feeling the pain only a mother
can feel. And I keep shooting as loud as I can. “Hey Guys!
Over here, heneini! I’m the lamb. Look, thick wooly skin
like Esau, horns in bush. God will provide the lamb - Me!
Let me fulfill my dharma; I’m the sacrifice God wants.” But
did they listen?

I have experienced a lot of miracles in my time, including


the creation of the heavens and the earth. So what happened
next didn’t surprise me. My, “Baaaaa! Baaaaa!” suddenly

206
“Dona Dona,” Aaron Zeitlin, translated by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz, 1940, Mills Music. The
original referred to a “calf,” but this is how the ram remembers it.

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became, “Aaaabraaaaham! Aaaabraaaaham!” And thank God, may
His Name be blessed forever and ever, amen, Abraham finally
heard. ”Wake up, old man, your dream is over.”207

Now the Holy Book, she says Abraham, he “lifted up his eyes
and looked, and behold, behind him, a ram” -- that’s me.

Now does that make any sense to you? Did Abie Baby have
eyes in the back of his head or something? No way. He heard
me making a ruckus, and then he turned around and did his
beholding. Sort of like the way Hagar couldn’t see that
well until she heard her wake-up call. You know, there’s a
reason why you don’t have earlids; it’s so you can hear
what’s going down even when you’re in the pitchest dark.

Well, you probably know the rest of the story about the
life of Sarah and Abraham and their flock. As for me, one
of my horns blew at Sinai when God gave the Torah, and the
other is on alert to blow the instant Messiah comes. My
blood marked the homes of the children of Israel on Pesach.
The Temple is built on my ashes. And Elijah wears my skin
as his mantle. A nice legacy for a four-legged critter, if
you ask me

But in my opinion, the most important gift I got to give


was my voice. My calls were able to awaken Abraham so he
could return to his senses. And from generation to
generation, my voice continues to speak through the shofar,
my horn, calling people to wake up to their potentials and
return to their true purposes.

But the shofar can only work if you listen, so you have to
do your part, too. Then, as The Boss says, “all the nations
of the earth shall be blessed because you have listened to
My voice.”

I’ve got to go now. Miriam’s bringing her tambourine, those


Koresh Brothers208 have got some new tunes, and David’s got
on his dancing shoes. I’m sitting in, naturally, on horns.
We sure are going to wail tonight.

So you be good, and keep your ears open.

207
In Genesis 22:2, God command Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. The next line, Genesis 22:3
says, “Abraham rose early in the morning” to begin his journey to the place where the offering was to be
made. The juxtaposition of the two lines suggests that Abraham may have heard the voice of God in his
dreams.
208
Some of Psalms is attributed to the sons of Koresh.

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The Real Hero of the Sacrifice of Isaac
Yehuda Amichai209

The real hero of the sacrifice was the ram


Who had no idea about the conspiracy of the others.
He apparently volunteered to die in place of Isaac.
I want to sing a memorial song about the ram,
The curly wool and human eyes,
The horns, so calm in his living head.
When he was slaughtered they made shofars of them,
To sound the blast of their war
Or the blast of their coarse joy.

I want to remember the last picture


Like a beautiful photo in an exquisite fashion magazine:
The tanned, spoiled youngster all spiffed up,
And beside him the angel, clad in a long silk gown
For a formal reception.
Both with hollow eyes
Observe two hollow places,

And behind them, as a colored background, the ram


Grasping the thicket before the slaughter.

The angel went home


Isaac went home.
And Abraham and God left much earlier.

But the real hero of the sacrifice


Is the ram.210

Why the Shofar and not the Knife?


“The point of the Akedah is not to increase faith and piety, but, on the contrary, to warn
against too much faith, too much piety, in particular, too much eagerness to sacrifice,
especially at the expense of others than the faithful one.

209
Yehuda Amichai: A life of Poetry, 1948 – 1994, Translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav, Harper
Collins Publishers, 1995, page 345, from An Hour of Grace, 1983
210
An interesting comment on this poem is offered by Derek Penslar in a Devar Torah, 2d Day of Rosh
Hashanah, 5769: “Note that twice, Amichai refers to the Akedah as the ‘Isaac story.’ Abraham is a side
figure. Why do so many modern Hebrew writers de-center Abraham? True, in our tradition the story is
known as akedat Yitzhak, but Abraham is the protagonist of the entire section of Bereshit in which the
akedah story occurs. I think it is much easier for a modern, secular person to empathize with Isaac (or even
the ram) than with Abraham.” www.narayever.ca/divreitorah/5769/penslar-rh-5769.htm, September 7,
2009.

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“I find it interesting that the idea of sacrificing the Ram in place of Isaac is not even
commanded by God. Abraham does this on his own. It seems he was caught up in the
urge to sacrifice, and if it was not his son, it had to be the Ram.

“If the meaning of the Akedah is Abraham's willingness to serve God by sacrificing his
son, why, on Rosh Hashanah, when we remember the Akedah, do we not hold up the
chalef, the shochet's [ritual slaughter’s] knife? Why do we hold up and blow the shofar,
which makes the point that the son was not sacrificed? The Ram was.

“Maybe martyrdom is not the highest form of serving God. Maybe He wants us to live
for Him, not die for Him.”211

The Silence of the Ram


I suggest above that the ram of the Akedah called mightily to draw Abraham’s and
Isaac’s attention, and that the humans were too stricken with angst and fear to hear the
call. There are, of course, other ways to explain why Abraham and Isaac did not hear the
ram when they arrived at the mountaintop. For example, what if the ram was silent?

This hypothesis poses its own interesting set of questions:


• Was the ram silent because, after half of eternity caught in the bush, it had
become too weary to struggle or care?
• Was he quiet in self-defense, preferring to remain hidden instead of becoming
incense?
• Was it dumbstruck with awe by an awareness of the import of the events
unfolding before him? Because its animal instincts sensed a heavenly messenger
nearby?
• Was it obeying a command from God to be silent and let events unfold?
• Or, was the ram even there, on Mount Moriah, until Abraham turned and looked?
Perhaps Abraham or Isaac (or God) had to complete an initiation or trial before
the ram was transported form its abode in Paradise.

Each of these possibilities can provide instruction on teshuvah and other themes of the
Yomin Noraim. For example, how does one hear the still small voice when the ram of
redemption is silent?

You are invited to create your own “ram drash” to explore the mysteries.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

211
Rabbi Jacob Chinitz, personal correspondence with author, November 4, 2006.

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Chapter 1-7 – The Ewe’s Horn
“The shofar sounds like a baby crying, and is supposed to make the milk rise in God’s
breast.”212

This Chapter begins with questions:

Why do we call the shofar a “ram’s” horn when our tradition also allows us to
use the horn of female sheep, goats, and other horned ungulates?213

Why do the compilers of Talmud say “we blow with the horns of males” and
then annotate their remarks to say that’s not what they really mean?214

The animal sacrifices required in the Torah specified that rams were to be
used for certain sacrifices and ewes for others. Can we deduce from this that
there are different spiritual qualities to the genders, differences that may also
be heard in a shofar depending on whether it is a ram’s horn or an ewe’s
horn?215

While I cannot provide definitive answers to these questions, exploring gender-


related issues provides useful insights into how to hear and heed shofar.

The plural of Hebrew nouns are constructed with a suffix; “-im” for most
masculine nouns and “-ot” for most feminine nouns. “Shofar; is an exception; it is
a masculine noun that becomes “shofarot” in the plural. There are enough
exceptions to the general rule to make this grammatically unremarkable. Still, it is
an interesting coincidence in the context of an investigation of gender-related
issues.

The Masculine Voices of Shofar


We are told that a ram is the preferred source for a shofar because it memorializes the
ram used as a sacrifice instead of Isaac. For example:

“Rabbi Abbahu said: ‘Why is the horn of a ram sounded on Rosh Hashanah?
The Holy One praised be He said, ‘sound before Me the horn of a ram, that I
might be reminded of the binding of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and thus

212
Margaret Holub, “The Landscape and the Many Intelligences Imbedded Therein,” 1999,
www.mcjc.org/MJOLDART/mjamh401.htm, February 11, 2006
213
Rosh Hashanah16a.
214
Mishnah of Rosh Hashanah 26b says, “And on fast days, we blow with the horns of males, which are
bent…” and, “R’ Yehudah says: On Rosh Hashanah we blow with the horns of males…” In the
Schottenstein Edition, the footnotes to these two passages say, “Although the Mishnah specifies a ram’s
horn, any bent horn is valid…” and “According to most Rishonim, R’Yehudah requires only that on Rosh
Hashanah the shofar be bent and on Yovel it be straight…”
215
See Leviticus 14:10 and Numbers 6:14.

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consider your fulfillment of this commandment [of sounding a horn] as though
you had bound yourselves upon an altar before Me.’”216

This story, the Akedah – the Binding of Isaac – is the Torah portion traditionally read on
the second day of Rosh Hashanah.217 One understanding of the story is that God tests
Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. When Abraham passes his
ordeal by binding Isaac on the altar and preparing to slaughter him, God renews the
Covenant binding God and the descendents of Abraham.

There is another compelling understanding of the Akedah – that it is Abraham who is


testing God’s compassion and justice. Abraham, who vocally argues with God over the
destruction of life at Sodom and Gomorrah, argues even more effectively by silently
witnessing what he knew to be an immoral command. It is only when God sends an angel
to stop the slaughter that Abraham accepts the renewed Covenant.

Whichever midrash resonates most deeply with us, we sound the shofar during Rosh
Hashanah as a reminder – to ourselves and to God – of that Covenant.

Three of the central characters in this story are males: Abraham – the father whose name
even derives from the Hebrew root meaning “father”; Isaac – the son; and a ram – a male
sheep whose horns can even be understood as phallic images.

On their way to Mt. Moriah where the sacrifice is to take place, father and son walk
together for three days with almost nothing spoken between them – the epitome of the
image of men who do not share their emotions. This is a guy’s story: instead of exploring
feelings and relationships, the Akedah is an action-drama of command, courage, strength,
duty, resolve, fear, and violence.

The shofar blasts that recall the Akedah’s anniversary still resonate with the story’s
masculine energy. They demand that God inscribe us for another year and are alarms to
rouse us to teshuvah, battle cries to shock and awe Satan, and fanfares for a triumphant
King. They are the voice of Abraham’s unexpressed rage at God and the stifled whimpers
of Isaac struggling to live up to his father’s expectations. They are the voice of the ram in
every one of us, caught-up by the very horns about which we are most proud.

We hear the masculine voice of shofar as a bellow, a trumpeting, and a demand; we note
the size, length, and power of the blasts.

The shofar calls of Abraham declare that whether we yield to or challenge God’s
call, we must respond when called.

216
Rosh Hashanah 16a, translation from Judaism, Arthur Hertzberg, George Braziller, Inc., 1961.
217
Genesis 22.

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The shofar calls of Isaac are the struggle each of us must go through to create or
preserve our own identity without breaking the bonds that tie us with our family,
tribe, and heritage.

The shofar calls of the ram remind us that even when we feel trapped, we may yet
be part of the Divine plan.

Animal Husbandry 101


There was a pragmatic reason for sacrificing rams and male lambs instead of
females. Just a few males could service an entire fold of sheep or tribe of goats,
and too many males in a flock could lead to ramming as the males fought to
establish breeding rights. Females, on or hand, produced milk and lambs or kids
and were of too much economic value to sacrifice.218

The Feminine Voices of Shofar


The shofar also speaks to us with feminine voices that we hear in the shofar’s cries, its
pleading implorations, the silences between notes, the pregnant expectation before the
first tekiah – blast, and the lingering reverberations of the tekiah gedolah – the prolonged
blast at the end of the shofar service.

We also have scriptures and stories of women in whose voices (or silences) can also be
heard in the feminine aspect of shofar. Among these are Sarah, Hagar, Hannah, the
mother of Sisera, Rachel, and Rahab.

Sarah
Sarah is wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac, and the original Matriarch of the Jewish
people. Yet the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading of the Akedah does not mention Sarah.
Abraham receives his orders from God and rises early in the morning to take Isaac to the
place of sacrifice. We are not told what either said to Sarah, if anything, about the
purpose of the trip or what their good-byes were like. Nor are we told what Sarah and
Abraham said to each other after he returned from his journey without Isaac. We do not
even know if husband and wife ever saw each other again. Instead, Genesis 22 ends with
Abraham returning to and dwelling in Beer-sheba, and the very next chapter, Genesis 23,
“The Life of Sarah,” begins by telling us that Sarah died, at the age of 127 years, in
Hebron.

218
I am grateful to David Lubman for explaining this to me. I am reminded of the explanation for why
apples (dipped in honey) are a symbolic food on Rosh Hashanah. As an allusion to the uncertainty about
what may come to be during the New Year, we are told that one can always count the seeds in an apple, but
never know the number of apples in a seed. In a similar manner, we may know how many horns are on a
ewe, but not the number of potential shofarot that may still be inside a ewe.

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This silence, like all family secrets, has lead to endless speculations and rumors. The
gossip is that Abraham’s actions and the threat to her child caused the death of Sarah.219
We are told, for example:

“The death of Sarah is narrated directly after the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac,
because, as a result of the tidings of the Akedah – that her son had been fated
for slaughter, and had been all-but-slaughtered – her soul flew away and she
died.”220

“Isaac returned to his mother and she said to him: 'Where have you been, my
son?' Said he to her: ‘My father took me and led me up mountains and down
hills,’ etc. ‘Alas,’ she said, ‘for the son of a hapless woman! Had it not been
for the angel you would by now have been slain!’ ‘Yes,’ he said to her.
Thereupon she uttered six cries, corresponding to the six blasts of the Shofar.
It has been said: She had scarcely finished speaking when she died.”221

“Satan…told Sarah, ‘Ah, Sarah, have you not heard what’s been happening in
the world? Your old husband has taken the boy Isaac and sacrificed him as a
burnt offering, while the boy cried and wailed for he could not be saved.’
Immediately, she began to cry and wail. She cried three sobs, corresponding
to the three Tekiah notes of the Shofar, and she wailed three times,
corresponding to the staccato notes of the Shofar. Then, she gave up the ghost
and died.”222

In another telling of the story, Satan is in disguise as Isaac; Sarah dies upon
hearing about the near sacrifice even though she sees her son still living.223 The
implications of her son’s survival are also explored in other midrashim:

“But others teach that Satan reveals to her that Abraham has spared her son
from his knife; and then her heart bursts from joy. Such is the anatomy of a
mother’s heart.”224

“When Sarah heard of Abraham's mission to Mount Moriah, she marveled at


his spiritual heroism. Had she been told that Yitzchak was sacrificed, she
would have been filled with joy at the fact that her son was accepted by
HaShem. She, however, was told that he had almost been slaughtered. Upon
hearing this, she was terribly saddened, because she presumed that at the last

219
See, for example, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis
(Doubleday, 1995) in the chapter titled, “HAYYEI SARAH: Vertigo – The Residue of the Akedah.”
220
Rashi 23:2, translation from Zornberg.
221
Leviticus Rabba on Genesis 23:1-2, Weinstein.
222
Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 32, translation from Zornberg.
223
Midrash Tanchuma on the Binding of Isaac, translated by Avi Weinstein, “Sarah is the Shofar - The
Binding of Isaac, The Shofar: Sarah's Tears,”
www.hillel.org/Hillel/NewHille.nsf/fcb8259ca861ae57852567d30043ba26/59f054b76866e47385256b1300
5553fe/$FILE/Sarah_Rosh_Hashanah.pdf, January 28, 2006
224
Frankel, Ellen; The Five Books of Miriam, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.; 1996, pg 30

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moment her son was found unsuitable. Sarah feared that perhaps her influence
was in some way inadequate and her education of Yitzchak imperfect. This
was so profoundly saddening that her soul departed.”225

Whether due to Isaac’s brush with death or his rescue, the Binding of Isaac tears
his mother from life. If the masculine voice of shofar is to memorialize the ram
that was sacrificed instead of Isaac, the feminine voice of shofar is reminder of
the sacrifice of Sarah.

“The Shofar blasts on the New Year are to transform Sarah’s death into
atonement, because the teruah – the broken Shofar tone – is groaning and
wailing.”226

The shofar calls of Sarah remind us that our actions – and even our intentions –
have consequences for others.

“The shofar, the cries of Sarah, reminds the Holy One that the tests He gives leave marks
on the innocent. The trials of Abraham lead to the death of Sarah. Before we go into
judgment, we remind the Holy One [about] the flaws of perfect justice in an imperfect
world. It is better to forego the test then to cause the suffering of an innocent intimate
bystander. Just as no words, only her sobbing can reflect Sarah's pain, it is the mournful
sound of the shofar that tries to convince the Judge, that judgment isn't worth the
trouble.”227

The gematria – numerical equivalent – of the Hebrew words “And He remembered


[Sarah],”228 equals the numerical value of “shofar.” 229

Tkhine of the Matriarchs for the Blowing of the Shofar230


(Tkhines – Yiddish for “prayers” or “supplications” – were Yiddish-language prayer
books intended for women who were not taught Hebrew, and often conveyed a woman’s
sensibility.)

225
Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, “Vedibarta Bam — And You Shall Speak of Them, Volume I — Bereishit,
Chayei Sarah,” published by Sichos in English, www.sichosinenglish.org/books/vedibarta-bam/005.htm
November 11, 2006.
226
Midrash Aggadah, quoted in Torah Shelemah, Bereshit, chap. 23, n. 17, translation from Zornberg.
227
Rabbi Avi Weinstein, “Parshat Chayei Sarah,” Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life,
www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Weekly_Torah_Commentary/chayeisarah_hillel5759.htm November 13,
2006.
228
Genesis 21:1.
229
Rabbi Yekutiel Zalman Zev, cited by Tzvi Fishman in “Kabbalistic Understandings Of The Shofar,”
www.jewishsexuality.com/content/view/71/67/, March 31, 2007.
230
Serl (daughtor of Jacob ben Wolf Kranz, the Dubno Maggid), excerpted from Tkhine Imoches Fun Rosh
Hodesh Elul (Lvov, n.d), translation from Ellen M. Umansky and Dianne Ashton, eds., Four Centuries of
Jewish Women’s Spirituality, (Boston, Beacon, 1992), 53-54. As cited by Chava Weissler, Voices of the
Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women, (Boston, Beacon 1998) pg 145.

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“First we ask our mother Sarah to plead for us in this hour of judgment… Have mercy,
our mother, on your children. And especially, pray for our little children that they may
not be taken away from us. For you know well that it is very bitter when a child is taken
away from the mother, as it happened to you. When your son Isaac was taken away from
you, it caused you great anguish.”

Hagar
Hagar’s story231 is traditionally read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Hagar is an
Egyptian woman, Abraham’s concubine by whom she conceives Ishmael. Sarah is
concerned about the rivalry between Abraham’s two sons – Hagar’s and her own – and
told Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael to the desert. God instructed Abraham to
listen to Sarah, and said that Ishmael, too, will also become the father of a great nation.

Hagar, apparently, did not know of God’s plan for her son. When their small supply of
water was depleted, she placed the child under a bush and sat down a “bowshot” away
from him, saying, “Let me not look upon the death of the child.” And then she “lifted up
her voice, and wept.”

What happens next is one of the great mysteries of Torah. We are told that Hagar wept,
but that “God heard the voice of the lad.” Tank cars full of ink have been consumed in
exegeses on the seeming incongruence of this verse; but it should not be hard to imagine
that the mother’s cries were also those of her young child’s. What is relevant to our
discussion of shofar is that God heard the cries and responded. “And God opened her
eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave
the lad drink.”

No horns were blown that day in the Negev. Sitting in the silence of the desert, Hagar
could hear the still small voice of an angel awakening her to new hope. Relieved of her
anguish, she could recognize the solution that had been at hand all along.

The shofar calls of Hagar awaken us to discover new hope and opportunity, even
from the depths of despair.

“…the shofar’s call is actually a cry – the cry of Hagar as she leaves her home. How odd
that the rabbis should choose this woman’s cry – the mother of our present-day ‘enemy’ –
to be the sound which echoes in our new year. How odd and how appropriate. The shofar
is inviting us to clear our heads of all the stereotypes and ‘thems’ we carry into the new
year. The shofar challenges us to hear the cry of the enemy as our own, to hear in Hagar’s
wail the cry for empathy, and in that cry, we empty ourselves of anger and fill ourselves
with compassion for all the “others” we have in our lives. Hagar’s cry makes us hear the
cry of all those we have stereotyped, and demonized, and fictionalized, and
rationalized.”232

231
Genesis 21:9 – 21, translations from Hertz.
232
Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, “Who is the Enemy?” Rosh Hashanah 5760,
www.kolel.org/pages/holidays/5760_RHS1.html, February 17, 2006.

