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Sep 26

Sounds!

We all know that the Shofar is the instrument we use to sound the blasts on Rosh Hashana. Although the naturally hollow horns of most animals are kosher, traditionally, the type of Shofar used is a ram’s horn.

The reason the ram’s horn is the Shofar of choice is because it is a reminder to G-d of the great devotion that our forefathers Avraham and Yitzchok displayed at the Binding of Isaac, when Avraham was instructed by G-d to offer his son Yitzchok as a sacrifice. Although this instruction made no sense to him, for to sacrifice a human was against everything Avraham stood for and preached, Avraham was prepared to obey G-d’s instruction.  At the last moment Avraham was instructed not to perform the act, but because of his complete devotion to G-d, he became the forefather of the Jewish people.

Avraham still yearned to offer a sacrifice to G-d and when he noticed a ram with its antlers caught in the thicket, Avraham offered it as a sacrifice in place of his son.

Since the ram’s horn reminds G-d of Avraham and Yitzchok’s devotion, it causes G-d’s judgment to be merciful rather than one of strict judgment.

The Talmud relates that while a ram is alive it emits only one sound – from its mouth. But when it dies it can be used to create seven types of sounds. Its two horns can be used for trumpets – Shofars.  Two flutes can be made of its calves. Its hide can be used for a drum. Its large intestine can be used for the strings of a harp, and its small intestine can be used for the strings of a violin.

Based on this, the Shem Mishmuel raises an interesting question. Why did the Torah specifically choose the Shofar to be the instrument used for the blasts on Rosh Hashana? If we use part of the ram to remind G-d of the Binding of Yitzchok, why can’t any of the other instruments that can be created from the ram be used to evoke G-d’s mercy on Rosh Hashana?

When we follow the Torah’s dictate that a Shofar is to be sounded on Rosh Hashana, we display a deep level of submission to G-d’s will similar to what Avraham did at the binding of Yitzchok. Just as Avraham did as G-d instructed without understanding why, so too, we sound the Shofar blast because G-d instructed us so without Him telling us the reason.

Also, the sound that emanates from the horns is the most raw and animal sounding of all the instruments created from a ram. The Shofar’s blasts are the uninhibited cry or call that characterizes an animal’s subservience to its master. Therefore on Rosh Hashana, when the focus of the day is to coronate G-d as our King and to express that we are unequivocally His loyal subjects, the sounds of the Shofar blasts best capture our unwavering devotion to our Master.

The Torah commands us to sound Teruah blasts on Rosh Hashana. It is uncertain what the Teruah cry sounds like. Therefore, to cover all bases, the Halacha/law is that we blow three short blasts which are called Shevorim. We blow nine staccato blasts which are called Teruah, and we blow a combination of Shevarim and Teruah together. Each time Shevarim or Teruah is blown, a Tekia – a long straight blast – precedes and follows it. Sets of these patterns are blown throughout the Musaf prayer.

Rosh Hashana is sort of an anomaly. On the one hand we have a sense of trepidation for it is the day of G-d’s judgment, and on the other hand it is a holiday when we have festive holiday meals. Like anything in life, the Torah empowers us to strike a balance; we must harness our emotions of both fear and joy. Through the holiday meals we convey a sense of confidence that we will have a favorable judgment during the course of our prayers, and through the intensity of our prayers we infuse awe into our festive meals. In fact, the meals represent a coronation banquet for G-d, with Him present.

It is interesting that the blasts of the Shofar have dual connotations as well. In former times, a tactic of warfare was to sound Shofar Teruah blasts to terrify and intimidate the enemy. So too, the Teruah sounds of the Shofar instill fear in us and move us to repent.

But the Shofar blasts were also sounded as a symbol of victory upon defeating an opponent at war. The Shofar blasts also signify for us our success in silencing the satan/prosecutor. These sounds represent our coronation of G-d as our King, our spiritual renewal, redemption, resurrection and our hope of being granted a year of life filled with goodness, success, health, Nachas and peace!