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TCS Question - Why do we blow the shofar before Rosh Hashanah?

I know it’s only June, and our High Holy Day festivals might seem quite far away, but in many ways the lead into Rosh Hashanah and especially Yom Kippur began with the festival of Shavuot, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

At the end of Yom Kippur, we mark the conclusion of our Day of Atonement by sounding the shofar, and the ram’s horn is so closely linked with Rosh Hashanah that the festival is also known as Yom Teruah, the day of sounding [the shofar]. And yet traditionally during the month of Elul, the month which precedes our new year, we are supposed to blow the shofar during the morning service. For 30 days we blow the shofar as part of our preparation for the High Holy Days.

Before the shofar made its way into the synagogue, it was used to alert the people for battle. One can understand how the blast of the horn would have caused fear in ones enemies while also stirring the people and readying them for the fight. According to Maimonides during the month of Elul is supposed to awaken us from our spiritual slumber, to start us thinking about repentance and personal renewal.

In this way our period of repentance does not begin with Rosh Hashanah, but instead it may be dated back to the beginning of the month of Elul.

And it makes sense. If you were about to go on a long run, you would make sure to stretch and warm up first. Before performing in a play you practice, to get ready for the big night, possibly even holding a dress rehearsal in advance.

And we don’t have to wait for the month of Elul to get started, at the moment, with Elul over two months away, we are actually in a period of 122 during which we can relive our ancestor’s wilderness experience:

Giving of Torah **Shavuot (6 Sivan)
Moses goes up Mount Sinai **7 Sivan
40 days
Sin of the Golden Calf, breaking of the Two Tablets **17 Tammuz
Destruction of the Golden Calf
Moses goes to God to beg for mercy **19 Tammuz
40 days
Moses returns up Mount Sinai **30 Av
40 days
Moses returns with second Two Tablets a sign of God’s forgiveness **Yom Kippur (10 Tishrei)

Yom Kippur therefore falls on the day when Moses returned with the second set of the Two Tablets, and if God could forgive us then for the sin of the Golden Calf, surely God will forgive us for the sins we have committed. All we have to do is ask, and not wait until it’s too late to begin the work of Teshuva (repentance), Tefillah (prayer) and Tzedakah (charity).

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