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“How strange: Hagar cries out, and God’s messenger says that God has heard the youth’s
voice. Could it be that here also is a message for Rosh Hashanah? Like the call of the
shofar, when Hagar cries, it is not only her own voice that God hears, but the voice of
someone who cannot cry out for themself. On Rosh Hashanah, we repent not only for
ourselves, which, after all, we can do any time, but as a community. We take upon
ourselves the task of crying out to God to save the community, not just to repent of our
own deeds.”233

“Tradition teaches that the shofar is the horn of the ram that saved Isaac’s neck. But there
[is] also a rabbinic tradition that the shofar’s call symbolizes the cry of Hagar just as she
is cast out. One long “why?” And then: why, why, why do we turn our backs, it asks us?
And then it gasps and pleads: why, oh why why why why why why why, do we not reach
out to each other?

“Hagar’s shofar is the cry of the kid not chosen for the team, the girl without a date for
the prom, the single person alone for the holiday meal, the friend we don’t talk to
anymore, the new co-worker we ignore, the co-workers we’ve stepped on to get ahead
ourselves. It’s the person we assume isn’t lonely, because we’ve never asked. It’s the
friend whose stress we can’t deal with because we’re too stressed; the child we don’t
have time for, sitting in front of another TV cartoon, waiting, waiting. It’s the parent
we’re still angry at. It’s the exiled, the foreign, the Israeli we judge for leaving Israel to
live here, the new immigrant whose English is not so good yet. It’s the lonely, the elderly,
the disabled, the depressed, the tired. It’s all those we’ve never forgiven.

“Since today is Shabbat, it is the day Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls the “silent
shofar.”234 We do not blow the shofar today, but we can imagine the kind of anguished
cry that wells up in the throat and gets caught in silent, heaving sobs with no sound.
Sometimes our cries are so deep, they cannot even make a sound, and no one hears them
except the one crying. Today’s silent shofar is all the Hagars we have left in the desert,
and they are waiting for an invitation from us to come back.”235

Hannah
Hannah’s story is the Haftorah – prophetic reading – traditionally read after the Torah
reading on first day of Rosh Hashanah.236 It relates thematically to the day’s Torah
reading about another childless woman, Sarah. Just as Sarah and Hagar share a man,
Hannah shares her husband, Elkanah, with a co-wife, Peninnah. Peninnah has children
and taunts Hannah for being childless. Hannah’s longing for a child does not receive

233
Rabbi Alana Suskin, “Kol Ra’Ash Gadol,” October 3, 2004, http://kolra-
ashgadol.blogspot.com/2004/10/erev-rosh-hashanah_03.html, August 17, 2007.
234
See Chapter 9 – Remembering Shofar for more on the shofar of Shabbat.
235
Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, “Insiders and Outsiders, sermon – Yom Kippur 5761,
www.kolel.org/pages/holidays/5761_YKS1.html, January 8, 2008.
236
I Samuel 1:1 – 2:10.

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empathy from Elkanah who asks, “Why are you so sad? Am I not more devoted to you
than ten sons?”

While accompanying her husband to Shiloh to offer a sacrifice at the Mishkon,237 “in her
wretchedness, she prayed to the Lord, weeping all the while.”238 Hannah vows to God
that, if her petition for a son is granted, the child will be given into the service of the
Temple.

Meanwhile, Eli, the priest, has been observing her.

“Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah was praying in the heart; only her lips moved, but
her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Eli said to her, ‘How long
will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Sober up!’ And Hannah replied, ‘Oh, no,
my lord! I am a very unhappy woman. I have…been pouring out my heart to the
Lord…out of my great anguish and distress.’ ‘Then go in peace,’ said Eli, ‘and may the
God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.’”239

After this, Hannah conceived and bore Samuel (whose name means “I asked the Lord for
him”). Her son served in the priesthood and became one of the great prophets.

The Rabbis say that Hannah provides a model for how to pray. I add, that she also
provides a model for both the kavanah – attitude – and technique of shofar sounding:
“praying in the heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard.”240

The shofar calls of Hannah sound for all those who cannot utter their prayers aloud.

Hannah Song of Horns


Hannah is also connected to shofar by references to keren – horn – in the first and last
lines of her song upon presenting her son Samuel to service in the Temple:

“I have triumphed [literally “My horn is high”] through the Lord;


I gloat [literally “My mouth is wide”] over my enemies;
I rejoice in Your deliverance.

“The foes of the Lord shall be shattered;


He will thunder against them in the heavens.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
He will give power to His king,
And triumph to [Literally, “And will raise the horn of”] His anointed one.”241

237
The portable sanctuary where the Commandments received by Moses were kept prior to the construction
of the Temple in Jerusalem.
238
I Samuel 1:10.
239
I Samuel 1:12-17.
240
I Samuel 1:13.
241
I Samuel 2:1 and 2:10.

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Hannah’s use of the horn as a metaphor for conceiving a child is not surprising as the
horn has, since earliest times, been a symbol of fecundity.

Comparing the voice of shofar to the cries of a woman in labor, Rabbi Lisa Edwards
speculates, “…it’s hard to live in a post-Freudian age without noticing the irony that the
shofar, an object that is in shape so clearly a phallic symbol, utters the uniquely female
sounds of…childbirth and a mother’s grief. On the other hand, it’s also possible to
see…the shape of the shofar as a horn of plenty, a kind of birth canal image, with
children as the bounty that flows from it. Given this view of it, Hannah’s verse…has
interesting sexual overtones… If we see keren as a phallic symbol, then Hannah’s “horn”
would be her husband’s penis, literally “raised up” by God to impregnate Hannah. If we
invest keren with the horn of plenty image, then it is Hannah’s birth canal that is exalted
by God”242

Sisera’s Mother
The Talmud goes to great lengths to describe the shofar calls to be heard on Rosh
Hashanah. We are told that, for example, “The length of a teruah is like three whimpers.”
But what type of whimper? To answer this, the sages offer us Sisera’s Mother as a model:

“And it is written regarding Sisera’s mother: Through the window she looked,
and she cried, Sisera’s mother.”243

Examining the emotions beneath her cries, then, may help us to understand the shofar’s
cries.

Scripture does not record the name of Sisera’s mother,244 but does tell us about her son,
Sisera.245 He commanded the army of Canaan in its struggle with the Israelites over
dominion of the lands along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. “He had nine
hundred iron chariots, and he had oppressed Israel ruthlessly for twenty years.”246

Ultimately, his army was routed by the Israelites under the leadership of Deborah and
General Barak. Sisera flees and takes refuge in the tent of Jael whom he believes to be an
ally. Jael makes a comfortable bed for him and gives him milk as a sedative. “Then Jael,
wife of Heber, took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he was fast asleep from
exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it
went down to the ground. Thus he died.”247

In a song of triumph attributed to Deborah and Barak, the brutality of his death is
rendered as:

242
Edwards, note 43, pg 27.
243
Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 33b
244
She is called Themac in Ginzberg, Vol IV,
245
Judges 4 and 5.
246
Judges 4:3.
247
Judges 4:21.

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“She struck Sisera, crushed his head,
Smashed and pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank, lay outstretched,
At her feet he sank, lay still;
Where he sank, there he lay – destroyed.”248

The song then tells of Sisera’s mother waiting at home for her son’s return:

“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother,


Behind the lattice she whined:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why so late the clatter of his wheels?’
The wisest of her ladies give answer;
She, too, replies to herself:
‘They must be dividing the spoil they have found:
A damsel or two for each man,
Spoil of dyed cloths for Sisera,
Spoil of embroidered cloths,
A couple of embroidered cloths
Round every neck as spoil.’”249

Poetically, the domesticity in this description of Sisera’s mother provides counterpoint to


the violence of the battlefield. At the same time, it makes the horror of war all the more
unpalatable by underscoring the disregard for life in favor of material gain. The
incredible cruelty of Sisera’s people is shown in that, “her anguish for her son could be
assuaged in the thought that he must be in the process of making other mothers
childless.”250

What does this mean with regard to the shofar? Some commentators say that Mother
Sisera’s whimpers were halfway between joyous laughter in expectation of her son’s
return and wails of despair due to her intuitive understanding that he had been killed.
Would she continue to enjoy her status as the mother of a hero, or would her self-identity
and status in the royal court fall in ruin? In the same way, we do not know, when we hear
the shofar blow on Rosh Hashanah, whether we have been inscribed in the Book of Life
or the Book of Death, and we whimper in turmoil over the uncertainty, unsure whether to
laugh or cry.

It is also said that Sisera’s mother cried one hundred times during her wait for her son.
Because of this, the one hundred shofar blows sounded in many congregations on Rosh
Hashanah are to countermand the hundred cries of Sisera’s mother, cries that were filled
with hatred for the Jewish People, in an attempt to eradicate an evil that reaches from
Amalek to Hitler and into this very day.

248
Judges 5:26-27.
249
Judges 5:28-30.
250
The Jewish Catalog, pg 68

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But others say that Sisera’s mother cried one hundred and one times.251 While we can
interdict one hundred of them as being full of hate, greed, and self pity, the remaining cry
is the genuine pain of a mother who has lost a child, and we must not attempt to drown
out maternal love with our shofar blasts.

It is this 101st cry that I long to hear in my shofar blowing, for it is a call for peace. To
kill in war, soldiers must believe that their opponents are less human. Denying their
mothers’ names is one way of doing this. Remembering that they have mothers who will
cry at their gravesides makes it harder to kill them.

“…one of the reasons that on Rosh Hashanah we blow 100 shofar blasts is to fix the 100
cries of the mother of Sisera that she cried when she heard that her son had been killed.
Why do we have to fix her cries? The answer is because we sinned, and therefore
HaShem sent Sisera to war against us. Because of this, Sisera had to die, and that is why
his mother cried. However, if we had not sinned, HaShem would not have had to send
him, and she would not have cried, so we are responsible.”252

We are told that, when Pharaoh’s army drowned as they pursued the children of Israel,
the angels started to rejoice. God admonished them for singing praises saying, “My
creatures are drowning in the sea, and you are singing?”253 In the same way that we spill
drops of wine during the Passover seder to diminish our joy by remembering the
suffering of others, I pray that my shofar blasts will remind me that the fates of all people
hang in balance during Rosh Hashanah; that it is not just my own personal Day of
Judgment.

The shofar cries of Sisera’s mother beckon the messianic age when all nations shall
live together in peace.254

Even Terrorists have Mothers


“A medieval Jewish source movingly tells us that one hundred shofar sounds at our New
Year services correspond to the one hundred groans by the mother of Sisera when she
saw her son killed in his battle against the Israelites. Sisera was a brutal tyrant, wreaking
terror on our people. His death was our salvation. Yet, he had a mother, and to this day
we hear her cries and recall her grief over the death of her child. Even terrorists have
mothers, and we must not be indifferent to their anguish. This is but one of the

251
According to The Jewish Catalog, pg 68, the 101 cries are linked to the 101 Hebrew letters of Judges
5:28-29. This seems an over-reaching explanation since it ignores the 76 thematically linked letters of verse
5:30.
252 HaRav Eliezer Berland, “Parshas Shemos,” www.shuvubonim.org/shemos.html, August 31, 2006.
253 B.T. Megillah 10b.
254
Many other messages can be heard in the cries of Sisera’s mother. See, for example, “The Voice in the
Shofar – A Defense Of Deborah,” Yael Unterman, Torah of the Mothers, Urim Publications, 2000, pp 170 -
193.

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remarkable features of Judaism in an effort to ensure that even war does not harden us to
the point of not caring for the loss and suffering of our enemies.”255

A Paradox
“What a paradox! Inside the ritual is a teaching that is it’s very opposite: the teruah – the
sound of the shofar that calls the troops to assemble, is…the sound of a mother’s cry…

“With words, we take sides, we categorize, we accuse. With the moan of the shofar we
simplify, and strip down to essentials. With the Shofar, we defend ourselves against the
structures that speech has created. When we use words, we are forced to categorize
Sisera's mother as a Canaanite, an enemy, the mother of my adversary, and she, using
words, would categorize us in a similar way. The pure, non-verbal sounds of her cries,
however, transcend those categories created by speech, and speak to us from, and about,
her basic humanity.”256

Rachel
Amidst all these tears, we are also reminded of the tears of Rachel, whose name is
Hebrew for “ewe.” The Haftorah from the prophet Jeremiah, read on the second day of
Rosh Hashanah, say:

“A cry is heard on a height –


Wailing, bitter weeping –
Rachel weeping for her children.
She refuses to be comforted
For her children, who are gone.
Thus said the Lord:
Restrain your voice from weeping,
Your eyes from shedding tears;
For there is a reward for your labor
– declares the Lord:
They shall return from the enemy’s land
And there is hope for your future
– declares the Lord:
Your children shall return to their country.”257

This prophetic vision foretells the ingathering of exiles, a time when the Great Shofar of
the Messianic Era will be sounded. Jeremiah is referring to the Ten Tribes of the
Northern Kingdom of Israel that where vanquished by the Assyrians in the 8th Century

255
Sir Immanuel Jacobovitz, “The Morality of Warfare,” L’EYLAH, vol. 2, no. 4, 1983, quoted in
“Reacting to a World at War” by Union of American Hebrew Congregations,
http://urj.org/_kd/Items/actions.cfm?action=Show&item_id=3825&destination=ShowItem, February 14,
2006.
256
Linda Hirschhorn, 2003, “The Shofar Calls,” 2003, www.lindahirschhorn.com/the_shofar_calls.html,
January 7, 2006.
257
Jeremiah 31:15-17.

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BCE and disappeared into the diaspora. The Haftorah, however, speaks to all of us who
have experienced loss.

The exile that afflicts most people today is not from a piece of land, but from themselves,
their families and communities, and from God. The High Holy Days provide a chance to
experience High Wholeness-Days when we can recalibrate our lives. Rachel’s tears
comfort us for we are told that we can also return from exile to “at-one-ment.”

The shofar calls of Rachel comfort us and fill us with hope for the future.

The words of God's promise to Rachel that her children will return to their borders
softens one's heart no less than the piercing sounds of the Shofar.258

Rahab
I cannot leave Rahab out of this chorus of female voices. While her story is not usually
linked to the Rosh Hashanah observances, she and her family were the only survivors of
the Israelite’s attack on Jericho, a city whose very name is inextricably linked to the
sounding of shofar. What did she think, feel and experience as she heard the blasts of the
horn that preceded the collapse of her city’s walls?

The story of Jericho’s fall is usually told through the masculine voice of shofar. It is a
military narrative with its emphasis on espionage,259 logistics,260 command structure,261
strategy,262 tactics,263 maneuvers,264 dispatches from the field,265 establishment of
hegemony,266 and decoration of the victors.267 As with so much of Torah, the inside
stories of the individual participants are left out, leaving room for us to create midrash –
stories – speculating about what the participants were thinking or feeling. What was it
like to be besieged within the city’s walls, without avenue of escape? Living in a pressure
cooker of emotions where the people, “lost heart, and no man had any more spirit left,”
and “all the inhabitants of the land are quaking”?268

For six consecutive days, 40,000 shock troops269 escorted the Ark of the Covenant –
symbol of the Hebrew tribe’s national might – in a march around the city’s wall. Ahead
of the Ark marched seven priests continuously blowing shofarot. On the seventh day, as
the “psy-ops” intensified, the procession marched around the city seven times. With each
circuit, I imagine more residents of the city climbed to the ramparts to watch the

258
www.ou.org/torah/tt/5760/roshhashana60/aliya.htm, July 13, 2006.
259
Joshua 2.
260
Joshua 3 – 5.
261
Joshua 5:13-15.
262
Joshua 6:1-5.
263
Joshua 6:6-10.
264
Joshua 6:11-19.
265
Joshua 6:20-25.
266
Joshua 6:26.
267
Joshua 6:27.
268
Joshua 2:11, 2:24.
269
Joshua 4:13.

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spectacle as their anxiety increased. At the completion of the seventh circuit, the troops
broke their silence and joined the shofarot in a mighty shout.

My theory is that the sudden aggressive acoustic blasts terrorized the citizens. In panic,
they started shouting and running, creating tremors that ruptured the already overloaded
city walls. An ethnic cleansing of the city followed. Only Rahab and her family were
spared the sword in recompense for covert assistance she had rendered to the Israelite’s
spies.

Having spent their entire lives in the desert within the confines of a tribal structure, was it
any wonder that the two young men sent by Joshua to spy on the city found their way into
the house of a prostitute? Like any good entrepreneur in that business, is it any wonder
she shielded her customers when the law came looking for them? Were the Israelite spies
the first men who had to escape out her window under cover of night?

Rahab clings to a red cord, literally “hope,” as the spies escape through her window.270

What did she have to lose by striking a bargain with them for her safety? If the siege
failed, she would continue her business in its established location; if it succeeded, then of
course she would become a camp follower. Living as an outsider in her own city
(figuratively as a prostitute and literally since her house was within the city’s walls), my
guess is that she could go either way.

Our wisdom tradition sees it less cynically. Legend has it she married Joshua and became
a mother in Israel, creating a lineage that included the prophets Huldah and Jeremiah.271
Rahab, we are told, underwent a battlefield conversion and confessed that the God of

270
Image by Julius Schnorr van Carolsfeld, 1851-1860.
www.pitts.emory.edu/woodcuts/1853BiblD/00011413.jpg June 21, 2009.
271
Meg. 14b cited at www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=71&letter=R&search=rahab, July 13,
2006.

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Israel, “is the only God in heaven above and on earth below.”272 Rahab’s faith prompted
God to say, “‘On earth thou couldest see with thine eyes that there is no other God
besides Me; but to acknowledge also that I am the only God in heaven needs special
faith. I promise thee, therefore, that one of thy descendants [referring to Ezekiel] shall see
what no prophet before him shall have seen,’273 thus making Ezekiel one of Rahab's
descendants”274 The New Testament also includes King David among her descendants.275

As the shofarot blew, I imagine Rahab standing by her window wondering about her fate.
In this regard, she mirrors Sisera’s mother who also stood by her window, but the two
windows had different views: Sisera’s mother was at the center of her society; Rahab on
the fringe. Sisera’s mother expected her city to celebrate a victory; Rahab expected hers
to be destroyed. Sisera’s mother hoped for the destruction of the Jews; Rahab cast her lot
with the Israelites. Sisera’s mother whimpered out of uncertainty about losing her
position in society; Rahab probably cried to, but her tears more likely were out of
uncertainty about entering into her new spiritual and social estate and the pending death
of her neighbors.

As Rahab heard the shofarot, was she wondering if she was right to trust the spies to
remember their pledge? Would the commanders of this foreign nation honor the
commitment of their agents? In her line of work, surely she knew that not all men could
be trusted. Would she be welcomed by this new people, or relegated to the fringes once
again? And was the cost of her redemption worth the lives of her neighbors?

On a deeper level, did she feel uncertain that her faith in the God of Israel was justified?
Would this unseen God reward her for her collusion with the Israelites and treat her with
mercy? Would she be a martyr in her adopted religion or, worse, cut down like another
stalk of grass by the scythe of battle, without any apparent divine reason or regard? If she
had a vision of herself becoming a mother in Israel, would God laugh at her plans?

These are not unlike questions each of us confronts as we hear shofar on the New Year.
Did I make good choices? Will I make better choices? Is my faith (or lack thereof)
justified? How…? Who…? When…? Why…?

Negotiating with the spies, Rahab insists that the Israelites protect her and her family
during the invasion. They agree, but warn, “We will be released from this oath which you
have made us take [unless,] when we invade the country, you tie this length of crimson
cord to the window through which you let us down.”276 The Hebrew word translated as
“cord” is “tikvah” and also means “hope.” When we are filled with doubts during the
Days of Awe, the shofar sounds to bring hope.

272
Mek., l.c.; Deut. R. ii. 19 cited at
www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=71&letter=R&search=rahab, July 13, 2006.
273
Compare Ezekiel 1:1.
274
Midr. Shemuel, in Yal., Josh. 10, cited at
www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=71&letter=R&search=rahab, July 13, 2006.
275
Matthew 1:5-6.
276
Joshua 2:17-18.

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The shofar of Rahab is the voice of hope in the face of our own doubts.

The Pascal Connection


Cords can be used to create connections, and the red cord hung in Rahab’s window
creates another significant connection between Rahab and the thread of shofar and
shofar-bearing animals that runs through Jewish tradition:

There is an insightful midrash on Rahab published by the Sex Workers Outreach Project,
a trade association, that explores Rahab’s experience from a professional’s point of view.
It envisions Rahab saying:

“‘Please! Just spare the lives of me and my family…’ They asked her to join their
revolution and told her to put out a red cord in the window so that they would know to
pass over [emphasis added] her house. They explained to Rahab the significance of the
red: ‘We already painted our front doors red and that’s how we got here, that’s how we
got out of Egypt.’”277

The reference to the exodus from Egypt is clear from the similarity of the statement in
Joshua, “and if anyone ventures outside the doors of your house, his blood will be on his
head”278 with the warning in Exodus, “None of you shall go outside the door of his house
until morning.”279

As her initiation into the Covenant with the God of Israel, Rahab’s crimson cord is
symbolical of her protection by the blood of the Paschal ram.280 (See Book 3 of Hearing
Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn for more on the ram’s horn of Passover.)

