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

As we celebrate the High Holy Days the shofar is arguably the most prominent symbol across this period of time in the Jewish calendar. Throughout the month of Elul, leading up to the new year, we blow the shofar every morning, on Rosh Hashanah we blow it several times during the services, and finally the conclusion of Yom Kippur is marked by the blowing of the shofar.

While we most frequently refer to Rosh Hashanah by this name, meaning the ‘Head of the Year’, there are several other names for the festival. It is also known as Yom HaDin – the Day of Judgment, Yom HaZikaron – the Day of Remembrance, and most pertinently for this question: Yom Teruah – the Day of the Blowing. The blowing of the shofar is so central to the festive day that one of its names exists purely  as a reminder of this.

In the Torah, when Rosh Hashanah is first introduced, we read that ‘it shall be a memorial of the blowing of horns, a holy gathering’; and then later we read ‘you shall do no labor; it is a day of blowing the horn for you’. In this way in we might answer the question of why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah with the response because the Torah tells us to.

However, there are other more interpretative reasons given.

In many descriptions of the shofar it is described as an alarm call. The great Rabbi, Moses Maimonides, said that in the shofar we should hear the call: “Wake up you sleepers from your sleep and you slumberers from your slumber.” Throughout the month of Elul, when we blow the shofar each morning, it is meant as a wakeup call to remind us that the High Holy Days are coming and we need to begin our spiritual preparation. When we blow it on Rosh Hashanah it serves as the alarm calling us to attention with ten days left until God’s verdict will be sealed on Yom Kippur. In this way the shofar blasts arouse us and remind us of the significance of these ten days of repentance.

For me the other reason which I really like is the association of the shofar with the Torah portion which we read on Rosh Hashanah. In the story of the akedah – the binding of Isaac, we read that after Abraham also sacrificed his son, he saw a ram caught in the thicket, which he offered up as a sacrifice in place of his son. The shofar, a ram’s horn, provides a clear link with this story in Torah.

In struggling with this story I read it as one in which Abraham failed the test set before him by God, he should have refused to sacrifice Isaac from the beginning. In this way it is a story that teaches that even Abraham made mistakes, but that ultimately he found the way to do the right thing (even if it took divine intervention), saving his son and offering up a ram. In this way I like to think that when we blow the shofar it reminds us that we all make mistakes, but that, like Abraham, we all of have the chance to try again and do the right thing – a very appropriate message for Rosh Hashanah

About Rabbi Danny

Rabbi Danny
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