About the manner of blowing the Shofar

According to the Mishnah a Jew must hear on Rosh Hashanah nine Shofar blows. The order of the blows is: Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah, repeated three times (see “Sounds of the Shofar”)

On the fourth century three sounds were added – Shevarim (which sound like groaning).

Maimonides said: That Teruah mentioned in the Torah, we have doubts about it, as years passed by and exile lingered, and we do not know how it was: is it the howl of wailing women, or the moan of a person, once and again, when his heart is concerned about something important, or is it both. Therefore we do all of them: the howling which we call Teruah, and the moans one after the other which we call three Shevarim.

According the Mishnah the number of Shofar blows one must hear on Rosh Hashanah is thirty, and nowadays, this is the order of Shofar blows:

Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah (TSTT) – three times

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TST) – three times

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TRT) – three times

Over the years most communities added thirty more sounds in the middle of the prayer – for Kingdoms, for Remembrance and for Shofars – all in all: ninety; then we add ten sounds to reach one hundred.

Why do we blow the Shofar?

Rabbi Yitzhak said: Why do we blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah?

“Why do we Blow the Shofar”? The Almighty said blow the Shofar! (Rosh Hashanah Tractate)

According to Maimonides, even though blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is mandatory according to the Torah, there is a hint in it:

“Wake up you who are in sound sleep, and slumberous people stop hibernating, look into your deeds, repent and remember your creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanity of time and wander in their sleep through nonsense and emptiness which shall do no good nor save anybody, look into your souls and mend your ways and deeds, and each one of you shall forsake his mean ways and mean thoughts (Hilchot Teshuvah).

Maimonides gives a number of reasons for the commandment of blowing the Shofar, among them:

  • Blowing the Shofar marks the occasion of enthroning the Lord as king of the universe, because it was the custom of kings who were enthroned, to mark the occasion by blowing the horns. And indeed, blowing the Shofar foretelling the kingdom of God in our world is mentioned in many verses in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah. For instance: “For the Lord Almighty great King of the entire universe… The Lord rose to the sound of Teruah God to the sound of the Shofar”.
  • Blowing the Shofar intends to awake the rights of the fathers, and remind us of the binding of Isaac and the way Abraham withstood the trial, as it is said: “Said the Lord, blow to me the horn of a ram, so that I shall remember how Isaac son of Abraham was bound and thus I shall remember them.”
  • Blowing the Shofar reminds us of the revelation of Sinai, when the people stated unanimously at the foot of the mountain: “We shall do and we shall hear!” as we say in the prayer of “Musaf” in Rosh Hashanah: “You revealed yourself in the cloud…in sounds and bolts you were revealed before them, and at the sound of Shofar you appeared to them”.

Rabbi Saadia Gaon (10th century) mentions ten global topics involved in blowing the Shofar:

  • As a means to accept the heavenly kingdom – just as people blow horns and cheer for kings, announcing the commencement of their reign.
  • As a warning – so do the kings, warning everybody firstly about their decrees, so that future offenders will have no claim.
  • The sounds of the Shofar remind us of the revelation of Sinai.
  • Sounds of the Shofar remind us of the words of the true prophet, which are likened to the blast of the Shofar (and he blew the Shofar and warned the people).
  • To remind us of the Destruction of the Temple and the war blasts of the enemies (as said in Jeremiah 4).
  • To remind us of the binding of Isaac, who sacrificed his life for Heavens, his devotion when being bound to the alter (and instead of him a ram was sacrificed, and from the ram’s horn we make the Shofar).
  • It is in the nature of the Shofar to shake the blood, so that we shall have fear and anxiety and break ourselves before our creator.
  • To remind us of the great Judgement Day and fear it ( Zephaniah 1)
  • The sounds of Shofar remind us of the ingathering of the exiles (Isaiah 24).
  • The sounds of Shofar remind us of the resurrection of the dead (Isaiah 18).

Rabbi Saadia Gaon mentioned all the cosmic events, from the Creation to the resurrection of the dead.

The Shofar according to Kabala

The Kabala literature has tremendous influence on the uses of the Shofar and on the beliefs attributed to it. * All the central themes, mentioned in the book of Zohar and in the Kabala literature, are linked to theories on the creation of the world and on the relations between divine forces and the global ones.

One of the themes repeated in various forms is the atonement through the Shofar blasts.

Blast of the Shofar is capable of changing the judgment in heavens from guilty to acquittal, to disrupt the prosecutors and even silence them on Judgment Day (Rosh Hashanah). When the Lord is at the throne of judgment and the prosecutors – the moans and howls – rest their accusations, the People of Israel change God’s intention from guilty to acquittal with prayers and blasts of the Shofar. **

The idea of Zichron Teruah (Shofar blast’s remembrance) appearing in the prayers, means the memory of past events. The People of Israel blowing the Shofars on Rosh Hashanah, remember the Shofar blast which saved them during the conquest of the land of Israel. The sound of Teruah, going up and down like a chain, symbolizes the binding of the forces of evil and the release from bondage. The People of Israel, as slaves, shall be finally released from their bonds by the blast of the Shofar of the last redemption.

Past and future are connected in the Shofar of Redemption. This motif is repeated many times in the Kabalistic literature. The Shofar of Redemption of the end of days symbolizes the Shofar which took the People of Israel out of Egypt. The Shofar of the revelation of Sinai is the Great Shofar, to be blown in the end of days, as said in the book of Isaiah (27, 13).

The list of reasons for blowing the Shofar is not through yet…

Scholars and Rabbis, commentators and philosophers continue to explain its meaning – to this day.

* For further reading: A Shiloah, Topics of music in the book of Zohar, texts and keys – Series of monographies – Yovel, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1977)
** For further reading: The Musical Heritage of Jewish Communities, unit 8 – in the chapter: “The Shofar in the Book of Zohar and in Kabalistic Literature”, page 18. The Open University.
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