Birth Cries
What all these women have in common is that they are mothers. This points to another
feminine aspect of the shofar: Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of human consciousness in
the world, and the shofar recalls the cries both of the mother giving birth and the child
announcing its first breaths of air. Midrash describes the one hundred traditional shofar
blasts on Rosh Hashanah as, “a mother in labor as crying out ninety-nine times for death
(i.e., from the pains of labor) and one time (the hundredth time) for life (i.e., in joy at the
birth of the child).281

277
“The Story of Rahab According to SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project),” www.swop-
usa.org/rahab.php, May 24, 2006.
278
Joshua 2:19.
279
Exodus 12:22.
280
There is another connection between the red cord and horned animals. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest
would mark a goat by tying a red thread to the head of a goat that was then sent into the desert “for Azazel”
(Rashi on Yoma 39a). www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=2203&letter=A, July 15, 2006. See
also Chapter 11 – Azazel and the Goat that is Set Free.
281
Edward, pg. 96 citing Tanhuma in Emor 11 and Tazria 4.

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Reinforcing the connection between birth and Rosh Hashanah, we are told that Sarah,
Hannah, and Rachel were each “remembered” in their barrenness on Rosh Hashanah,
leading to the conception and birth of children,282 and that Abram/Abraham and
Jacob/Israel – two men who were reborn in their faith – were also born on the First of
Tishrei.283

“Hayom horat olam – Today is the birthday of the world.” This prayer “is the only prayer
recited verbatim in all three sections of the shofar service…”284 Of this, a contemporary
writer has said:

“‘Today is the birthday of the world’ means today, now. Today the world is
born again. This day is ‘the beginning of your works,’ reminiscent of the very
first time the world was made. Only that the first time the world was born, it
was a free gift. Since then, it depends on us, the Adam. And so, it occurs on our
birthday, Rosh Hashanah. We are reborn, and within us, the entire cosmos…

“Curious, isn’t it, that a shofar with its narrow blowhole and wider opening285
resembles a birth canal? In fact, the Bible mentions a great woman with a name
of the same etymology: Shifrah. She was the midwife of the ancient Hebrews
who left Egypt. Her name means, “to make beautiful,” and that is what she did:
She ensured that the babies would emerge healthy and viable, then swaddled
and massaged them to foster their strength and beauty.

“The shofar is the midwife of the new year. Into its piercing cry we squeeze all
our heartfelt prayers, all our tears, our very souls. All that exists resonates with
its call until it reaches the very beginning, the cosmic womb. And there it
touches a switch; The Divine Presence shifts modalities from transcendence to
immanence, from strict judgment to compassion. In the language of the Zohar,
‘The shofar below awakens the shofar above and the Holy One, blessed be He,
rises from His Throne of Judgment and sits in His Throne of Compassion.’

“New life enters the world and takes its first breath. It is our own life, as well,
and it is in our hands.”286

The Pregnancy of the World


“There is a tradition that the Jewish year has a ‘mother’ – Rosh Hashanah, the First of
Tishrei – and a ‘father,’ the First of Nisan (both are new years according to the Jewish
calendar). If Rosh Hashanah is the mother, then the shofar is the womb through
which our spirits pass on the way to redemption. The ram’s horn represents the power

282
Rosh Hashanah 10b. Also Megillah 31a, cited in Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers,
pg. 69. See also, Edwards, page 12.
283
www.sacred-texts.com/jud/pol/pol57.htm July 13, 2006.
284
Edwards, pg. 56.
285
Compare Psalms 118:5.
286
Freeman, Tzvi, “Rosh Hashanah Unwrapped,” www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=89
435&print=true, 3/7/2005.

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of the Shechinah to be hollow, to be a vessel for creation. Yet the shofar also reminds
us of the ayil (ram) who sounds like El (God) – the masculine forces of the Divine.
The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah focuses on Avinu Malkeinu – our Father, our King,
the stern but loving father of Jewish tradition… Yet we can balance this image with
the phrase in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy: “hayom harat olam” – today is the
birthday of the world, or more accurately, today is the pregnancy of the world. On
Rosh Hashanah our world becomes pregnant with God, and God is pregnant with us.
It is a time of mutual awareness and understanding. It is the time when we enter the
inner world, the world of the womb, in order to be reborn into change.”287

The Voice of Wholeness


While giving birth is the prerogative of the feminine, human consciousness also requires
the masculine. “…male and female, He created them,”288, and both are in the Divine
image. In Oriental philosophies, the feminine is yin and the masculine is yang;
complements that form a unity. Yang is associated with the outward direction of energy;
it is the blowing of the shofar. Yin is associated with the receiving of energy; it is the
hearing of shofar.

In Torah, the first man and woman were named, respectively, Earthling and Breath, for
Adam is “earth” in Hebrew and Chava – the Hebrew name of Eve – is “breath.” To create
its voice, the shofar needs the unification of the earthen, masculine horn and the feminine
breath.

The shofar speaks in a universal voice. Its call is neither male nor female, human nor
animal, earth nor air, yin nor yang. The sound of the shofar vibrates at the frequency on
which we commune with the One and, despite its fractured blasts, sounds only whole
notes.

Unification
The Talmud equates the sounding of the shofar with the service of the Kohen HaGadol
(High Priest) in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.289 Like the shofar, the Kohen
HaGadol, the paragon of sexual purity, represents the Yesod, in his role of activating the
flow of shefa (blessings) from Above.

Just as the blasts of the shofar awaken the people of Israel to repentance, and draw down
sustenance and blessing, so too the prayers of the Kohen HaGadol atone for the
transgressions of the nation and draw down the life-sustaining blessings of rainfall and
sustenance for the year. In kabbalistic terms, both the shofar and the Kohen HaGadol
bring about a yichud, or unification, between God and the Jewish People.

287
Jill Hammer, http://telshemesh.org/tishrei/ 2/4/06.
288
Genesis 1:27.
289
Yoma 53b.

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This exalted unification finds expression in the teaching of the Talmud that whenever
Zichronot are recited, Malchiyot are to be recited with them.290 Activated by the blasts of
the shofar, the Zichronot influence the male principle of Yesod to give forth its shefa to
the receiving, female principle of Malchiyot, our world. This reopening of the flow of
Divine Illumination also marks the renewal of the Brit (covenant) on Rosh Hashanah, and
thus we conclude the order of Zichronot with, “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, who
remembers the Brit.”291

A Word on Halachah – Jewish Rabbinical Law


Talmud states that women are not obligated to perform time-bound commandments.
While this may sound patriarchal, it is also a pragmatic recognition that a pregnant
woman or nursing mother does not have the freedom to set her own schedule. This
precept applies to the hearing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. For example, “Every man
is obliged to hear the sound of the ram’s horn but women and children are free of the
obligation. Although the Scribes have prohibited the blowing of the ram’s horn on a
holiday when it is not during the course of observing a commandment, nevertheless the
prohibition has been waived for women, in order to satisfy them.”292

This position is still upheld in most Orthodox Jewish communities. And while a woman,
within this interpretation of the law can say the blessing for the sounding of the shofar
and blow the shofar for herself or another woman, a man hearing her blast is not
considered to have fulfilled his mitzvah of hearing the shofar.293

Yet Torah is clear that ALL of us heard the shofar at Mt. Sinai, male, female and the
androgynous or sexually indeterminate.294 As a carrier of that “truth,” I do not understand

290
Rosh Hashanah 32a.
291
Tzvi Fishman, “Kabbalistic Understandings of the Shofar,”
www.jewishsexuality.com/content/view/71/67/ January 7, 2008.
292
Shulhan Arukh shel ha-Rav quoted in Agnon pg 69.
293
An assessment of halachah and how it has evolved, from a “Jewish Orthodox feminist” perspective, is
"Women and the Shofar," Pianko, Arlene. Tradition, 14:4, 1974, 53-62,
www.jofa.org/pdf/Batch%201/0006.pdf, July 15, 2006.
294
A contemporary commentary has this to say on shofar and those who do not fit into “normal” gender
categories:
“The rabbis of the Gemara proceed to a lengthy discussion of the circumstances in which a person can
truly claim to have fulfilled the commandment of hearing the shofar… There follows a most peculiar
statement: ‘A hermaphrodite can perform a religious duty for a fellow hermaphrodite, but not for any one
else.’
“Some folks are shocked to find the rabbis even mentioning hermaphrodites, what the Gemara calls
androgynous, but the truth is that this being of unusual gender shows up all over Talmudic discourse.
Perhaps in the days before the “medical miracle,” when a procedure on the birthing table, a kind of
grotesque circumcision, purports to solve this riddle of nature forever, the alternately-sexed were simply
more present in everyday life. But what the rabbis lack in surgical technique, they make up for in the
rigidity of their intellectual categorization. In every discussion, it is determined whether the androgynous
will be treated as a man or a woman, depending on circumstance. Only one sage, the forward-thinking
Rabbi Jose, offers the suggestion that a hermaphrodite ‘is a creature unto itself.’ According to scholars, the
androgynous may blow the shofar for other hermaphrodites because that which is male in one blows for
that which is male in the other – it goes without saying that women do not blow.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 101 © 20


why “his” blowing is acceptable but “hers” or “the other’s” is not. Then again, I had an
orange on my seder plate this year.295

I am told; musicians auditioning for a symphony orchestra do so from behind a screen so


only the sound of their playing is heard. Perhaps we should do something similar when it
comes time to hear shofar; pull our tallitot – prayer shawls – over our heads so we can
hear the shofar without distraction about who is blowing it.

For the Shofar Blower296


By Janet Zimmern

At this awesome season


pregnant
with all possibility we pray today:

By our choices and deeds,


with Divine Intervention,
Supernal Midwife of Israel
and of All Creation,
attend,
assist us
to birth as yet unknown wonders,
miracles of Life.

With an awesome fear of God,


I place this shofar to my lips.

May the breath


You breathe inside me,
now return to You

“The rabbis were not terrified by the specter of this strange crossbreed. On the contrary, they file it away
quite calmly, dissecting it along the dotted lines of gender normalcy, to deposit its pieces into the
appropriate pigeonholes. If there is fear or confusion, it seems buried beneath an icy layer of intellectual
artifice.
“We might wish it were otherwise. This kind of calm seems incongruous with the ritual under
discussion. My imagination reaches for the fire beneath the ice, the almost mythological image of the bi-
gendered body, all balls and breasts, blowing the shofar for the impermissible audience, shattering with the
explosive power of its call the artifice of certainty and exclusion – bringing the destruction that makes for
salvation.
“Who better to take the severed horn in hand, and blow our minds?”
Micah Gil, “Blow Your Own Horn,” www.killingthebuddha.com/manifesto.htm, July 17, 2006.
295
A symbol that has been widely used in the past decade to call for the inclusion of Jews who have been
marginalized in traditional Judaism, including women and homosexuals.
296
Journey, Fall 2000, Ma'yan: The Jewish Women's Project,
www.ritualwell.org/holidays/highholidays/roshhashanah/primaryobject.2005-06-20.7852796292 April 5,
2006. Also in Rosh Hashanah Readings edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins (Jewish Lights 2006), pp 166-
168.

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to be renewed and return again
to this world for Life, for Peace

May the birthcries of my shofar blasts


be pleasing to you,
as the words and deeds of Shifra
with fear of You, she
lovingly births Your People:
Freedom
to do Your Will.

Like Puah,
be hutzpadik297
in Your advocacy
Encourage us toward Life
even when we ourselves may feel discouraged,
distressed in the midst
of life's hard pangs.

Breathe life into us anew!


While others take us for dead.
Lest we face despair of lost hope,
even we,
may abandon ourselves.

In the name of Shifra, Puah,298


Sara Emainu299
Hana,
in the name of Rahel Emainu,
let her tears for her children,
be of gladness and joy.

In the name of God that is Birth,


let the joy of becoming, of hearing
sounds from this birthing shofar
overcome and become us all.

God, cleanse us of our sins


like the midwife
who cleanses the newborn infant.

297
Nervy, to have chutzpah.
298
Shifra and Puah were Egyptian midwives who defied Pharaoh's orders and did not kill male Israelite
children. Shifra’s name is etymologically related to “shofar.”
299
Hebrew for “our mother.”

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Wrap us in the beautiful garments
of the Soul.
Bathe us in Your Light
so our Divine nature may shine
even as we walk joyously in Your Light –
B'or paneha yehalayhun!300

May the breath of my being


blown into this shofar
hearken us
back to the shofar
that is Shifra
and the breath
that is Puah.

Deliver us from the narrows


of, God Forbid, an evil decree,
into the breadth of sound.

Signal in us an expansion.
Together God
may we birth this coming year!

God,
Supernal Midwife,
send me no angel, no seraph, not even
Hayot Hakodesh!301

Be Thou my Midwife!
Be Thou my angel!
Be Thou My Self!
Birth me yet again anew,
renewed for this coming year.

Imagine
“…imagine that the sounds of the shofar are intended to remind you of [the] agony of
Sarah by recollecting the cause of her grief. Or imagine that they are meant to remind you
of the moaning of Sisera’s mother as it slowly dawns on her that something is dreadfully
wrong. Now imagine how you will feel, what you will think about when next you hear
the shofar. If the Rabbis’ interests in these women, in these stories, in these deeper
meanings had been carried along through the ages within the liturgy of the Rosh
Hashanah services, how differently might we understand and feel Rosh Hashanah today!
If the shofar itself were to become for us a palpable reminder of the power of grief and of

300
Literally, “In the light of Your Presence they are exalted.” Psalms 89:16 adapted into feminine word
forms. It is traditionally recited following the blowing of the shofar.
301
Traditionally this term refers to celestial beings. Zimmern has reinterpreted it to refer to holy midwives.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 104 © 20


love, or of the risks to our loved ones (or to ourselves) that come when acting out of
obedience to God, how might our experience of the shofar service, of Rosh Hashanah
itself, change?”302

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

302
Edwards, pp 25-26.

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Chapter 1-8 – Our Father, Our King
“The worst of the impulses to evil is to forget one’s royal descent.”303

One of the central themes of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy is Malchuyot, reaffirmation of
the sovereignty of God. Just as the shofar was used to announce the coronation of the
kings of Israel and as trumpets still sound fanfares for royalty, we sound shofar to
announce God as our ultimate Ruler.

In the Avinu Malkanu prayer, recited throughout the Yomim Noraim, the metaphor
becomes more intimate; God is not only our King, but also our Father to whom we
beseech, “Avinu Malkanu – our Father, our King, have mercy on us.” God as majesty and
parent are inadequate metaphors for the Divine; finite concepts we grasp in our attempt to
understand aspects of God. While a growing number of egalitarian congregations
translate the verse as “our Parent, our Sovereign,” the anthropomorphication is most
machzorim is decidedly masculine.

Many midrashim compound the metaphor by describing the King’s children as sons – the
princes of the realm. The Hassidic masters, especially, used this imagery in their stories
to explore the meanings of the High Holy Days and of shofar.

The first group of stories relate to the wordless communication between king and
subjects:

A Secret Language
“A king and his son, who had married and had moved to a distant land, carried on a
correspondence which contained many items of a personal nature. In order to prevent the
couriers from intercepting their messages, the two devised a coded language which they
revealed to no one else. Anybody could now read the letters, but would not understand
their hidden meanings.

“On Rosh Hashanah, God – the King – does not want the messages from His son – Israel
– to be intercepted by the Accuser or any of his henchmen. He therefore taught Israel a
secret language – the sounds of the shofar – to use in sending them their personal
message of repentance.”304

Cries without Speaking


“A king's subjects love their king, and when they approach the king to make a request,
his greatness and their veneration for him increase and they are struck with the fear that
they might not speak properly before their king, and that they might give the prosecutor
reason to interfere. Consequently, they make their request only by hinting at it, and then
the king fulfills their request.

303
Rabbi Solomon of Karlin, quoted in Agnon pg. xxvii.
304
Tiferes Uziel quoted in Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers pg 121.

Hearing Shofar – Volume 1 Page 106 © 20


“Likewise, on Rosh Hashanah, when we, the people of Yisrael, go up before the Creator,
great fear and awe overtake us, and we become fearful to speak, for perhaps we might
stumble, Heaven forbid, giving the prosecutor an excuse to disturb us, and that is why we
cry out without speaking.

“In other words, we use the sound of the shofar, which is a simple sound, a great cry from
the depths of the heart. And the Creator, who examines our heart and knows all that is
hidden, fulfills our requests. That is what is meant by ‘O clap your hands, all you
peoples; shout to God with the voice of triumph.’305

“On Rosh Hashanah, when everyone comes to appear before the Creator – we shout in a
single voice, without speaking, for we fear that we might give reason for prosecution; and
the Creator, in His abundant mercy, fulfills the requests of the people of Yisrael.”306

A Remembered Melody
“We can compare this to a king who sent his young wife on a goodwill tour to a distant
country. Wherever she went, she was greeted with great pomp and celebration. She was
so overwhelmed that she momentarily forgot her mission. Days passed; she moved from
party to party, from one testimonial to another. Suddenly, at one affair, as the band
started to play, the queen stood up in surprise as she heard the melody of her wedding
march. She was overcome with emotion as she remembered her wedding day and was
ashamed how quickly she had forgotten her husband’s bidding.

“When we hear the sound of the shofar, we remember the piercing shofar blast of Mount
Sinai and how God had chosen us to be His own. We are overjoyed in our chosenness,
but remorseful for our shortcomings.”307

The stories below explore the theme of exile:

You Can Go Home Again


“A king’s children were once kidnapped. Over a period of time they became friendly
with their abductors and slowly, unwittingly, began to imitate their ways and their
speech. As more time went by they were unaware of the subtle changes that took place in
their character and mannerisms. Nevertheless, this new life-style soon disgusted them and
they longed to return to their royal background.

“When the opportunity presented itself, the princes fled from their captors and made their
way to the king’s palace. But how surprised and distraught they were when the king

305
Psalms 47:2.
306
Kedushat Halevi, from Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak of Berdichev, quoted by Rabbi Michael Berg,
http://groups.google.com/group/soc.culture.jewish/browse_thread/thread/19b76780fbfdd375/2cf2bfb5429c
5088?lnk=st&q=%22who+examines+our+heart%22&rnum=1&hl=en#2cf2bfb5429c5088 May 13, 2006
307
Moshe A. Braun, The Jewish Holy Days: Their Spiritual Significance, page 37, based on the teachings
of Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter – the Sfas Emes.

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ignored their claims that they were his long-lost sons and paid them no heed. At first they
did not realize that the coarse speech and boorish manner they had acquired during their
years of captivity were proof to the king that these were imposters who stood before him.
But after hearing the conversation and observing the actions of the nobility and the court
officers, they understood how different they had become while they were absent from the
king’s palace. It then dawned on them that they did not even ‘speak the same language’
as the king.

“Finally they burst into tears, and the wordless cries that they emitted evoked the king’s
compassion, for he recognized the cries as those of his sons.”308

The Old Tunes


“A noble king enjoyed listening to the lyrical musical compositions his children sang and
played for him. Whenever he was depressed, the sound of his children’s choir,
accompanied by harp and violins, would always cheer him up.

“In the course of time, the princes became disloyal and rebelled against their father.
Infuriated by their folly and arrogance, the king expelled them from his palace, sending
them into exile.

“The princes suffered greatly in their remote exile. They finally came to realize how
badly they had hurt their kind father. Remorseful over their disobedient behavior, the
children sent groups of singers to their father to perform the musical compositions they
used to sing for him as youngsters, hoping that the sound of the old tunes would
reawaken the king’s love for them.”309

The Old Clothes


“This is...the story of a king who went hunting in the forest. He got deep into the forest
and could not find the king’s highway that would lead him back to his palace. Seeing
some countrymen, he asked them the way, but they could not answer him, for they did
not know it either. Finally, he found a wise man, and asked him the way. Realizing whom
the king was, the wise man trembled and showed him to the highway, for he knew the
way. So he led the king back to his kingdom. Now the wise man found great favor in the
eyes of the king, who lifted him up above all the lords of the realm, and clothed him in
costly garments, and ordered his old clothes to be laid in the king’s treasure house.

“Sometime afterward the wise man sinned against the king, who grew wroth and
commanded the lords who stood highest in his kingdom to judge the man as a
transgressor against the king’s commandments. Then the wise man was in sad straits, for
he knew that they would decide against him. So he fell on his face before the king and
pleaded for his life and asked to be allowed before the verdict to put on the same clothes
he had been wearing when he had led the king out of the forest. The king accepted his
request.

308
Toras Avot, from Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers, pg 120.
309
Divrei Yoel, Rosh Hashanah, quoted in Meisel pg 90.

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“And it came to pass when the wise man had put on those clothes, that the king recalled
the great kindness that the wise man had done him by returning him to his palace and to
his royal throne. The king’s compassion was kindled, and the wise man found grace and
kindness in his eyes, and the king allowed his sin to pass unpunished, and returned him to
his position.

“So it is with us, O people of Israel! When the Torah was about to be given, the Holy
One, blessed be he, went from nation to nation, asking them to accept the Torah, but they
would not. We accepted it with such joy and delight that we said, ‘We will do,’ before
‘We will hear.’310 We took the yoke of the kingdom of heaven upon ourselves, and made
Him king over us, and accepted his commandments and his sacred Torah.

