L’Shana Tova!

The Torah doesn’t command us directly to sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, rather it states, “A day of Teruah blasts it shall be for you.” So how are we supposed to know how to proceed?

Through the laws of Rosh Hashana one can gain an appreciation for the integration of our Written law with our Oral law. For without the Oral law which Moshe taught the Jewish Nation, it would be impossible to understand or to know how to fulfill the Torah commands.

The Talmud points out that the Torah mentions the word Teruah three times within the Rosh Hashana command. Because of this, they derive there are to be three Teruah blasts on Rosh Hashana.

While the Jews were traveling through the desert, G-d instructed Moshe to create two silver Chatzotzros – trumpets. These trumpets were sounded in specific orders to either gather the nation together or to indicate that they were ready to travel. When the nation was called together, a single Tekia blast was sounded. When they were called to travel, there was a Tekiah then Teruah – staccato, followed by a Tekiah.

The Talmud derives from this that when a Teruah is required, it is preceded and followed by a Tekia.

Thus, when the Torah mentions Teruah three times, it means that each time the Teruah is sounded it is accompanied by a Tekia before and after. Thus, the Torah obligation is for one to hear a total of nine blasts on Rosh Hashana. Our custom is to sound 100 blasts throughout the service.

Now, how do we know that the instrument that we use is a Shofar – a kosher animal horn? When the Torah speaks of the service conducted on Yom Kippur of the Yovel – Jubilee year, it commands that a Shofar is to be sounded. Our Sages derive from this that all blasts that are conducted within the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar (Tishrei), are to be performed with a Shofar.

The preferred instrument to be used is a ram’s horn because it reminds G-d of Avraham’s devotion and it serves as a merit for us during our judgement on Rosh Hashana. For when G-d instructed our forefather Avraham to sacrifice his only son Yitzchok, he was willing to do so and he only stopped when he was told not to continue. At that point, Avraham sacrificed a ram instead.

I want to share an idea presented by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. which exposes us to a deeper meaning of the sounds of the Shofar.

As we mentioned above, when the Jews were in the desert the Torah tells us that a single Tekiah was sounded to gather the people together to listen to G-d’s instruction. Reb Moshe explains that the straight Tekia sound is a unifying sound. The Jews, so to speak, were one unit listening to G-d’s directives. This was similar to how the Jews accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai – where the Torah tells us their voices were as one voice.

The first Tekiah sounded on Rosh Hashana is to remind us of our mission of unity in following G-d’s instruction using the Torah as our guide.

The scattered sounds of the Teruah represent the downfall that emerges from being divided. We see that this is so because when the trumpets were sounded to indicate the Jews were to travel, a Teruah was sounded. Our great commentator Rashi teaches us that the Jews’ travels in the desert were accompanied by arguments and sinning. The pulsated beat of a Teruah represents division, when each person has his own agenda, and we become a disparate group, and it leads us to disunion and straying from our mission.

The Teruah we sound on Rosh Hashana is an indication that the root cause of our straying from G-d is our disharmony with others and our shortcoming of not being unified to G-d and His Torah.

The final Tekiah indicates G-d’s desire and Open Hand that we return to Him through repentance, by embracing others and solidifying our mission to be one with G-d and follow the path of His Torah.

Our ‘tune-up’ on Rosh Hashana may seem a daunting task. Reb Moshe refers us to a remarkable Talmudic statement, “Why is the preferred instrument for Shofar the ram’s horn? G-d says, “Sound a ram’s horn on Rosh Hashana so that I recall the binding of Yitzchok, and it would be as if you bound yourselves on the altar before Me!”

Asks Reb Moshe, how can a basic ritual as sounding and listening to a Shofar, be as if we bound ourselves to an altar like our forefather Yitzchok? It doesn’t seem to add up; one was an extreme personal sacrifice and the other is rather simple.

Says Reb Moshe, we as Jews try our best to toe the line with our performance of Mitzvos and keeping away from that which is forbidden. However, in our day to day living there is so much thrown at us, with all types of diversions which cause us to become distracted from doing what is right.

The Talmud is teaching us that when we make a decision to do what is right, even something which is as effortless as the Mitzvah of listening to the Shofar, G-d embraces our devotion and adherence to His will, and He considers it as cherished and precious as if we bound ourselves to the Altar, as our forefather Yitzchok!