“But now, we have transgress and rebelled against him, and on Rosh Hashanah we are
fearful of the Day of Judgment, when he sits in judgment on all the hidden things, and
pronounces the verdict of every man according to his deeds. Therefore we sound the
ram’s horn and put on the same dress we were wearing at the time of the giving of the
Torah, when we accepted the Torah and crowned Him King with the ram’s horn, as it is
written: “And when the sound of the horn waxed louder and louder” 311– in order that He
may remember the aiding merit of ours, forgive us our iniquities and willful
transgressions, vindicate us in judgment, and inscribe us at once for a long and happy
life.”312

As Far as You are Able


“A king’s son was at a distance of a hundred days’ journey from his father. Said his
friends to him, ‘Return to your father.” He said to them, “I cannot.” His father sent to him
and said, “Go as far as you are able, and I shell come the rest of the way to you.” Thus,
the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, ‘Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to
you.’313

“This is how it is with the shofar. We go as far as we can in returning to God. Then, with
the blast of the shofar, we call for God to come the rest of the way.”314

But What about You?


“The shofar proclaims God’s kingdom, and there are two aspects of this proclamation.
One is that God is the absolute ruler of the universe and tends to one and all with
uncompromising judgment. The other is that therefore we are pitifully empty and broken
creatures who constantly need God’s loving-kindness to survive.

310
Exodus 24:7.
311
Exodus 19:19.
312
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, Kedushat Levi, in Agnon pp 64-66. A similar tale in Days of Awe,
Days of Joy pg. 31f cites the source as Hemshech Vekaha 5637 ch. 70.
313
Malachi 3:7.
314
Midrash quoted in Agnon, pg ix.

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“We can compare this to a king’s servant who rebelled against him. He left the palace
and traveled from kingdom to kingdom to find a place where he could live in comfort.
After many months of searching, he returned weary and embarrassed. Begging and
pleading, he was finally allowed to appear before the king. He bowed and said, ‘O great
and mighty king, your rule extends to many lands. Your riches are unsurpassed, and your
palace is replete with a thousand pleasures. Your army is mighty.’ ‘Stop that!’ interrupted
the king. ‘My greatness I’m sure you have not forgotten. But what about you? How do
you feel now about yourself?’ ‘And I,’ continued the former rebel, ‘I am your humble
servant who has nothing in this world, except to serve your royal highness.’

“Similarly, the broken sounds of the shofar remind us of our true conditions as
creatures… If we listen carefully and reassess our condition, then we are worthy of
loving-kindness.”315

The story below also explores exile, but from the perspective of having landmarks so we
know where we are in our exile.

Appointments in Time
“A king was traveling with his child through the wilderness. And when a king travels, his
entire entourage travels along: ministers, guards, attendants and servants, all at the ready
to serve their master and carry out his will. Suddenly, the procession ground to a halt.
The king's child had a request. ‘Water,’ said the crown prince. ‘I want water.’

“The king convened his cabinet to address the crisis. ‘My son is thirsty,’ he said to his
ministers. But how is water to be obtained in the wilderness?

“After much deliberation, two proposals were laid before the throne. ‘I shall dispatch my
ten ablest horsemen on my ten fastest steeds,’ proposed the commander of the royal
cavalry. ‘They will ride to the nearest settlement and fill their waterskins. Within the
hour, there will be water for the prince.’

“‘I shall put my men and equipment to the task,’ proposed the chief of the royal
engineering corps. ‘They will erect a derrick and sink a well right here, on the very spot
at which we have stopped. Before the day is out, there will be water for the prince.’

“The king opted for the latter proposal, and soon the royal engineers were boring a well
through the desert sand and rock. Toward evening they reached a vein of water and the
prince's thirst was quenched.

“‘Why,’ asked the prince of his father, after he had drunk his fill, ‘did you trouble your
men to dig a well in the desert? After all, we have the means to obtain water far more
quickly and easily.’

315
Moshe A. Braun, The Jewish Holy Days: Their Spiritual Significance, page 13, based on the teachings
of Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter – the Sfas Emes.

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“‘Indeed, my son,’ replied the king, ‘such is our situation today. But perhaps one day,
many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone,
without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then, the well we dug today will be here
to quench your thirst.’

“‘But father,’ said the prince, ‘in many years, the sands of time will have refilled the well,
stopping its water and erasing its very memory!’

“‘My son,’ said the king, ‘you have spoken with wisdom and foresight. This, then, is
what we will do. We will mark the site of this well on our maps, and preserve our maps
from the ravages of time. If you know the exact spot at which this well has been sunk,
you will be able to reopen it with a minimum of effort and toil. This we shall do at every
encampment of our journey,’ resolved the king. ‘We shall dig wells and mark their places
on our map. We shall record the particular characteristics of each well and the method by
which it can be reopened. So whenever, and under whatever circumstances, you will
travel this route, you will be able to obtain the water that will sustain you on your
journey.’

“Each festival marks a point in our journey through time at which our Heavenly Father,
accompanying us in our first steps as a people, supplied us with the resources that nurture
our spiritual lives. Like the king in the above parable, told by Chassidic master Rabbi
Yechezkel Panet to explain the soul of the Jewish calendar, God sunk wells at various
points in the terrain of time to serve as perpetual sources of these blessings. As we travel
through the year – the year being a microcosm of the entire universe of time – we
encounter the festivals, each marking the location of a well of nurture for our souls.

“God also provided us with a map of these wells – a calendar denoting their locations in
our journey through time. The map also comes with instructions on how to reopen each
well and access its waters: sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah will regenerate the
divine coronation that transpired on the first Rosh Hashanah when Adam crowned God as
king of the universe… And so it is with every such appointment on our calendar: each
comes supplied with its own mitzvot and observances – the tools that open the well and
unleash the flow of its waters.316

The next two tales are from the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement.
In one, he prescribes sounding shofar with joy, and in the next with a broken heart.
Either will work, according to the spiritual needs of the shofar sounder or hearer.

Gladden the King


“Once, just before the New Year, the Ba’al Shem came to a certain town and asked the
people who read the prayers there in the Days of Awe. They replied that this was done by
the rav of the town. ‘And what is his manner of praying?’ asked the Ba’al Shem. ‘On the

316
Yanki Tauber, content editor of Chabad.org
EXCERPTS www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=332506 May 12, 2006

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Day of Atonement,’ they said, ‘he recites all the confessions of sin in the most cheerful
tones.’

“The Ba’al Shem sent for the rav and asked him the cause of this strange procedure. The
rav answered: ‘The least among the servants of the king, he whose task it is to sweep the
forecourt free of dirt, sings a merry song as he works, for he does what he is doing to
gladden the king.’

“Said the Ba’al Shem: ‘May my lot be with yours.’”317

This reminds us that sounding shofar need not be a dirge. If we are sincere in our
teshuvah, then the shofar blasts should be joyous because we are serving the King.

The Key to the King’s Palace318


“Once the Ba’al Shem Tov dreamed that he was walking outside his hut, and he saw a
tree, shaped like a shofar, twisting in and out of the earth, as if a giant ram’s horn had
taken root. The sight of that great shofar took The Ba’al Shem’s breath away. And in the
dream, the Ba’al Shem gathered all his hasidim together by that tree and told them to see
who among them could sound it. So, one by one, they approached the mouth of that
mighty shofar, but none of them could bring forth a single sound. At last Reb Wolf Kitzes
approached it, and this time a deep and long-sustained blast came forth, like a voice from
deep in the earth. He blew only one note, but it rose up into heaven.

“When the Ba’al Shem awoke, he was still being borne along by that long note, and he
sighed because there was no such shofar in this world, only in the world of dreams.

“The next day the Ba’al Shem called upon Wolf Kitzes and told him that he wanted to
teach him the secret meanings of the blasts of the shofar so that he could serve as the
ba’al tekiah for the High Holy Days. Of course, Wolf Kitzes relished this chance to delve
into the mysteries with The Besht.319 So it was that he learned, over many months, that
every blast of the shofar is a branch of the Tree of Life, and that there are great powers
residing in the shofar. So mighty are its blessings that a note blown with the right
meaning and intensity could rise on a single breath all the way to the Throne of Glory.

“Now Wolf Kitzes listened carefully to the words of the Ba’al Shem, and wrote down the
secret meaning of each and every sound, so that he could remember it precisely as he
blew on the shofar.

317
Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book 1, pg 70.
318
Or Yesharim, Warsaw, 1884 as retold by Howard Schwartz, “The Master Key,” Gabriel’s Palace,
Jewish Mystical Tales, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp 198-199.
319
Besht is an abbreviation of Ba’al Shem Tov.

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“Then it happened that on the day of Rosh Hashanah, when he was about to blow on the
shofar before the Ark for the first time, the notes with all the secret meanings vanished.
He frantically searched for them everywhere, but to no avail.

“Then, weeping bitter tears, he blew on the shofar with his broken heart, without
concentrating on the secret meanings. And the sound of the shofar rose up in long and
short blasts and carried all of their prayers with it into the highest heavens. And everyone
who heard him blow the shofar that day knew that for one moment heaven and earth had
been brought together in the same place.

“Afterwards, the Ba’al Shem said to Wolf Kitzes: ‘In the palace of the king there are
many chambers, and every one has a lock of its own. But the master key is a broken
heart. When a man truly breaks his heart before the Holy One, blessed be He, he can pass
through each and every gate.’”

The next story uses a king simile to give insight into the meaning of shofar blasts.

Broken into Smaller Pieces


“A tekiah is a whole sound, but a teruah is a broken and fragmented and represents stern
judgment. This is like a king who was angered by his son’s behavior and was about to
punish him. The prince’s mentor begged, ‘Please, Your Majesty, don’t punish all at once,
but each time you want to be kind to him, give him a little less.’

“Loving-kindness flows in a steady and uninterrupted steam, like the sound of the tekiah.
Stern judgment, if it were to come all at once, would be unbearable. It is therefore broken
into smaller pieces. Like the shevarim and teruah. But as small pieces, they are no longer
judgment, but bits of kindness instead.”320

The shofar ritual is often described as a memorial to the covenants formed in the Akedah
– the binding of Isaac – and at Mount Sinai. In the final tale, we learn that it is also
linked to an even earlier covenant with God.

The Rainbow
The rainbow has a curved shape similar to that of a shofar. More, “The Zohar teaches:
The rainbow (keshet) was created to protect the world. It is like a king who every time he
gets angry at his son and wants to punish him, the queen appears in her radiant garment.
When the king sees her, his anger at his son disappears. And he rejoices in the queen.

“Rabbi Nachman of Breslov observed: ‘This also corresponds to the shofar blasts… The
mnemonic for this is KeSHeT (rainbow) – i.e., teKiah, SHevarim, Teruah.’ When God
hears shofar, he is reminded of the covenant He made with Noah, ‘I have set my bow in

320
Moshe A. Braun, The Jewish Holy Days: Their Spiritual Significance, page 20, based on the teachings
of Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter – the Sfas Emes.

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the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth,’321 and
shows compassion for His children.”322

In the story of The Rainbow, the queen is a metaphor for the Shechinah – the Divine
presence that carries the feminine energy of God. Perhaps it shows the way towards
developing new midrashim – stories – about shofar and Imeinu Malkatenu – Our Mother,
Our Queen.323

Beyond Kingship
At the height of The Beatles’ popularity, band member Ringo Starr brushed aside a
question about the meaning of one of the band’s songs by saying, “I’m just the
drummer.” As a ba’al tekiah – shofar blower, I often feel in a similar predicament about
the shofar service. I become so drawn into my meditations and prayers for the shofar
blast, that I become all but oblivious to the proceedings around me. From somewhere
above the din of the liturgy, I hear the rabbi inform me that it is time to say the blessing
for shofar, and I return to this plane just long enough to make the blessings and listen for
the makrei – caller – to announce “tekiah.” Like the drummer, I have to know my cues
but not the lyrics.

With this apology, I have recently begun to consider the significance of the words spoken
as part of the shofar services. The shofar service during mussaf – the additional prayer
service of Rosh Hashanah – has three parts: malchuyot – sounding the shofar to announce
the sovereignty of God, zichronot – remembering the covenants between God and the
children of Israel, and shofarot – celebrating the mitzvah of sounding shofar and alluding
to the shofar that sounded when we received Torah and the shofar that will sound with
the arrival of the messianic era. Each of these themes is marked with the reading of
appropriate verses from scripture and the sounding of shofar.

321
Genesis 9:13.
322
Zohar III, 215a, from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan, translated by Moshe Mykoff,
annotated by Chaim Kramer and edited by Moshe Mykoff and Ozer Bergman, Breslov Research Institute,
2003, Lesson 42, Note 3 on page 325 of volume 5.
323
If there are midrashim about The Queen and shofar, I would welcome hearing them. If not, then it is up
to the current and future generations create them.

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While malchuyot – the metaphor of God as sovereign – is very old, it is not a primal part
of the human story. The shofar dates from the time when humans lived in clans and
tribes, long before civilization make it possible for power to be concentrated into a king.

Aside from the anthropomorphication and genderization inherent in referring to God as


“the King,” the imagery of a monarch is not part of my understanding of the Divine.
Trying to circumscribe God as “King of kings” is as meaningless as saying infinity is just
“everything plus one”; the Whole transcends the sum of the parts.

My concern stems, at least in part, from my rejection of the authority of kings in the
temporal realm. I claim faith in the American principle of the rule of law by the people
and the Twelve Step principle that. “Our leaders are but trusted servants.” As a Jew, my
memory of suffering under kings, czars, caesars, emperors, and other high and mighty
magnates leaves me with no desire to tarnish HaShem with their rubric. As God cautions,
“warn [the people] and tell them about the practices of any king who will rule over
them.”324

It is with interest then that I find a recent re-visioning of the shofar service for Rosh
Hashanah. Rabbi Lisa A. Edwards325 points out that zichronot and shofarot are based on
the commandments in Torah “to remember” and “to blow” on the New Year (Leviticus
23:24 and Numbers 29:1) There is, she points out, no similar basis for malchuyot.

Instead of malchuyot in the shofar service, Rabbi Edwards finds instructions in Torah for
a different mitzvah on Rosh Hashanah. The phrase mikra kodesh – appearing in both
Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1 – is usually interpreted to mean, “a holy convocation”
to be sanctified by abstaining from doing work. She points out, however, that mikra
kodesh can also mean, “a public reading of sacred text.” “Convocation” means, “with
voice,” and the root of mikra, translated as “a public reading” is related to the root of
makrei, the caller who announces the shofar blasts.

With these insights from both English and Hebrew, she suggests that the mitzvah of Rosh
Hashanah is not a ritual coronation but to hear our stories.326 This is the meaning that
appears operative in Nehemiah’s description of Rosh Hashanah: “On the first day of the
seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Teachings before the congregation of men and
women and all who could listen with understanding. He read from it…from the first light
to midday, to the men and the women and those who could understand; the ears of all the
people were given to the scroll of the Teaching.”327

In Rabbi Edwards’ re-visioning, the malchuyot portion of the shofar service would be
replaced with blessings and readings that are drawn from wider range of Torah teachings
relating to shofar. In her feminist analysis, many of these teachings would bring stories of

324
I Samuel 8:9. See also verses 8:10 – 8.18.
325
Lisa A. Edwards, A Horn of Plenty: A Re-Vision of the Shofar Service for Rosh Hashanah, thesis,
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, 1994.
326
On the other hand, “coronation” is etymologically related to the Latin word for “horn.”
327
Nehemiah 8:2-3.

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women – such as those in Chapter 6 – The Ewe’s Horn of this book – into more
prominence in the High Holiday liturgy); many of the other Torah teachings on shofar,
found throughout this book, could also be drawn upon.

A dozen years after writing her thesis, Rabbi Edwards has still not implemented her re-
visioning into the minhag – customs of her congregation.328 This underscores that
changing long established liturgy should not happen in haste.

Yet even the awareness of an alternative vision can inform our approach to the Rosh
Hashanah shofar service. I know it has had at least one effect on me: This year, I will try
to hear the scriptural readings of malchuyot even as I prepare to hear the voice of shofar.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

328
E-mail to author, August 2006.

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Chapter 1-9 – Remembering Shofar
“Sound the shofar; hear the aleph in your heart.”329

An idiosyncrasy of the Hebrew calendar is that the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on
Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath (beginning Friday at sunset and lasting until sunset on
Saturday) – in about one year out of three.330 Shabbat, like Rosh Hashanah and the shofar
ritual, is full of meaning, and the conjunction of the three creates a richly textured and
multilayered moment. It also raises a question: Should shofar be blown when Rosh
Hashanah coincides with Shabbat?

In Orthodox Judaism, Shabbat is a time to refrain from all forms of work, including the
playing of musical instruments. This suggests that shofar should not be blown. However,
our sages also say,” Blowing shofar…is just a skill and is not considered creative
labor.”331 Hence, it is not work and, one might think, shofar could be blown on Shabbat.

“The Talmud332 explains…there were six blasts were sounded on Friday afternoon. At the
first sound, the laborers in the fields ceased their work. At the second, shops were closed
and the city laborers ceased their work. The third signaled that it was time to kindle the
Shabbat lights. The fourth, fifth, and sixth formally ushered in the Shabbat. You might
ask – why not seven? Because the seventh sound was the sound of silence, Shabbat
itself.”333

Judaism, however, is built on argument and counter-argument. So a second case against


shofar on Shabbat is made: God forbid, someone might be careless and carry a shofar or
receive training on sounding the horn, thereby violating the Sabbath.334

Nu! What if the shofar blower practiced ahead of time so last moment instructions were
not required, and took precautions to make sure the shofar was brought to the place of
worship before Shabbat. Then surely it would be acceptable to blow shofar despite the
Sabbath.

Not so, the retort goes. Shabbat is a day when we are already cloaked in special holiness
and have no need for the intercession of shofar in our prayers.

“The Gemara says if one visits a sick person on Shabbat, he should say to the patient,
‘May the Shabbat have compassion.’335 This indicates that the kedushah (holiness) of

329
Aleph is a silent letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Lyric by Hanna Tiferet, quoted in When Rosh HaShanah
Falls on Shabbat, Daniel Siegel, Ed., ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, 2002
330
The second day of Rosh Hashanah never occurs on Shabbat.
331
Rosh Hashanah 29b. According to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, “…the Talmud Yerushalmi accepts the
argument that it is a Biblical commandment to refrain from blowing the shofar on Shabbat.” Dof Yomi,
January 3, 2007, http://www.steinsaltz.org/dynamic/DafYomi_details.asp?Id=495, November 5, 2007.
332
Shabbat 35b.
333
Rabbi David Lerner, http://templeemunah.org/node/3887, October 12, 2007.
334
See Rosh Hashanah 29.

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Shabbat has the power to bring recovery. When Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, there is
no need to blow the shofar – for the Shabbat itself arouses Heavenly compassion.”336

And this position is rejoined, in turn, by those who feel that the sanctity of the shofar
elevates the observance of Shabbat and besides, Talmud even says the shofar was
employed in the Temple on Shabbat.

Sensing that the “antidisemploymentarianist” has walked into a trap, the Shabbat-totaler
declares, “Precisely; shofar was blown in the Temple, not in unwalled cities.”337 To
which, with equal faith in the truth of his argument, the pro-blower replies, “I know, but
the Torah says we must blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah but nowhere does it say we must
not blow on Shabbat.

And so the halachic debate over Jewish law rages back and forth.

Shofar on Shabbat at Sinai and Jericho


The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, accompanied by blasts of shofar, is considered to
have occurred on Shabbat.

During the siege of Jericho described in the book of Joshua, we read that the priests
carried and blew shofarot for seven consecutive days. This means that they carried and
blew shofarot on Shabbat. (Some even say that the walls of Jericho fell on Shabbat.338)
What can we learn from this about blowing shofar on Shabbat in contemporary practice?

I invite you to create your own midrash – interpretation on these teachings and their
relationship, if any, to blowing shofar in our times on Shabbat.

One or Two Days


Or more precisely, so the debate rages among Jews who do not observe Rosh Hashanah
as a two-day long event. For example, many Reform congregations observe only the first
day of the New Year. For them, omitting shofar in deference to Shabbat would mean
congregants would not hear the shofar at all, leaving their New Year’s observance
seemingly incomplete.

Based on anecdotal evidence, most single-day shuls sound the shofar at the appointed
time just as they would when Rosh Hashanah does not fall on Shabbat. But others have
adopted innovative strategies that reconcile the traditions of both Shabbat and Rosh
Hashanah. Some, for example, blow shofar late Friday evening before welcoming
Sabbath. And others wait until Saturday evening, ending the day with Havdalah – the
ritual ending Shabbat, and then blow shofar.

335
Shabbat 12a.
336
Divrei Chaim, the Sanzer Rav, quoted in Meisels, pg 127.
337
Rosh Hashanah 29b.
338
www.azamra.org/Bible/Joshua%205-6.htm, March 21, 2007.

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In congregations that observe both days of the Holy Day, foregoing shofar on the first
day is balanced by the seemingly heighten import of the second day’s blasts. Yet one
only receives the benefit of this trade-off by attending both days of services, and many
shuls report that second-day attendance is significantly less than first-day attendance.

Nouns and Verbs


The debate over whether shofar should be blown on Shabbat misses the mark, as Torah
offers a way to have our shofar and Shabbat too.

There are two verses in Torah regarding the shofar on the New Year. One seems to
demand blowing shofar:

“You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded.”339

The other, however, tells us that the mitzvah of the day is to:

“…zachor – remember – loud blasts.”340

Shofar is just one of many things Torah commands us to remember. Another is the
Sabbath. The fourth of the Ten Commandments is to remember the Sabbath. There is a
profound link between these two remembrances since the Commandments were given at
Mt. Sinai as the “voice of the Shofar grew louder and louder.”341

Just as the noun, “shofar,” appears in Torah as the object of two verbs: “blow” and
“remember,” “Shabbat” is also the object of two verbs: “keep”342 and “remember.” It is
as if, when we “keep” Shabbat on Rosh Hashanah, we are to “remember” shofar. And
when we “blow” shofar, we are to “remember” Shabbat and the other commandments
given at Sinai while the shofar blew.

Keep Shabbat  Remember Shofar


Remember Shabbat  Blow Shofar

God Blows Shofar for Us343


“The Torah exempts one who is unavoidably prevented from performing a mitzvah.344
Perhaps the Gemara means to tell us that since this person cannot fulfill the mitzvah, the
Torah fulfills it for him. When Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, and we are prevented
from doing the mitzvah of blowing the shofar – HaShem Himself blows the shofar for us!
He does it in the most accomplished manner, with all the mystical intentions, so Klal
Yisrael should be granted a good year.”

339
Numbers 29:1.
340
Leviticus 23:24.
341
Exodus 19:19.
342
Deuteronomy 5:12.
343
Reb Bunim of Pshis’cha quoted in Meisels, pg 127
344
Baba Kamma 28b.

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Active Remembering
It would be wrong to assume that blowing shofar is “active” and remembering is
“passive.” Remembering, like active listening, takes full effort. Making the effort can
help you do the work of teshuvah – the repentance or realignment that the High Holy
Days can foster.

As one spiritual leader describes this:

“There will be times when re-enactment is appropriate and there are times when
you will have only memory. You will remember the sound without actually
hearing the sound. Instead you will focus on the sound by being acutely aware of
its absence. It will be through the force of your mind alone that God will be
removed from the throne of judgment to the throne of mercy. It will be through
your concentration alone and not through the intermediary of the shofar. This
Shabbat, for those who do not hear the shofar, our memory has to be enough, for
it is our minds and hearts that truly have to do the work.”345

Using our minds and hearts to create transformation is embedded in the spiritual renewal
of the High Holy Days. Standing in confession, we remember our sins so vividly they
become as palpable as our pounding of our chests. As we pray for forgiveness, we create
a visualization of the life we vow to create for ourselves. Visualization is a powerful
psychological mechanism. It is used by motivational coaches who tell us that what we
visualize is what we become, and by athletes who use visualization as an adjunct to
physical training. If one listens with attention to the remembered or imagined voice of
shofar, the experience is as real and as spiritually effective as audible shofar blasts.346

Silent Shofar Blowing


“So we're not excused today from HEARING the shofar, just from BLOWING it… But
how do we [remember the blowing of the shofar]? Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi cites
the verse in the Song of Songs that says in Hebrew “Kol dodi dofek,” I hear the voice of
[my] beloved knocking. But “dofek" in modern Hebrew can mean a heart-beat or pulse,
“defika.” In this understanding, I am the lover and God is my beloved. And if I wish to
hear the voice of my beloved, I don't need e-mail or Sprint or a pager or voice-mail. I
simply touch my pulse, and with each beat of my pulse I can feel and hear the rhythmic
“I love you" from the One who created me and brought [me into] existence.

345
Rabbi Avi Weinstein, http://www.hillel.org/jewish/archives/special/roshhashana/2002_roshhashana.htm,
March 19, 2007.
346
According to Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), pg. 31, “Since the mid-1990s,
studies...using increasingly sophisticated brain-imaging techniques have shown that imaging music can
indeed activate the auditory cortex almost as strongly as listening to it.” Sacks quotes a study by Alvaro
Pascual-Leone ("The Brain that Makes Music and is Changed by It,” The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music,
ed. Isabelle Peretz and Robert Zatorre, pp 396-409, Oxford University Press) that goes further; "The
combination of mental and physical practice...leads to greater performance improvement than does physical
practice alone."

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“In a moment we will rise for our silent shofar blowing. In the moments of the silent
shofar, I will call out the names of the notes and will suggest where we focus our
listening with each call. Following this first tekiah, I suggest that we draw our attention to
the aching silence of the oppressed men, women and children whose cries, perhaps, have
become too familiar. TEKIAH.

“In this next call, shevarim, I suggest that we all draw our attention to the silent aspects
of our own beings, our own neshamas, our souls, whom we haven't been able to listen to
because we've been too busy surfing the web of our minds. Our shattered selves will be
the focus of shevarim. SHEVARIM.

“In the next call, teruah, I suggest we draw our attention to those individuals who are not
here with us today because they are not well, and are in need of healing and support,
healing of the mind, and a healing of the spirit. TERUAH.

“And in this final tekiah gedolah, we will let our mind go to the silence that calls each
one of us personally in, the one distinct way that God calls to each and everyone of us.
Please join me in calling the tekiah gedolah. TEKIAH GEDOLAH.”347

Hearing the Silence of Shofar


Silence has an honored place in the Jewish meditative and spiritual traditions. While
Torah begins the story of creation with bet, the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, our
mystics say that the world really came into being with aleph – the silent first letter of the
Hebrew alphabet, the sound of God anthropomorphically inhaling before speaking.

It is in silence that we often hear the answers to prayers, and this experience can be
especially powerful in the silence of the unblown shofar.

While the Orthodox Jewish liturgy omits the shofar service altogether when Rosh
Hashanah and Shabbat coincide, other communities have found meaningful ways to
retain the ritual without violating the Sabbath. At places in the liturgy where shofar
would normally be blown, have the makrei – the individual who calls out the shofar
blasts before they are sounded –cries out, “tekiah.” But instead of hearing blasts of
shofar, hear the blasts of silence that fill the synagogue.

In the silence following the makrei’s cry of “shevarim,” hear the silence that breaks your
heart.

In the silence following the cry of “teruah,” allow silence too shatter resistance to
teshuvah.

And in the silence following the cry of “tekiah gedolah,” the silence of the aleph that
precedes creation, hear the rebirth of the world.

347
R' Yair Hillel Goelman, September 30, 2000, www.orshalom.ca/goelman.silence.html, January 3, 2008.

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Listen to the silence. Hear the silence.

In the voice of the silent shofar, hear the voice of God.

“Where in a traditional synagogue the place for the blasts is simply skipped, I chose to
leave a period of silence in place of each set of blasts. I suggested to the congregation
that, just as the prophet Elijah heard the voice of God not in the loud blasts of storm or
earthquake, but rather in the kol d’mamah dakah – the ‘still, small voice,’ we would
pause to listen to the silence that Shabbat afforded us, and let it be our call to
awakening.”348

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches a technique of silent screaming that can readily be
adopted to hearing the silent shofar’s voice:

“You can scream without anyone hearing you shouting with this soundless ‘still small
voice.’ …Just imagine the sound of such a scream in your mind. Depict the shout in your
imagination exactly as it would sound. Keep this up until you are literally screaming with
this soundless ‘still small voice.”

“This is an actual scream and not mere imagination. Just as some vessels bring the sound
from your lungs to your lips, others bring it to the brain. You can draw the sound through
these nerves, literally bringing it into your head. When you do this…the sound actually
rings inside your brain.

“It is much easier to shout this way without words. When you wish to express words, it is
much more difficult to hold the voice in the mind...”349

Alternative Ways to Sound Shofar without Blowing Shofar


Another way to remember the voice of shofar is to recreate it with the human voice.
Vocal expression is allowed on Shabbat even when the playing of an instrument is not.
This technique is not only useful on Shabbat, but also when – God forbid – there is not a
shofar or shofar blower available.

In one realization of this alternative, an individual can become the shofar for a
community. His or her voice does not have to be beautiful, but the human shofar’s
kavanah must be true to the spirit of sounding shofar. The experience can have an even
greater visceral power if all members of the congregation sound-off together. Coming
from the gut, the shofar sounds become a primal scream in which each of us individually,
and all of us collectively, can petition God unencumbered by words.

348
Rabbi Larry Bach, “Remembering the Sabbath,” http://www.templemountsinai.com/
uploads/57020030927labsermon.pdf, October 12, 2007.
349
Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom (Sichos HaRan) by Reb Noson of Nemirov,
www.breslov.org/torah/wisdom/10-19.html, December 26, 2008.

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Words, however, can also be used to emulate the shofar calls. On one Shabbat of Rosh
Hashanah, I got to be the makrei at my congregation, Makom Ohr Shalom. I divided the
congregation into four sections, and assigned each section to one of the following
phrases:

1. For the initial Tekiah: “LISTEN.”


2. For Teruah: “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”
3. For Shevarim: “NOW IS THE TIME FOR TESHUVAH.”
4. For the closing Tekiah: “LISTEN.” 350

As I called the traditional sequence of shofar blasts, each quadrant of the congregation
voiced their shofar message:

Listen. Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Now is the time for teshuvah. Listen.
Listen. Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Listen.
Listen. Now is the time for teshuvah. Listen

Finally, when I called “Tekiah Gedolah,” each person shouted whatever he or she needed
to say to God in that moment. Fully invigorated by the meditative chanting, some asked
for health, some gave blessings, and others shrieked sounds that had meaning only to
God.

By becoming the shofar, we all heard the shofar.

The Shofar Blower’s Sabbath


I want to add one final note to this exploration of the nexus of shofar and Shabbat. As a
shofar blower, not blowing shofar on Shabbat allows me to focus on the prayers and the
readings that are part of the musaf service, parts of the liturgy that I usually miss because
I am focused on preparing to blow shofar.

The Inner Recesses of One’s Heart351

“When Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the blowing of the shofar is a sublime, spiritual
action that must take place in the inner recesses of one's heart, and in the depths of one's
soul.

“‘Blow the shofar on the day of new moon...’ 352

“In Hebrew, ‘Tiku ba'chodesh shofar, ba'keseh l'yom chagainu,’ literally ‘Blow the
shofar when the moon is covered,’ i.e. small – the 1st day of the month. The acrostic of

350
Hebrew phrases can also be used. For example: “Shema.” “Ku me! Ku me! Ku me!” “L’zman hazeh
l’teshuvah.” “Shema.”
351
Rabbi Binyomin Adilman, B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Rosh Hashanah 5760,
www.kabbalaonline.org/Holydays/roshkippur/The_Shabbat_Shofar.asp, May 4, 2007.
352
Psalms 81:4.

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the verse contains the letters tav, beit, shin, beit, which, when rearranged, spell ‘b’
Shabbat’ – ‘on Shabbat’. On Shabbat the blowing of the shofar is in a covered, hidden
way. One may still reach the deepest levels of the mitzvah of shofar, yet without the
actual shofar. They are accomplished in a hidden place; in one's heart and through one's
intentions.

“‘Happy is the nation that knows teruah (the shofar blast), they walk in the light of your
countenance, God.’ 353

“The Zohar points out that the verse doesn't state, ‘happy is the nation that hears teruah,’
or ‘happy is the nation that blows teruah,’ but ‘happy is the nation that knows teruah’.354

“‘The first day of the seventh month shall be a sacred holiday to you when you may not
do any mundane labor. It shall be a day of Teruah for you.’355

“When Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat, a Jew must make it a day of teruah in its
inner dimension. A Jew must shatter his stony heart into pieces until his ego is
completely nullified and he can honestly declare, “I, and everything that I possess, is for
God alone.” The Zohar speaks about a watchman who points out each Jew to the
heavenly court, ‘This one did this mitzvah, and this one committed this transgression’.
But when a Jews appears before God with a broken heart, his ego erased and his only
desire to do the will of God, then there is no ‘one,’ no individual who can be accused of
any transgression. The severity of the judgment has been sweetened and has nowhere to
make itself manifest.”

The Shofar’s Three Distinctive Ring Tones Won’t be Heard356

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

353
Psalms 89:16.
354
Zohar III, 233b.
355
Numbers 29:1.
356
Advertisement for lecture by Rabbi Benjy Brackman at Chabad House, Westminster, CO,
www.jewishboulder.com/page.html?ArticleID=64963, November 17, 2007.

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PART FOUR – The Shofar of Yom Kippur
“You shall count off seven weeks of years – seven times seven years – so that the period
of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the
shofar loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month – the Day of Atonement
– you shall have the shofar sounded throughout your land and you shall hallow the
fiftieth year. You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It
shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holdings and each of you shall
return to his family.”357

The Hebrew for the highlighted phrase is, “V'haavarto SHofar Tru'oh Bachodesh
Hashvii.” The initial letters of these words can be rearranged to spell out “teshuvah” and
represent the call of the shofar for people to repent.358

[G’mar] Chatimah Tovah – May you be sealed for a good year.359

357
Numbers 25:9.
358
Chesed l'Avrohom.
359
US Dept. of Defense clip art. www.defenselink.mil/afis/editors/lineart/YomKippur03.jpg, January 13,
2008.

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Chapter 1-10 – The Dinner Bell and One Last Blast
“Blessed are You, Lord, who separates between the holiness of sacred time and
the holiness of secular time.”360

Shofar is so central to the soundtrack of Rosh Hashanah that it has come to play second
fiddle in the score of Yom Kippur. True, Torah mandates a shofar recital annually for
Rosh Hashanah blasts and only once in fifty years on Yom Kippur – the blasts during
non-Jubilee years being a rabbinic invention. Yet, there is intense spiritual, emotional,
and dramatic significance to Yom Kippur’s shofar. If we have to sound 100 blasts on
Rosh Hashanah and only one blast on Yom Kippur, perhaps it is because the single blast
of Yom Kippur has 100 times the efficacy.

Referring to the Jubilee, Torah says:

“Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the
month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the horn sounded throughout
your land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year.”361

The Hebrew word translated as “sound” is “teruah.” In the context of Rosh Hashanah,
teruah is a broken, shattered note. But on Yom Kippur, the custom in most Jewish
communities is to sound one mighty tekiah gedolah – an extended single blast of shofar –
at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. (Other congregations sound a ten-blast shofar sequence
as a memorial to the Jubilee; see Chapter 12 – The Jubilee and the Prophet’s Words.)

“The straight sound of the tekiah symbolizes the tzaddik, while the broken, wavering
sound of shevarim-teruah represents the wicked. On Rosh Hashanah, when the tzaddikim
have been inscribed for life, there are still those who are ‘in-between’ – people whose
decrees are still pending – as well as evildoers who are inscribed for death. Therefore we
blow both tekiah and shevarim-teruah. But on Yom Kippur we are confident that the ‘in-
between’ people have been judged favorably. Now all are tzaddikim. We therefore blow
only a tekiah, the straight sound of the tzaddik.”362

Compositionally, this blast is a magnificent coda to the musical motif of the High Holy
days, reprising a theme introduced during Elul and given full expression in the blasts of
Rosh Hashanah. It provides a rousing “AMEN” to all the prayers of the Days of Awe.

The sense of this is captured in the following extract:

“…Esther dreamed away the long grey day, only vaguely conscious of the stages
of the service – Morning dovetailing into Afternoon service, and Afternoon into
Evening; of the prostrations full length on the floor; of the rhyming poems with

360
Paraphrased blessings for havdalah ritual marking the separation of Shabbat and the rest of the week.
361
Leviticus 25:9.
362
Chochmas Shlomo, Orach Chaim 623:6, quoted in Meisels pg 254.

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their recurring burdens shouted in devotional frenzy, with special staccato phrases
flung heavenwards; of the wailing confessions of communal sin, with their
accompaniment of sobs and tears and beatings of the breast…

“Suddenly, there fell a vast silence… It was as if all creation paused to hear a
pregnant word.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!’ sang the cantor frenziedly.

“And all the ghostly congregation answered with a great cry, ‘Hear, O Israel, the
Lord our God, the Lord is One!’

“They seemed like a great army of the sheeted dead risen to testify to the Unity.
The magnetic tremor that ran through the synagogue thrilled the lonely girl to the
core, and from her lips came in rapturous surrender to an over-mastering impulse
the half-hysterical protestation: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is
One!’

“And then, in the brief instant while the congregation, with ever ascending
rhapsody, blessed God till the climax came with the seven-fold declaration, ‘The
Lord, He is God,’ the whole history of her strange, unhappy race flashed through
her mind in a whirl of resistless emotion. She was overwhelmed by the thought of
its sons in every corner of the earth proclaiming to the somber twilight sky the
belief for which its generations had lived and died. The grey dusk palpitated with
floating shapes of prophets and martyrs, scholars and sages and poets, full of a
yearning love and pity, lifting hands of benediction…

“The roar dwindled to a solemn silence. Then the ram’s horn shrilled – a stern
long-drawn-out note that rose at last into a mighty peal of sacred jubilation. The
Atonement was complete.”363

What else, other than shofar, could possibly provide the grand finale needed to conclude
such a day?

During Elul, we sound shofar in early morning. On Rosh Hashanah, we sound shofar at
midday. It is only fitting that the shofar of Yom Kippur be at sunset so the entire day can
hear shofar.

A Havdalah
Shofar issues a wake-up call. On Rosh Hashanah, the call is meant to wake us spiritually.
On Yom Kippur, however, shofar’s wake up call makes havdalah – a separation – to
summon us back from the altered consciousness of prayer, meditation, and fasting to the
physical world so we can return to our homes, our work, and the ordinary holiness of the

363
Israel Zangwill, Children of the Ghetto, 1892 as excerpted in The Authorized Daily Prayer Book,
Revised Edition, Joseph H. Hertz, pp 936-937.

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rest of the year. “God may ascend,” as we read in our Machzor, but we have to become
grounded so we can begin building our sukkot for our celebration of being part of the
earth.364

During Yom Kippur, we become like the angels who neither eat nor drink; all our
attention is focused on prayer without regard for our physicality. If we stepped out of the
shul in this condition, without waking up, we would be in danger of being caught off
guard by the hazards that lurk on the mortal plane.365 While I understand this in the
pragmatic sense of not looking both ways before crossing a street, the sages explain the
same phenomenon in more mystical terms:

“Throughout Yom Kippur, the yetzer hara [evil inclination, Satan] was powerless.
Now that Yom Kippur is over, he is returning full force. So we confuse him with
the shofar blast, reminding him of the coming final redemption when, “a great
shofar will be sounded’366 – and the yetzer hara will die.”367

It has also been said that, “the blast of the shofar announces that it is nightfall, time to
prepare the meal for the hungry family after the fast.”368 Like a dinner bell, it calls us to
partake of the break fast, a meal that the sages tell us that is as important as the fast itself.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, we hear its blast and begin to salivate; at last the fast is over and we
can eat.

Its loud blast had a practical value, too; I can imagine our mothers in the shtetls –
villages, – hearing the tekiah gedolah from the village’s shul and knowing that Papa
would soon be home, it was time for the kinderlach – children – to wash and come to the
table.

The shofar blast is a reprise of the High Holy Day theme of malchuyot, our acceptance of
the majesty of God. Just as the King or Queen is welcomed with a fanfare, protocol calls
for trumpets while the Ruler of the Universe “leaves” the stage. The tekiah gedolah at the
close of Yom Kippur symbolizes that “the Shechinah, which dwelled among us
throughout Yom Kippur, is returning to the higher realms. ‘God has ascended with the
blast; HaShem with the sound of the shofar.’369”370

364
The holiday of Sukkot begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur. If Elul is a warm-up for the Days of
Awe, many experience Sukkot as a cooling off period and an essential part of the cycle of holy days. Many
sources recommend commencing construction of a sukkah immediately after the Yom Kippur so one can
go from one mitzvah to the next,
365
Hannah Chusid teaches that this is why give the blessing, “yasher koach – May you have strength!” to
someone who performs a mitzvah; that it is exactly when someone is in a most holy state that they are most
vulnerable.
366
Isaiah 27:13.
367
Levush 623, quoted by Meisels, pg 253.
368
Tosafos Shabbos 114B, s.v. ve’amai as quoted in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Secrets pg 253.
369
Psalms 47:6
370
Rabbi Dovid Meisels, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Secrets, pg 253

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This imagery recalls the revelation at Sinai and provides insight into why the long blast
was selected to end Yom Kippur: 371 In preparation for theophany, God instructs Moses to
set boundaries around the mountain to caution the people against trespassing. Afterwards,
“When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.”372 This long
blast “would be the signal that the Manifestation was at an end, and the mountain had
resumed its ordinary character.”373

“According to the Kotzker Rebbe, after the shofar blew following the revelation of the
Torah, HaShem told Moshe to send the Jewish People back to their tents. The true test
would now begin. It wasn't difficult to serve HaShem in His Presence at Mount Sinai. But
what would we do when we got home? This is a direct parallel to Yom Kippur (which is
also the anniversary of the giving of the second set of ‘Tablets’). It is easy to make
promises on the awesome day of Yom Kippur. It is easy to be holy on the holiest day of
the year. But the shofar reminds us that HaShem wants to see what we will do when we
go home.”374

The tekiah gedolah is a sonic mikvah – spiritual bath – that washes us with echoes from
forty days worth of prayers. We extend the tekiah gedolah for as long as possible so that
we have one final chance for teshuvah before the gates close. As Rabbi Debra Orenstein
says, “It only takes a single instant for that change of heart that can lead to teshuvah; let
the shofar blast be that moment.” The protracted cry also gives God an few extra
moments on the Seat of Mercy so we can be sealed us for a good year.

“The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah says that when we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah,
God rises from His Throne of Justice and moves to His Throne of Mercy. At the
conclusion of Yom Kippur, when God in His Mercy judged us favorably, we take along
the shofar which defended us and pleaded on our behalf.”375

The blowing of shofar during fasts (see Book 3 of Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice
of the Ram’s Horn), also factors into the shofar blasts of Yom Kippur. But in the final
analysis, the shofar of Yom Kippur is sounded in joy and not with the trepidation
associated with fasts. Two verses from Torah make clear that we are to sound Yom
Kippur’s shofar with jubilation (a word that even derives from a Hebrew word for horn,
yovel):

“And on your joyous occasions…you shall sound trumpets…”376

371
Taz 623:2, cited by Rabbi Yossi Marcus, www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=563&o=553, December 9,
2006
372
Exodus 19:13.
373
The Authorized Daily Prayer Book, Revised Edition, Joseph H. Hertz, Note to Exodus 19:13, page 293
374
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon, Jewish Answers (Writers Club Press, August 2000), cited at
www.rabbijablon.com/jewishanswersneilah.htm, January 16, 2008.
375
Sefer HaTanya 426:2 quoted in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Secrets, pg 254.
376
Numbers 10:1-10.

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“Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the… seventh month shall become an
occasion for joy and gladness, a happy festival for the House of Judah...”377

More, we blow in the gladness that comes from knowing our fate has been sealed and
that we will accept whatever comes with gratitude as the will of God.

The Yom Kippur Flutist

The following story of the Ba’al Shem Tov captures the spirit of how, in the waning hours
of Yom Kippur, shofar can liberate our prayers and lift them up to God.

“There was once a villager who always used to come for the Days of Awe to pray in the
House of Study of the Ba’al Shem Tov of blessed memory. He had a son who was very
slow-witted and was unable to learn the shape of the letters or to recite any word of
holiness. And his father would not take him along to the city on the Days of Awe because
he knew nothing. But when he reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, his father took him along
on Yom Kippur so that he should be with him and that he should watch over him lest he
eat something on that holy day because of his lack of knowledge and understanding.

“And the boy had a flute he would always play while he was sitting in the field and
watching the flock and the calves. And he took along the flute in his coat pocket, and his
father did not know about it. The boys sat during the prayer in the House of Study and
could not utter a ward. During the Musaf [additional] prayer he said to his father: “Father
I have my flute with me, and I want very much to blow it.” His father got very frightened
and rebuked him and said to him, ‘Beware, and guard your soul from doing such a thing!’
And the boy had to restrain himself.

“At the time of the Minha [afternoon] prayer he again said: ‘Father, let me make a sound
and play my flute.’ The father cursed him with a strong curse and warned him with a
great warning that he should not dare to do such a thing, but he could not take away the
flute from the boy because it was forbidden to touch it on the holy day.

“After the Minha prayer the boy again said to his father: ‘What ever happens, let me play
some notes on the flute!’ And when the father saw that his desire was great and that his
soul yearned very much to play the flute, he said to his son: ‘Where are you keeping the
flute?’ And the boy showed him, and he grabbed the flute in the pocket through the coat
thus to prevent his son from taking it out. And thus he recited the Neila [closing] prayer,
and with his hand he held the pocket of his son’s coat with the flute.

“In the midst of the prayer the boy tore the flute from his pocket and from the grasp of his
father and let out a powerful note from the flute. And all the people who heard it were
astounded. And the Ba’al Shem, contrary to his custom, finished his prayer quickly and
said: ‘This boy with the voice of his flute lifted up all the prayers and eased my burden.’
And he said that since the boy could not utter a word of prayer, when throughout the holy

377
Zachariah 8:19.

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day he saw and heard the fervent prayers of Israel, a holy spark was ignited in him and
burned in him like fire. He who knows can clothe this burning holiness into words of
prayer before Him, may he be blessed, but he knows nothing and found no way to slake
his thirst except by playing the flute before Him, blessed be He. But his father prevented
him, and the fire of desire burned in him more and more strongly until it veritably
consumed his soul, and because of the power of his yearning he played the flute with a
true concentration of his heart, without turning aside, in complete purity, for His name,
blessed be He. And the Merciful One wants the heart. And the pure breath of his mouth
was accepted with delight before Him, blessed be He, and thus he lifted up all the
prayers.” 378

Another adds that the Ba’al Shem Tov said.” It is not what one does but what his
intentions are that count.”379

Atonement Songs
by Judith Rafaela380

The wild sound of the shofar


pierces my skin and opens my heart.
And I’m wild for tunes in a minor key
that vibrate my tailbone and belly
and echo out across a synagogue packed
with doubters and believers
who come together in whiteness
one day of the year to hear
archaic bizarre legal formulas and prayers.
Sexist, racist, but still...
Dressed up in sounds they open our path.
Just for that moment in our fasting, light-headedness,
open us to rich tones—
Simple melodies that convey truths or fictions
about our fate.
We have free choice, but yet
our fate is sealed this Wednesday night at sundown.
I’m wild about the sun going down and I’m starving and
the gates of heaven are closing
and there’s just few minutes.
Wait, don’t close.

378
Q’hal Hasidim beHadash, pp 11-12, translated by Raphael Patai in Gates to the Old City, pp 671-672.
Story also told in Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book 1, pg 69f. Agnon, pg. 168 – 270 attributes story to
Kehal Hasidim he-Hadash. A similar story, attributed to Nachlei Binah P. 317 #632 Tehillim Ben Beiti,
Rabbi Eliezer of Komarno, is told at www.hasidicstories.com/Stories/Later_Rebbes/rosh.html, May 11,
2006.
379
From a variant of the same story in Mintz, Legends of the Hasidim, pg. 338.
380
From Another Desert: Jewish Poetry of New Mexico, edited by Joan Logghe and Miriam Sagan,
www.shermanasher.com/poetry.html. Fall 2006.

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Wait for my prayer. I’ll be better.
Forgive me. Next year. Wait.
Reduced to childlike quaking, we sing incantations
from an earlier time:
three times Baruch Shem
seven times Adonai Hu Elohim and then,
and then the piercing longed for
wail of pain blown up to the heavens
it’s getting dark, and
seven Amens.

“We hear so much in the final blast of the shofar – the royal sovereign is present,
messianic hope is evoked, the ram has been substituted, we are awake, aroused from our
slumber, we are called to continuous struggle, we are celebrating and rejoicing, we are
crying and releasing everything that has transpired in this long day.”381

The Prophetic Voice


Several of the scriptural readings prescribed for Yom Kippur provide clues to the
meaning of the shofar of Yom Kippur. The readings tell us, among other things, to:
• Choose life (Leviticus 16, Yom Kippur morning Torah portion),
• Raise our voices against injustice (Isaiah 57:14 - 58:14, Yom Kippur morning
Haftorah),
• Wake up to our responsibilities, and
• Move beyond fear and constriction to serve the greater good (Jonah, Yom Kippur
afternoon Haftorah).

Other clues to shofar’s meaning can be heard in the shofar that was blown on Yom
Kippur at the end of each 50-year cycle to announce the commencement of the Jubilee
(Leviticus 25).

These themes are explored in the chapters that follow.


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381
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, Elkins pg 306

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Chapter 1-11 – Azazel and the Goat that is Set Free
“Such a tiny scapegoat for such a huge load of sins!”382

In Torah, we are commanded to blow shofar on Yom Kippur only once in a fifty-year
cycle, on the Jubilee. But there is a Yom Kippur ritual that is required annually, the ritual
of the two goats, one sacrificed on the altar and the other sent to Azazel. While the ritual
is no longer practiced since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we still observe
the ritual as “a law for all time”383 by making its story the traditional Torah reading for
Yom Kippur morning. The story about these two horned animals resonates within my
psyche throughout the day and becomes interwoven with my experience of the sounding
of shofar at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The shofar is their horn and its blast the bleat
of their voice, and hearing the horn keeps the archaic ritual alive and meaningful for me.

The ritual was part of the High Priest’s preparations for entering the Holy of Holies in the
Sanctuary to consummate his confession and atonement on behalf of the People. The
relevant passage is:

“And from the Israelite community he shall take two he-goats for a sin offering…
Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the
entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one
marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. Aaron shall bring forward
the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering.
While the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the
Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel…
He shall then slaughter the people’s goat of sin offering, bring its blood behind
the curtain, and…he shall sprinkle it over the cover and in front of the cover. Thus
he shall purge the Shrine of the uncleanness and transgression of the Israelites,
and he shall do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which abides with them in the
midst of their uncleanness… he shall take some of the blood…of the goat and
apply it to each of the horns of the altar, and the rest of the blood he shall sprinkle
on it with his finger seven times…

“When he has finished purging the Shrine, the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, the
live goat shall be brought forward. Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head
of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the
Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be
sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. Thus shall the goat carry on
it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the
wilderness… He who set the Azazel-goat free shall wash his clothes and bathe his
body in water; after that he may reenter the camp.”384

382
Yoma 6:4 quoted in Elkins pg 117.
383
A phrase used with the Yom Kippur reading three times, at Leviticus 16:29. 31, and 34.
384
Leviticus 16:5-26.

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Torah contains many injunctions for sacrifices as sin offerings. This verse also parallel’s
another in which one animal is killed and another released:

“If the priest sees that that the leper has been healed of his scaly affliction, the
priest shall order two live clean birds… The priest shall order one of the birds
slaughtered… and he shall take the live bird… and dip the…live bird in the blood
of the bird that was slaughtered… He shall…set the live bird free in the open
country.”385

In both instances, we may ask what does the release of the animal signify? And for the
Yom Kippur reading, we may – perhaps even should – ask what is Azazel and what does
it mean to be “marked for Azazel”?

The Original Scapegoat


To simplify thousands of years of rabbinic and scholarly debate, Azazel is either
understood to be either the place where the goat was sent, or a demonic “power” to which
it was sent.

Scapegoat shown being thrown to a demon Azazel.386

If a place, Azazel is “an inaccessible region” or wilderness destination from which it was
unlikely that the sin-laden goat would return. A minor rearrangement of the Hebrew
letters in “Azazel” gives it the meaning of “hardest of the mountains” and suggests the
cliff from which the goat was, in the time of the Second Temple, pushed.387

If a demon, sending a goat for Azazel may be seen as an attempt to satiate Satan or other
demonic forces. For example, in the apocryphal book of Enoch, the angel Raphael

385
Leviticus 14:3-7.
386
15th Century machzor from Germany., Hungarian Academy of Science, ms. A387, Fol. 350v, from
Encyclopedia Judaica pg. 3:999.
387
Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 3, page 1002a.

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punishes Azazel, a fallen angel, for sleeping with daughters of men, banishing him to
desert from which he controlled acts of harlotry, war and sorcery.388

The Punishment of the Fallen Angels389

“…the fallen angels…caused the depravity of mankind. The blood spilled by the giants
cried unto heaven from the ground, and the four archangels accused the fallen angels and
their sons before God, whereupon He gave the following orders to them… Raphael was
told to put the fallen angel Azazel into chains, cast him into a pit of sharp and pointed
stones in the desert Dudael, and cover him with darkness, and so was he to remain until
the great day of judgment, when he would be thrown into the fiery pit of hell, and the
earth would be healed of the corruption he had contrived upon it…

“The fall of Azazel and Shemhazai [another fallen angel] came about in this way. When
the generation of the deluge began to practice idolatry, God was deeply grieved. The two
angels Shemhazai and Azazel arose, and said: ‘O Lord of the world! It has happened, that
which we foretold at the creation of the world and of man, saying, “What is man, that
Thou art mindful of him?”’ And God said, ‘And what will become of the world now
without man?’ Whereupon the angels: ‘We will occupy ourselves with it.’ Then said
God: ‘I am well aware of it, and I know that if you inhabit the earth, the evil inclination
will overpower you, and you will be more iniquitous than ever men.’ The angels pleaded,
‘Grant us but permission to dwell among men, and Thou shalt see how we will sanctify
Thy Name.’ God yielded to their wish, saying, ‘Descend and sojourn among men!’

“When the angels came to earth, and beheld the daughters of men in all their grace and
beauty, they could not restrain their passion… Shemhazai and Azazel…were not deterred
from entering into alliances with the daughters of men… Azazel began to devise the
finery and the ornaments by means of which women allure men…

“Shemhazai then did penance. He suspended himself between heaven and earth, and in
this position of a penitent sinner he hangs to this day. But Azazel persisted obdurately in
his sin of leading mankind astray by means of sensual allurements. For this reason two
he-goats were sacrificed in the Temple on the Day of Atonement, the one for God, that
He pardon the sins of Israel, the other for Azazel, that he bear the sins of Israel.”

Others interpret Azazel as a goat demon, a popular mythological figure in ancient world.
There is a sense in which making an offering to Azazel was an ironic attempt to
undermine the authority of this superstition among Jews. For example, the Torah chapter
immediately after the discussion about the goat for Azazel requires people to bring their
sacrifices into the Temple, and not to do them in the open anymore, “that they may offer
their sacrifices no more to the goat-demons after whom they stray.”390 About this,
scholars have observed:

388
Ibid, page 2003b.
389
From Legends of the Jews, Chapter IV – “Noah, the Birth of Noah,” Louis Ginzberg, translated by
Henrietta Szold, www.sacred-texts.com/jud/loj/loj106.htm, 12/11/2005
390
Leviticus 17:7.

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“The worship of the goat, accompanied by the foulest rites, prevailed in Lower
Egypt. This was familiar to the Israelites, and God desired to wean them from
it.391 Some commentators point to this verse as giving a main purpose of the
sacrificial system in the Torah; viz, gradually to wean Israel away from primitive
ideas and idolatrous practices. The manner of worship in use among the peoples
of antiquity was retained, but that worship was now directed towards the One and
Holy God. ‘By this Divine plan, idolatry was eradicated, and the vital principle of
our Faith, the existence and unity of God, was firmly established – without
confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of sacrificial worship, to which
they were accustomed.’392”393

“…the goat for Azazel was neither a gift to a pagan god nor a pagan rite, but a
rejection of the influences and temptations of evil symbolized by Azazel. The
ritual was ‘based on the awareness that, even in a world ruled by God, evil forces
were at work – forces that had to be destroyed if God’s earthly home… was not to
be defiled.’ The ritual forced the inequities back onto Azazel, their ‘point of
departure.’ This demonstrated that only God had power on their lives and that
they had defeated the symbol of evil.”394

Azazel shown as a goat-like demon.395

Another perspective explores how the scapegoat is a substitute for the nation. For
example:

391
Compare Joshua 24:14, “…put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in
Egypt…” and Ezekiel 20:7, “…do not defile yourselves with the fetishes of Egypt…”. (Footnote based on
notes in quoted passage.)
392
Attributed to Maimonides by quoted passage.
393
J. H. Hertz, commentary on Leviticus 17:7, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Soncino, 1958, pg 486.
394
Elkins pg 117f quoting Baruch A Levine, JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus pp 250-253.
395
Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal, Paris, 1825, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azazel June 27, 2009.

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“Using ‘sympathetic magic’ – that is, fighting fire with fire – the High Priest
would dispatch the sin-laden goat once each year to cancel the goat-demon’s
sinful influence on the people… Although nowadays we only read about this
ritual as part of the Yom Kippur liturgy, we might consider…designating during
this period our own totem figures: symbolic images, words, or objects that we
could release against those demonic forces that scapegoat us or encourage us to
stray.”396

“It may be tempting to view the scapegoat as a surrogate or substitute for the life
of the human being who has transgressed, but more accurately, the animal is
merely the vehicle for the removal and disposal of the taint of transgression.”397

Others view the two goats – the one sacrificed in the Temple and the one sent to Azazel –
as a symbol of the choice we each get to make on the Day of Atonement. Taking the clue
from another Bible reference to two goats, we can choose to follow either the path Jacob
our patriarch, or of Esau who has come to represent a life out of sync with Jewish
values.398 For example:

“Abravanel…believes the two goats…are to remind Jews of Jacob and Esau.


Esau, like the he-goat marked, ‘for Azazel,’ wondered into the wilderness away
from his people, its laws, and its traditions. Jacob, like the he-goat marked ‘for
God,’ lived a life devoted to God’s service… Jews were to be reminded that they
had a significant free choice to make. They could live like Jacob or Esau, ‘for
God,’ or ‘for Azazel.’”399

Elaborating on this theme:

“The law seems to teach us about the stark difference between service of God
which is accepted and beloved by God, versus the ‘scapegoat’ which represents
that which has been rejected by God. Yet there is more: ‘The two goats on Yom
Kippur; the mitzvah is for them to be identical in appearance, size, and value, the
two shall be chosen together.’400

“The Talmud teaches that these two goats should look identical -- like twins…
The most famous twins in the Torah are, of course, Jacob and Esau. They were
complete opposites, one good, the other evil. No one could ever confuse them. On
the other hand, perhaps they did possess some similarities. Rashi401 tells us that

396
Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam, pg 172-173.
397
Schochet pg 30.
398
I feel the vituperation heaped on Esau is neither supported by the written text of Torah nor helpful in
building bridges of understanding with the tribes of our cousin religions, but include the references here to
offer insight that can add depth to our understanding of shofar.
399
Elkins pg 119.
400
Yoma 62a.
401
Rashi on Genesis 25:27.

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until the age of 13 they were indistinguishable, as does the midrash: ‘Esau was
worthy to be called Jacob and Jacob was worthy to be called Esau.’402

“…Perhaps their similarity represents the thin line between acceptable behavior
and idolatry, between good and evil. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner noted this parallel,
and suggested that when things look alike from the exterior, it is a sign that one
must look within – at the essence – in order to discern the difference.403

“The idea of the two goats is intrinsically related to the personalities of Jacob and
Esau, identical on the outside but so different in terms of their essence. The reason
that we need to offer the second goat – the scapegoat – is that so often we find
ourselves dressing up like Esau instead of behaving like the Jacob/Israel that we
are…

“Rabbi Menachem Azarya DeFano404 explains that the name Azazel is an


acronym for ze le'umat ze asa Elokim – ‘God has made one as well as the other,’
as it says: ‘In the day of prosperity be joyful, in the day of adversity consider:
God has made the one as well as the other.’405

“According to Rabbi DeFano, the contrast between good and evil, with the
recognition that both emanate from God, is encapsulated by this verse. In
explaining further, the midrash makes a link that God made both Jacob and
Esau…406 We understand from this that, in a sense, good needs evil in order to
exist, if for no other reason than to have something to reject. It is the contrast with
evil [that] allows good to shine.

“Problems arise when man adopts the ways of evil, identifying with them instead
of rejecting them. This path is a rejection of God and the image of God within us,
as is illustrated by another detail of the Yom Kippur service: Lots were drawn to
determine which of the two identical goats will be sacrificed in the Sanctuary and
which will be for Azazel.

“The idea of drawing lots is apparently a concession to the ‘random’ element of


human existence. And yet this attitude that life is randomly determined, rather
than orchestrated by God, is considered evil and associated with the nation of
Amalek, whom Israel was commanded to obliterate from the face of the earth.
‘Remember what was done to you by Amalek on the way as you left Egypt. When
they happened upon you...’407 Rashi explains, ‘they happened upon you’ as ‘by
coincidence.’ In his brief comment, we can discern the difference between

402
Midrash Zuta Shir HaShirim 1:15.
403
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak, Purim, p.43.
404
In his work Sefat Emet.
405
Ecclesiastes 7:14.
406
Rabbi Menachem Azarya DeFano, Pesikta D'Rav Kahana, Chapter 28
407
Deuteronomy 25:17-18.

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Judaism and the philosophy of Amalek. We believe in a God who is involved in
history, while for Amalek life is no more than a series of coincidences…

“When the Jew has sinned and has begun to act like Esau, forgetting God Who is
constantly involved in history, God invites him to enter the Sanctuary, represented
by the High Priest… The drawing of the lots forces us to examine our behavior
and the underlying philosophy of chance or coincidence.”408

A Second Chance
In the time of the Second Temple, the goat for Azazel was taken to a high steep hillside
and pushed off backwards so it would tumble to an almost certain death.409 But this
execution may not have been the original practice; the text of Leviticus does not mention
the death of the animal. Indeed, in the similar rite for the leper, the bird that was not
slaughtered was “set free in the open country.”

While the place to which the goat for Azazel was taken is usually described as a place of
desolation, it can also be understood in a positive light. In Jewish history, the wilderness
was a place of great healing and spiritual efficacy. It was in the wilderness that the
children of Israel obtained freedom after leaving Egypt. In the desert, they experienced
revelation at Sinai, built the Mishkon – Sanctuary, received the teachings of Moses, and
experienced the grace of manna. It was there that a weak and timid generation of slaves
persevered and begat a generation of strong conquerors who were able to enter into and
take possession of Canaan. And from Abraham receiving of holy messengers at
Beersheba, through Hagar’s vision being sharpened so she could see the well, to
Ezekiel’s visions – the desert has been the place of transformation and renewal.

In this context the goat sent to Azazel was not condemned to death and damnation, but
given an opportunity for spiritual elevation and purification. That it escaped the death by
sacrifice to which the other goat was subjected appears to be the original meaning of the
word “scapegoat,” a term coined by a 16th Century Bible translator for the “goat that
escaped.”

With which of the two goats do I most identify on Yom Kippur? Throughout the long
Yom Kippur service, I am the sacrificial goat, with my flames of my prayers substituted
for the fumes of the altar. Then, when I hear the tekiah gedolah – long blast of the shofar
– at the conclusion of services, I rejoice that I have escaped to wander another year in the
land of Azazel, that “hardest of the mountains” we call “Earth” where I may yet seek to
know and serve God. Or, as David Henry Thoreau wrote, “In wilderness is the
preservation of the world.”

408
Rabbi Ari Kahn, “Goat for Azazel,”
http://www.aish.com/hhYomK/hhYomKDefault/Goat_for_Azazel.asp, December 23, 2006.
409
Yoma 6:2-6.

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The Ram, the Goat, and the Shofar

“The autumn holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are both deeply
associated with horned animals. On both festivals, we blow the shofar as a sign of
remembrance, repentance, and deliverance. On Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of
how Abraham sacrificed a horned ram in place of his son, Isaac. On Yom Kippur,
we read of how our ancestors used two male goats to cleanse the sanctuary on the
Day of Atonement. One goat was slaughtered so its blood could purify the holy
place. The other was sent to the wilderness, to the spirit Azazel, who may have been
a goat himself. Why the fascination with horned animals at this season?

“In many cultures, horned animals are honored in the fall because the autumn is
hunting season. The spirits of the animals, sometimes embodied in horned deities,
were celebrated and placated. I don't know if this was true of ancient Israel, but that
is one possibility for the origin of our fascination with horns. Another possibility is
that horned animals represent the moon. All of the holidays at this season fall on a
different phase of the moon. At this time when the nights become longer than the
days, horned animals might have symbolized the transition to the dark half of the
year.

“It appears our ancestors had a long tradition of honoring goat-like spirit-animals,
as the book of Leviticus tells us the Israelite sacrificial system was meant to replace
the practice of offering meat to the se'irim or goat-beings. In II Chronicles 11:14 we
hear about the Northern Kingdom of Israel (during the days when there were two
Israelite kingdoms) worshipping se'irim. The depiction of the Adversary as a goat-
like man may stem from the duel Israelite religion fought with the goat-beings.

“How does Judaism transform the ancient symbolism of the goat or the ram? On
both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the goat/ram is sacrificed as a substitute for
us (of course, now we only use a text about an animal, not an actual animal, as a
sacrifice). Through these stories, we symbolically offer our life-force to the Divine
to be used for healing in the universe. This is part of the teshuvah or repentance
process. The shofar, which is blown on Rosh Hashanah to represent Divine
sovereignty, remembrance, and revelation, teaches us that our offerings need not be
violent ones.

“We can dedicate ourselves to the forces of life through remembering our deeds and
acting justly in the world. The ram and goat become, not only symbols of hunting,
but symbols of righteousness. The nights of the holidays, with their bright moons,
beckon us to search in our own inner wildernesses for our worthy inclinations, our
path lit by the sky-torch of the Shechinah. The hunt we engage in this autumn is a
hunt for the knowledge of our true selves.” 410

410
Rabbi Jill Hammer, “The Ram, the Goat, and the Shofar,”
http://telshemesh.org/tishrei/the_ram_the_goat_and_the_shofar.html, April 1, 2006

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Yom Kippur: The Shrine and the Wilderness

“The two figures who enact the biblical drama of Yom Kippur look rather different from one
another. There is just no good way to say this: one is a high priest and one is a goat. One is a
human being appointed as the sacred representative of a people and a covenant. The other is a
vaguely scruffy animal cast out of the sanctuary after being loaded down with the people’s
sins. They look different, but they aren’t different. The high priest and the goat perform the
same task. They both show us how to journey to a place of new beginning. Both are our
teachers and spirit guides during the hours of Yom Kippur.

“The high priest’s journey is from outside the sanctuary toward the center. He carries the
incense and the blood of the sacrifices into the Holy of Holies, which is the symbolic heart of
existence. According to the Midrash Tadshe, a 10th century collection of legends, everything
in the Tabernacle reflects a part of the world: the wash basin is the sea, the menorah is the
light, and the Holy of Holies is the core of the earth. The high priest’s task is to purify, not
just one small space, but everything. Within the Holy of Holies, the high priest creates a
cloud of incense, representing the Shechinah, the Divine presence. The high priest sprinkles
the blood of the sacrifices seven times, as if to recall the seven days of creation. The high
priest then utters the Divine name, which means “being” or “becoming.” The spoken name
signifies the process of making and remaking the world. The high priest’s task is to re-start,
or in modern language, reboot creation. He represents us when we feel in harmony with the
world, when we are ready to exercise joy and creativity. The high priest reveals to us the
longing of Yom Kippur: to return to wholeness, to live, to feel that we are good and part of a
good creation.

“The scapegoat goes on a journey opposite the one of the high priest. The scapegoat moves
from the sanctuary toward the margins of the universe. It carries not offerings of purification,
but all the sins of the people, everything that is broken, misaligned, out of place, everything
that is difficult to sort out and painful to repair. The horns of the goat are the opposite of the
shofar: instead of sounding a call, they receive all the pent-up words and regrets and rage and
grief. A chosen individual, not a grand religious official, but an ish iti, a temporarily
appointed person, a random person, leads the goat away into the wilderness, and there the
goat is set free. To do what? What is the goat supposed to do in the wilderness? The Talmud
tells us the appointed person pushes the goat off a cliff to make sure it does not come back,
bringing the people’s sins with it, but this is not what the text says and I do not believe it is
what was done in the Temple period, and I will tell you why. The goat is not something you
can push over a cliff and send away forever. The goat is us when we are struggling to return
to harmony, when we feel alone, when we do not feel good or part of a good world. [Where]
the goat goes, and what we need, is wilderness.

“The wilderness is the opposite of the Holy of Holies: it is open, not enclosed, marginal, not
central. Yet wilderness is the place of Sinai. It is the place where slaves are liberated. Set free
to wander in the wilderness, the scapegoat can shake the sins off its back and return to its real
life as a free being. The scapegoat teaches us Yom Kippur means leaving our stale words and
deeds behind, making a distinction between past and present, letting go of what has been
central to pursue something else. It means discovering the freedom of the self. This is what
we need before we can reconnect to the whole. The scapegoat and the high priest teach us
different things, yet both show us something crucial about of Yom Kippur.

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“Which path do we need now in order to change? At this moment, some of us are high priests
and high priestesses, ready to weave and build and tend to ourselves and our world until we
are whole, though we know how hard that task may be. And at this moment, some of us are
scapegoats, carrying many sins on our back, maybe even some that were never ours to begin
with, and wishing for freedom and space and strength enough to put down that burden. Some
of us are waiting in the Holy of Holies for a mysterious encounter, a rebirth to transform the
meaning of this day. And some of us are waiting in the wilderness, without hopes or
expectations, feeling the wind blow us toward a future we do not know. Give it time, give it
just a year, and all of us will be all of these.

“If you look around you’ll see all the players in this Torah portion here in our sanctuary,
though you may not recognize them for who they are. You may not even be sure who you
are, and if you’re not, that could be good. Yom Kippur contains an element of surprise.
Teshuvah means to turn, to change course. Teshuvah is the circle where the Holy of Holies
and the wilderness become one.”411

We Are Left with Words

“The Leviticus reading tells an ancient story, a story that comes from far back in our
people’s origins. This is a ritual that Aaron performed in deadly earnest and with great
care, when the Israelites wandered in the desert. It is a mysterious event – no one knows
why it succeeded in expiating sin. But this was God’s decree and it worked. If performed
with care, sin was expiated.

“Yom Kippur is a double drama. Not only is the performance in the wilderness described
in our Leviticus reading, but on Yom Kippur we hear the echo of another expiation
service as well. This expanded and modified version of the same ritual, the ritual that was
performed in the temple by the High Priest when the people were finally established in
their land, is included in the Avodah section of the musaf service.

“And there is a third story too. Our story. For us there is the memory of the Leviticus rite
and the recounting of the Temple ritual. But we have no goat of sacrifice and no goat to
send to Azazel. We, living after Aaron’s time and after the Temple’s destruction, have no
drama of action. We do, however, have the repository of language. For us the repetition
of the words and the challenge of the prayer is the only route towards atonement. For in
us, then, Yom Kippur may be even more awesome more frightening than for our ancient
forebears. They could rely on Aaron and later on the priests.

“They had the power of the deed. We are left only with the shadow of deeds – the
offering called language.”412

411
Rabbi Jill Hammer,
http://telshemesh.org/tishrei/yom_kippur_the_shrine_and_the_wilderness.html, April 1, 2006
412
Dr. Barry W. Holtz, Elkins pg 234.

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A Response and a Proposal to Symbolically Revive the Fire Offering
While words dominate our contemporary observance of Yom Kippur, the author of the
quotation above overlooks the significance of the shofar. Blowing shofar does provide
the “drama of action,” and listening to shofar is no less participatory that watching or
smelling the sacrifices on the altar. We used to burn a goat or ram as a visceral way to
expiate sin. Now we blow the goat’s or ram’s horn, also a visceral way, to expiate sin.
We may no longer have a priest, but we do have our ba’al tekiah – shofar blower – and
we can rely on his or her blast to carry the energy of the sin offering’s final bleat as it was
sacrificed.

I propose an experiment to strengthen the connection of shofar to the sin offering:


Restating the fundamental requirement for observing Yom Kippur, Torah enjoins us to,
“bring an offering by fire to the Lord.” The yahrzeit – memorial – and holy day candles
burned on Yom Kippur do not have gravitas embodied in an animal sacrifice. While I
would not welcome the return of blood rituals, I propose a symbolic reenactment. Like
we use a roasted lamb bone on our Passover seder plate to represent the Pascal sacrifice, I
propose we pass the shofar through a flame to symbolize the goat we consigned to the
flames in the past.

One way to stoke a fire is to use a blow tube to oxygenate a flame. As shofar can serve as
a blow tube; perhaps this proposed ritual will help stoke the symbolic fire of our Yom
Kippur prayers.

The Final Word


“Perhaps, in the case of this ancient tradition of the scapegoat, we have an example where
all the interpretations provided through the centuries may be correct!”413 The shofar blast
of Yom Kippur reminds us that, like either of the goats, an individual may live or may
die. At the prospect of death, the shofar stokes the embers of our soul so our prayers will
blaze in flame. And at the prospect of life, the shofar calls us forth to face the demons we
fear and enter the uncharted wilderness of the new year.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

413
Rabbi Harvey J. Fields, in Elkins pg. 120.

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Chapter 1-12 – The Jubilee and the Prophet’s Words
“It is possible that the world will be without the opportunity to perform the
freeing of slaves [because there could be a time when there are no more slaves],
but it is impossible that the world will be without the opportunity to perform the
sounding of the shofar.”414

On Rosh Hashanah, we are charged to hear shofar in the first person singular. Each of us
focuses on personal teshuvah – the individual’s making of amends to himself or herself,
with others, and with God.

The shofar blast of Yom Kippur is different. On Yom Kippur, we confess our sins in the
first person plural, saying “we” have sinned. As Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it, “Some
are guilty, but all are responsible.” The tekiah gedolah is a powerful call for the collective
teshuvah of our family, community, clan, tribe, and nation.

On Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to listen in silence as shofar is blown so we can each


do the inner work of teshuvah, the turning of the heart. In the quiet, a worshipper may
hear the still small voice of the shofar whispering, “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

The shofar of Yom Kippur is different. The tekiah gedolah at the fast’s conclusion
signals that we are purged of the sins of the past and our souls are purified. We are
sealed, God willing, in the Book of Life, and to be alive requires us to take action.

In the desert after Sinai, God commanded us to blow trumpets to gather and set the tribes
into motion and to provide for the common defense.415 The tekiah gedolah of Yom
Kippur still commands us to act and to provide for the common good.

Talmud says, “An individual’s repentance will not overturn Yom Kippur’s unfavorable
decree. However, a community’s repentance has the power to tear up an evil decree that
has already been issued against it.”416 Even though, in the final moments of Yom Kippur,
one’s judgment may have already been sealed, the teshuvah of the community can bring
mercy even on its members.

How do we know that the final shofar blast has the power to move a community? We
know because the shofar announces the Jubilee, “a unique Israelite attempt to combat the

414
Rosh Hashanah 9b.
415
Numbers 10:2-9.
416
Rosh Hashanah 17b. Expounding on this, Note 17 says, “There are a large number of statements in the
words of the Sages attesting to the greater potential of a community over individuals. In this respect, the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Midrash Tanchuma (Netzavim §1) teaches, for example, that the
Jewish people are like a bundle of reeds: a single reed can be broken by even a child, whereas a bundle of
reeds cannot be broken by even an adult. Although each individual may be unworthy of a certain spiritual
level, together they are worthy of that level… the repentance of a community is great for it reaches until the
Throne of Glory.”

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social evils that had infected…society and to return to the idyllic period of the desert
union when social equality and fraternal concern had prevailed.”417

The Jubilee
The sages say, “It is the custom in all Israel to blow the ram’s horn at the close of Yom
Kippur; we have found no reason to believe it is an obligation, but it seems to be a
memorial to the Jubilee.”418 It is recorded in Leviticus that,

“You shall count off seven weeks of years – seven times seven years – so that
the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. Then
you shall sound the shofar loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the
month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the shofar sounded throughout
your land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim freedom
throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of
you shall return to his holdings and each of you shall return to his family.”419

In the Hebrew, “jubilee” is “yovel,” another term for shofar and a word that devolved
into “jubilee.”

The Jubilee was a revolutionary approach to building an egalitarian society.


• Land returned to the clan to which it had been originally assigned to impede the
establishment of a landed aristocracy.
• We neither sowed nor reaped our fields so the land had a chance to rest and regain
fertility.
• Slaves were freed and debts forgiven so that everyone could make a fresh start among
equals.

There is a spiritual precept underlying the politic: We must not abuse the land “for
the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.”420 Slaves must be
redeemed, “For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants: they are My servants
whom I freed from Egypt. I the Lord your God.”421

The Jubilee worked. “These halachot and practices exercised a decisive influence, which
accounts for the fact that in the last generations of the Temple period and for a
considerable period afterward, most of the land in the country was not in the hands of
large landowners but remained in the possession of small holders.”422

As a nation, Jews stopped observing the Jubilee when we were taken into exile in
Babylon. But the ordinance is still on the books.

417
Jewish Encyclopedia 14:578a.
418
Rav Hai Gaon (10th – 11th century), quoted in Agnon, pg. xv and pg. 270.
419
Leviticus 25:9.
420
Leviticus 25:23.
421
Leviticus 25:55.
422
Jewish Encyclopedia 14:582a.

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Moreover we no longer have to wait until the fiftieth year to proclaim freedom. Now, on
each Yom Kippur when we hear the Tekiah Gedolah, we are called to take action to build
a more just and equitable society.

The scriptural clause about returning to your holdings became, I believe, the basis for
later prophetic visions about the great shofar being blown to herald the ingathering of
exiles. This vision is so powerful in the Jewish psyche that it is incorporated into the
Eighteen Benedictions of the Amidah prayer said three times a day in traditional worship:
“Sound the great horn for our freedom; raise the ensign to gather our exiles, and gather us
from the four corners of the earth. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who gatherest the dispersed
of thy people Israel.”423

With All Your Wealth424

“The Sefer HaChinuch… points out that the matter of sending away one’s servants is
very difficult for a slave-owner to carry out. Slave owners sustained a very substantial
financial loss… The Chinuch says that in order to give the people the strength and the
encouragement to fulfill this very difficult command, the Torah requires the sounding of
the shofar throughout Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel, – to give everyone the sense that
they are not alone in making this sacrifice…

“The words of the Chinuch are correct, but they don't solve the whole problem. The
Talmud425 relates that the Yom Kippur blowing on Yovel – the Jubilee – actually
consisted of the exact same sequence of sounds with the exact same prayer ritual as
performed ten days earlier on Rosh Hashanah. Why did the Yovel ritual replicate Rosh
Hashanah all over again?

“…One of the main factors of shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah is that we should
remember the binding of Isaac. When we hear the ram's horn on the New Year, we
remind ourselves of the dedication and self-sacrifice of our Patriarchs and we decide
mentally that we are also ready to sacrifice for God's sake.

“But what type of sacrifice? The sacrifice of ‘With all your heart and with all your soul’
(bechol levavcha u'vchol nafshecha), was on Rosh Hashanah. The sacrifice of Yovel -
Yom Kippur is ‘With all your wealth’ (bechol me'odecha).426

“Let's not kid ourselves – we love our money. We are attached to it. It is difficult to give
away our money. When the Torah tells us to give away our slaves, it is telling us that we
have to make a mesiras nefesh – a dedication of soul – of money. This requires almost as
much mesiras nefesh as giving away one's life. Therefore it becomes necessary to once

423
The Authorized Daily Prayer Book, Revised Edition, Dr. Joseph H. Hertz, ed., pg 143
424
Rabbi Yissochar Frand, “Rabbi Frand on Parshas Behar – Bechukosai,
www.torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5758/behar.html, December 2, 2006.
425
Rosh Hashanah 34b.
426
Deuteronomy 6:5 and part of the Shema prayer. Me’odecha is frequently interpreted as “your might.”

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again conjure up in our minds the image of the binding of Isaac. We have to picture what
it means to be a Jew. What it means to be a Jew is not only to serve G-d with our very
lives, but even with our money.

“This is exceedingly difficult for a human being. We have to hear Kingship! We have to
hear Remembrances! We have to hear Shofar Sounds! We have to remember the binding
of Isaac. Because we are asked to give up something that is extremely precious to us...our
wealth…

“...the trial of the generation which preceded us and lived through the Holocaust was the
trial of ‘with all your hearts and with all your souls’. They had to pay the price of being a
Jew with their own lives. Our trial, the…test of Jews in America [now] is ‘with all your
wealth’. Give your money. Give your money to yeshivas, give your money to the mikveh,
give your money to settle the Russian Jews, give your money. It is hard; it is dedication
of soul; but that is what we must do. It is the trial of our generation.”

A Call for Ten Shofar Blasts on Yom Kippur


As the excerpt above describes, the Yom Kippur shofar blasts during the yovel consisted
of a ten-blast reprise of the Rosh Hashanah pattern: tekiah shevarim-teruah tekiah, tekiah
shevarim tekiah, tekiah teruah tekiah gedolah. While most communities sound a single
tekiah gedolah at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, some congregations preserve the 10-
blast sequence as a memorial to the Jubilee.

I believe that one of the trials of this generation is to foster an increased yovel-
consciousness – an understanding that we must take action to restore justice. Ritual is one
way of creating the awareness that can lead to action, and I suggest a change in the shofar
ritual of Yom Kippur to sound the watchman’s alarm.427

I propose that at least once every seven years, on the shemittah – sabbatical year,428 all
congregations sound the Yom Kippur shofar as if it were the start of yovel. Breaking from
tradition may cause some to ask, “Why is this year different from all other years?” and
provide an opportunity for individuals and communities to resolve to take actions in
alignment with the purposes of the Jubilee.

Raise your Voice like Isaiah


However, we must not wait until the Jubilee or Sabbatical to pursue tzadakah – justice.
Indeed, the Haftorah we read every year on the morning of Yom Kippur, from Isaiah,429
contains an urgent plea, and the shofar is its herald. We are told to

“Cry with full throat, without restraint;


Raise your voice like a ram’s horn!”

427
Ezekiel 33:2.
428
Extrapolating from Encyclopedia Judaica Vol. 14, pg. 586, the next sabbatical year is 5775 in the
Hebrew calendar (2014/2015 CE).
429
Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14. See Meditation for Twenty-Second Day of Elul.

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The prophet decries the hypocrisy of people who beat their chest during prayers on Yom
Kippur, and then beat their employees on the following day.

“Is this the fast I desire?” The prophet asks rhetorically in the name of God. Then he
answers, NO!

“…the fast I desire is


To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free.
It is to share your bread with the hungry.
To take the wretched poor into your home;
And when you see the naked, to cloth him.”

To “raise your voice like a ram’s horn,” you must sometimes become the shofar and be
the teruah that breaks and shatters convention in order to end complacency. This is
dramatically described in the following essay:

The Leopard in Isaiah430

“How shall we read the Great Haftorah – the passage from Isaiah that the rabbis taught
us to read on the morning of Yom Kippur?

“…it seems to me the whole point of the passage is to break through ritual patterns to
address the urgent needs of the poor. I try to read it like an outraged activist who has just
heard that some president signed an ‘Act for the More Efficient Starvation of Children.’

“There are several things about the Haftorah that seem important to me:

“1. The whole rhythm of Isaiah's speech is to move from ecstatic ‘religiosity’ to concrete
acts of loving-kindness, and then through this connection with the humble and humiliated
to reestablish connection with the Infinite.

“In other words it moves from a fake high to a deep grounding to a real high – real
because everyone, including the lowly, is part of it.

“2. I connect this speech with (Deutero) Isaiah's explanation of his mission in Chapter
61, which in Verse 1 talks of ‘likro lishvuim dror, to call out to prisoners release.’ Isaiah
Chapter 61 explicitly talks of ‘calling for the Year of YAHH's favor/pleasure/will’ and
talks of ‘dror [release],’ a word powerfully used in the Leviticus passage about the
Jubilee and used by Jeremiah when he calls for the people explicitly to release their
slaves, as required in the Year of Jubilee.

430
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 9/2/2003, www.shalomctr.org/node/446, May 15, 2006

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“Chapter 58 of Isaiah, which is part of the Yom Kippur reading, bears several strong
hints at calling for the Jubilee (e.g. the Yovel was supposed to be announced on Yom
Kippur with the blowing of a shofar; I read ‘Lift up your voice like a shofar’ as the
Prophet's feeling himself called to substitute his voice for the Shofar that was not being
sounded to call for a Yovel).

“The other specifics in 58, like those in 61, fit the notion of the Jubilee. What's more, the
shift to Shabbat at the end of the passage would make special sense if the Prophet had in
mind the super-Shabbat of the Jubilee. If he did, then part of it would be the release of
indentured servants.

“3. I think the speech was actually given as an interruption of a Yom Kippur service, or at
minimum is deliberately written as if it were. I fantasize Isaiah elbowing his way thru the
crowd at the Temple or through the crowd at a Super-Synagogue in Babylonia – and
interrupting – shouting out this radical challenge to the liturgy.

“4. Unfortunately, the result of the Rabbis’ assigning this to be read on Yom Kippur is
that it becomes not a challenge to the liturgy but a part of it. There is a wonderful story by
Franz Kafka:

‘One day a leopard stalked into the synagogue, roaring and lashing his tail. Three
weeks later, he had become part of the liturgy.’431

“Many synagogues read the Haftorah in Hebrew or English as another droning piece of
the machzor.

“I have therefore tried hard to break thru this drone. For several years, I worked with
someone in my congregation to interrupt my reading of the Haftorah by shouting out
short lines – headlines from the newspaper – that exemplify poverty, homelessness, etc.:

‘72-Year-old Man Freezes to Death on Philadelphia Street.’

‘Post Office Announces 30 Jobs, 300 Line Up to Apply.’

“I read a line of Isaiah about the poor – and the ‘plant’ interrupts. I pause, read another
line – and he interrupts again. We make sure people get the content of the interruption.
At first the congregation is scandalized – ‘He's INTERRUPTING THE SERVICE!!!’
They even shake their fists, just as the Haftorah says. Then they get it, and they listen
with a deeper part of themselves…

431
The actual quote from Kafka is “Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the
sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it
becomes a part of the ceremony.” It is found in Aphorisms, published in 1918,
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Franz_Kafka, December 30, 2007. Waskow says it is from Parables and
Paradoxes, in a letter dated January 8, 1996 at www.mljewish.org/cgi-
bin/retrieve.cgi?VOLUME=5&NUMBER=107&FORMAT=html, December 30, 2007.

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“This understanding of the Yom Kippur speech comes from the way I try to read these
(and other) texts, which is to put myself in the place of someone saying these things and
to ask myself –What was going on for the author, the editor, of these words? What
spiritual struggle, what ‘political’ despair, had arisen for him?...

“Then I ask myself, ‘What images, symbols, passages of Torah arise in my head and
heart as I overhear the struggle that led to these words upon this paper?’ What social /
spiritual struggle is really eating at my kishkes?

“I try to unleash the leopard in the liturgy and the leopard that is stalking in me, in the
synagogue, and in the world. I try to hear the Divine roar of passion and compassion, and
give it voice.”

This is the voice of the shofar of Yom Kippur.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Chapter 1-13 – From the Belly of a Wail
“Praise the Lord…all sea monsters and ocean depths.”432

It is customary to read The Book of Jonah during the long Yom Kippur afternoon. I hear
the sound of the shofar resonating in the story of the prophet; it rings with shofar imagery
and the horn’s call to action

In the Ship
God instructed Jonah to take action:

“Go at once to Nineveh, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has
come before Me.”433

Instead of obeying, Jonah fled in the opposite direction. He boarded a ship that soon
became embroiled in a life-threatening storm. With all hands on deck struggling to keep
the ship afloat, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel and fell asleep. We are
told,

“The captain went over to him and called out, ‘How can you be sleeping so
soundly! Up, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will be kind to us and we will
not perish.’”434

The captain’s words echo Maimonides statement about shofar as a wake up call: “Awake,
ye sleepers, and ponder your deeds. Remember your Creator, and return to him in
penitence… so that God may have mercy on you.”

It is as if the captain blew the shofar to sound the alarm. Like shevarim he urges, “Wake
Up! Wake Up! Wake Up!” If the captain had been Jewish, he might literally have woken
Jonah with a shofar since, “a Tannaitic source tells…of the Jewish sailors’ custom of
fasting and blowing the shofar in the hour of danger on the high seas.”435

Two Types of Sleepers


“There are light sleepers who awaken at the slightest sound. These people are aroused by
the sound of shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The primal piercing sounds inspire repentance.
But there are those who can sleep even through a powerful explosion. Nothing bothers or
budges them. They sleep through the sound of the Shofar. The ship is about to break, but
they sleep. The Titanic is sinking but they bask in their first-class accommodations… On
this holiest day, God’s sheer truth reaches even those who are trying to hide under covers

432
Psalms 148:7.
433
Jonah 1:2.
434
Jonah 1:6.
435
Raphael Patai, The Children of Noah: Jewish Seafaring in Ancient Times (Princeton University Press,
1996), pg. 93.

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and blankets. On Yom Kippur, even those deep in slumber hear the captain cry; ‘Arise!
Call to G-d!’”436

The shofar of Jonah tells us to wake up to our responsibilities. Personally and


collectively, Jonah represents the part of each of us that runs from God and our
responsibility to others – the people of Nineveh in Jonah’s case – and sleeps through
God’s call to action.

Another Voyage
“Rabbi Simha Bunam of Pzhysha said, ‘Rabbi Eleazar of Amsterdam was at sea on a
journey to the Holy Land, when, on the eve of New Year’s Day, a storm almost sank the
ship. Before dawn, Rabbi Eleazar told all his people to go on deck and blow the rams’
horn at the first ray of light. When they had done this, the storm died down. ‘But do not
think,’ Rabbi Bunam added, ‘that Rabbi Eleazar intended to save the ship. On the
contrary, he was quite certain it would go down, but before dying with his people he
wanted to fulfill a holy commandment, that of blowing the ram’s horn. Had he been out
to save the ship through a miracle, he would not have succeeded.’”437

In the Fish
Jonah is thrown into the sea where he is swallowed by a giant fish. He remained in the
fish’s belly three days and three nights. In his prayers, he cried,

“In my trouble
I called to the Lord,
And he answered me.
From the belly of the abyss
I cried out,
And You heard my voice.”438

This verse echoes Psalm 118 that says, “Out of the narrow place I called upon God, who
answered me in spaciousness.” The Psalm can be understood as a description of the shape
of the shofar, narrow at one end and wide at the other, and of the process of teshuvah,
moving from the constricted space of the hardened heart to a place of redemption.

This imagery, consciously or not, has been captured by visual artists throughout the ages
who depict the great fish in a distinctly shofar-like shape.

436
Yosef Y. Jacobson based on the Lubavitcher Rebbes’ teachings, www.jewish-
holiday.com/insidejonah.html and www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=695&o=1952652&pg=2, January
27, 2008.
437
Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book 2, pp 247-248. Also told in Rosh Hashanah – Its Significance, Laws,
and Prayers, pg 117. Another version of the story is in The Complete Story of Tishrei, (Kehot Publication
Society, Brooklyn NY) http://ramshornrammer.blogspot.com/2005/09/shofar-in-high-seas.html, May 7,
2006.
438
Jonah 2:3.

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Artists throughout the ages have depicted the great fish as distinctly shofar-like.
Above: Speculum Humanae Salvationis, c.1400-1500.439
Below: Phillip Ratner.440

Perhaps, while in the depths, Jonah heard a deep silence that was like the still small voice
of shofar. Or did he hear the calls of sea creatures? Many people have compared the
voice of shofar to the song of a whale. For example, the composer of a “soundscape”
inspired by Jonah says:

“‘Jonah Under the Sea’ is an attempt, through the medium of electroacoustic


composition, to ‘listen in’ during Jonah's journey [from the ship into the fish’s
belly]… In Jonah's mind's eye, while freely descending into the sea, he perceives
an endless array of images and sounds, particularly those relating to his watery
environment. He remembers earlier moments in his life near a port of call,
especially the call of fog horns. Jonah notices how similar these sounds are to

439
http://collecties.meermanno.nl/handschriften/showillu?id=17067, August 12, 2006.
440
The Dennis & Phillip Ratner Museum, 1998, www.ratnermuseum.com/heroes/_img0041.html August
12, 2006.

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those of the whales that surround him now. The sounds also call to mind the
ancient call of the shofar, the ram's horn.”441

Like cetacean calls, shofar can be haunting and ethereal. The song of the whale travels
great distances in the watery realm, just as shofar blasts transverse the vast spiritual
realm. Although unintelligible to us, the melodies of each are clearly informed by an
intelligence.

Shofar in shape of fish.442

It is said that, “The fish that swallowed Jonah had been assigned this task since the six
days of Creation…”443 The ram of the Akedah – whose one horn was sounded at Sinai
and whose other horn will be blown when the messiah comes – is also said to have been
created at twilight at the end of the sixth day of creation. 444

In Nineveh
God sent Jonah to Nineveh to prophesize to its citizens. “Nineveh was an enormously
large city, a three days’ walk across.”445 Jonah walked for one day into the heart of the
city, and from there he proclaimed God’s message. Despite the size of the city, the
midrash says, “The sound of his voice carried across the entire city.”446

How did his voice carry throughout such a large city? Did he raise his voice “like a ram’s
horn!” in fulfillment of Isaiah’s exhortation that is read on Yom Kippur morning?447 Or,
as is more likely, did he actually sound a shofar to call the citizens to assemble and to
repent?

441
Bob Gluck , “On Composing Jonah Under the Sea,” 1997,
www.olats.org/africa/projets/gpEau/genie/contrib/contrib_gluck.shtmlsansMP3, January 10, 2007. The
essay explains, “Most of the sound materials in ‘Jonah Under the Sea’ derive from recordings of sea
sounds: ocean waves, dolphins, whales, fog horns, plus sounds of voices and rams horns. At times these are
highly digitally processed.” ‘Jonah Under the Sea’ has been recorded on the CD, Stories Heard and Retold
(1998, EMF 008).
442
Ethiopia, 19th Century, in Jewish Museum, New York City,
www.britannica.com/eb/art/print?id=73196&articleTypeId=1, January 14, 2008.
443
Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, “Jonah and the Sailors,” translated by David Stern, Rabbinic
Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature, ed. David Stern and Mark J. Mirsky
(Yale University Press, 1998) pg. 64.
444
Chapters of the Fathers, Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1972, 5:9.
445
Jonah 3:3.
446
Rabbi Dovid Meisels, Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur Secrets, translated by Rabbi Avraham Y. Finkel,
2004, pg. 241.
447
Isaiah 58:1.

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While the Torah and Haftorah readings on Rosh Hashanah deal primarily with individual
and family behavior, Jonah describes the redemption of an entire city. The shofar of
Jonah calls us to move beyond self interest to serve the greater good. This is a central
theme of Yom Kippur when,

“the confessional is in the plural – yet, it is clear that none of us have committed
all these sins. Why should we confess even to transgressions of which we are
innocent? ...Our concern on Yom Kippur is not just for the self. Toward the end
of the day, after spending so much time looking inward, we read the Book of
Jonah. Jonah, called by God to save the city of Nineveh, flees the responsibility
of carrying out God's word. When at last this reluctant prophet reaches Nineveh
and prophesizes the city's doom, people repent and God relents. Instead of being
happy that he has succeeded, the only prophet in the Bible that anyone ever really
listened to, Jonah is unhappy. For Jonah was never worried that he might fail, but
rather that he might succeed. He just did not care about the people of Nineveh nor
their fate. In the end, sitting outside of town, he swelters in the sun until God
causes a sheltering plant to miraculously grow over him. Jonah is briefly happy
until the plant dies. God asks him if he is deeply grieved about this single plant
and Jonah says: ‘Yes, so deeply that I want to die.’ God responds: ‘And should
not I care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred
and twenty thousand persons...and many beasts as well?’448 God is disappointed
in Jonah. For despite everything that has happened, Jonah just doesn't get it. His
concern lies only with himself. We read his story to remind us that, even as we
spent hours looking inward examining who we are, we can not forget to look at
the world around us.”449

As another teacher puts it,

“Jewish universalism is carved into the sacred texts of the Bible selected to be
read aloud during the Days of Awe… Why else did the rabbis choose for the
prophetical portion to be read on Yom Kippur the Book of Jonah that repudiates
the provincialism of Jonah who thinks that a Jewish prophet is to be concerned
exclusively with Jews and with no others? The narcissism of Jonah, self-buried in
the narrow womb of the whale is repudiated… Jonah had forgotten Abraham who
was blessed so that ‘in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’”450

Like the other prophetic text read on Yom Kippur, Jonah tells us that our atonement is
only complete when we take action to serve the greater good. As the prophet tells us,
Nineveh was saved not through prayer, but through their actions:

448
Jonah 4:9,11.
449
Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice,
www.thesaj.org/rabbi/HHexcerpts.html, January 9, 2007.
450
Harold M. Schulweis, “From Which End of the Shofar?,” Yom Kippur, 1992,
www.vbs.org/rabbi/hshulw/shofar.htm, January 10, 2007.

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“God saw what they did, how they were turning back from their evil ways. And
God renounced the punishment he had planned to bring upon them, and did not
carry it out.”451

Soon after the Yom Kippur reading of Jonah, we enter the final service of the day and
then hear shofar. It is the conclusion of the fast, but it is also our call to action throughout
the rest of the New Year.

When confronted with Jonah’s prophecy, the people of Nineveh declared a fast. The King
of Nineveh issued an edict enforcing the fast and requiring that, “man and beast…shall
cry mightily to God,” to signify their repentance.

In times of danger, Jews, too, fast and repent. We also sound the shofar. The shofar is
symbolic of the ram that was the totem of the Hebrew nation. When we sounding the
ram’s horn, we literally demonstrate “man and beast” mightily crying together to God.452

Death and Rebirth


Rosh Hashanah, the start of the New Year, is considered the birthday of the world, and
the shofar blasts are compared to the cries of a newborn child (see Chapter 7 – The Ewe’s
Horn). In the waning hours of the Yom Kippur, Jonah provides another reminder of the
potential of spiritual rebirth, and prepares us to hear the birth cries of the ram’s horn.
These ideas are expressed in the following essay:

“One answer to this question focuses on the symbolism of the belly of the fish.
The fish, we recall, swallowed Jonah, after he fled God's call. He then remained
and prayed in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights before being
vomited onto land… The symbolism of three days and nights is also associated
with the time it takes to travel to Sheol, the Netherworld; Jonah's descent into the
fish can thus be viewed as a descent into a type of death. Furthermore, the belly
of the fish directly parallels the womb of a mother. Jonah's emergence from the
fish can then be seen as a type of rebirth. After traveling to Sheol, Jonah repents
and is then resurrected.

“This symbolism of death and rebirth appears in many of the customs associated
with Yom Kippur… Is this…fast perhaps an attempt to simulate death? …Finally,
when the Yom Kippur fast ends, we reenter the physical world with the blasting
of a ram's horn, the simplest sound known to ancient man. Perhaps this shofar
blast should be seen as parallel to the cry of a baby exiting the womb and
emerging into the world.

“This explains why the story of Jonah in the fish's belly figures so prominently in
the Yom Kippur liturgy, as the story teaches us that true repentance is

451
Jonah 3:10.
452
Book 3 of Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn discusses these topics in more
depth.

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accompanied by a metaphysical rebirth. And indeed, when true repentance
occurs, like a newborn baby, our potential is infinite.”453

Augmenting the theme of birth in Jonah is the midrash explaining that Jonah was in the
belly of a pregnant fish.454

The fish that swallowed Jonah is masculine in its Hebrew gender – “dag,” but the fish in
whose belly Jonah finally prayed for relief is feminine – “dagah.” The midrash explains
this discrepancy by suggesting that Jonah was too comfortable in the spacious interior of
the male fish to feel the urge to repent. God had the male fish regurgitate Jonah and, in
turn, a female fish swallow the prophet. The female fish is pregnant with thousands of
tiny fish inside her waiting to be hatched. In this crowded environment, Jonah feels
himself in the tight space of the pit; the confinement that precedes deliverance. Prayers
are squeezed out of Jonah like shofar blasts are squeezed out of the belly of a shofarist.
For then every ba’al tekiah knows the truth of Jonah’s song:

“In my trouble, I called to the Lord,


And he answered me’
From the belly of Shoel I cried out,
And You heard my voice.”455

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

453
Shmuel Herzfeld, “Why We Read the Book of Jonah: A Fishy Tale of Repentance on Yom Kippur
Afternoon,” Forward, 9/20/2000, www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1P1-79271127.html and
www.rabbishmuel.com/files/torah_sermons34.whale.doc January 27, 2008.
454
Midrash Jonah, see Yvonne Sherwood, A Biblical Text and Its Afterlives: The Survival of Jonah in
Western Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pg. 116—117,
http://books.google.com/books?id=VDv-h76xSl8C, January 29, 2008.
455
Jonah 2:2.

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Epilogue – Elul Story
I did not set the brake when I parked my car. As a result, my car rolled into the car parked
in front of it and pushed that car into a third car. Neither my car nor the one directly
ahead of it were damaged, but the chain reaction dented the car at the end of the line. I
realized that I had to locate the owner of damaged car, and inquired of people on the
street until someone pointed out a building where they suggested I might find the one
whom I was seeking.

I was not certain what type of building it was, and the neighborhood was unfamiliar, so it
is with some fear that entered the building. Beyond the vestibule was a stairway that I
started to ascend. At the top of a long fight up, an abrupt turn in the landing lead to
another flight of stairs going down a few steps. At the bottom of this flight, a turn in the
landing lead to another long flight up. Again, the next landing lead to several steps down,
an abrupt turn, and another long flight up.

The landing at the top flight had a door that opened to a large, noisy room. Inside were
many people. Artisans and traders busy at their work. Teachers and students. People
coming and going. Some sitting idly, others sleeping. Cooking and eating. Crying. From
somewhere came the muffled sounds of sex and the boom of laughter.

I wandered through the room, observing all the activity, until I came to another, smaller
room. Around a large table, people were earnestly debating the merits of some enterprise
and planning it's future.

Someone approached me and offered to show me the way out of the building. She was
dressed and spoke in a manner that reminded me of how spirits are sometimes depicted
on the stage. “She must be an actress,” my mind rationalized.

But there was nothing rational about the encounter, as this was a dream received during
the full moon of the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the holy work of the
Jewish New Year and a time for taking measure of one's life. I come from a long line of
dream readers -- How would Joseph have interpreted the vision? The Ba’al Shem Tov?
Freud?

The car accident was a call to repair any damage I had done to others, and a lesson in
how my actions can have far reaching consequences, harming even those with whom I
have no direct contact.

The stairway reminds me that the path to my higher self will not be without unusual turns
and periods of descent.

The large room is my life. Here are Michael the businessman, Michael the child, Michael
the lover. And all the other people I have been, am, and will be. “Take stock of your life
Michael,” the dreamer says. “Are you pleased with what you see, Michael?"

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In the small room, The Infinite One listens as the angels take the measure of my life and
my days. No one can know his own future, so a spirit is sent to lead me from the room
before judgment is pronounced.

As we hear shofar during the Days of Awe...


...may your heart be open to give and receive forgiveness.
...may you have the courage and strength to seek to know your soul.
...may you find satisfaction with your life and demand justice in the world,
...may your Judge have mercy and compassion. And
...may the Holy One send a messenger to guide you in times of need.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS PROCEED TO BOOK TWO

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