Rosh Hashanah shofar thoughts

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

What should I be thinking about when I hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? It seems like there should be more focus than just how well of a job the blower did this year!

Wishing you a happy Rosh Hashanah,
Jill K.

Dear Jill,

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I blow the shofar in our shul and also hope that people are thinking about more than just how I did or if I deserve to have my shofar’s license revoked (all puns intended).

The sages have pointed out many reasons for blowing the shofar; we will try to enumerate a few of them: in the space we have available.

Maimonides in his Code offers the most popular understanding, his words are quoted in many machzorim (High Holiday prayer books): “Even though the real reason we blow shofar is a Heavenly decree and its reason is not revealed, we find a hint for it in the verse ‘Wake up the slumbering from your sleep’ — wake up and repent! This is referring to the people who are ‘asleep’ in the vanities of the time.” According to Maimonides, the shofar is an “annual alarm clock” which awakens us from our reveries to become focused upon our purpose in the world. It’s literally a wake-up call to begin the process of teshuvah: self-improvement and growth.

Another important focus is that shofars and trumpets were blown upon the coronation of a king. Rosh Hashanah is the day we “coronate the Heavenly King” and declare Him as our King and we, his subjects. At the moment of hearing the shofar we resolve to live our lives as loyal subjects of our beloved King. This means to heed His decrees, the mitzvos and live lives which bring only the most honor to His Kingdom as dedicated subjects.

A further hint mentioned is that the ram’s horn is reminiscent of the ram offered by Abraham in place of his son Isaac. This further teaches us the lesson of complete dedication and subjection to the Divine Will, regardless of the difficulty involved or the level of sacrifice required. This thought deepens the level of our fealty to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

One thought which I always feel connected to is the notion that our shofar reflects the shofar blast sounded by the Al-mighty as Mount Sinai. With this, one accepts upon themselves, at the moment of hearing the shofar, to become more dedicated in the coming year to the study of Torah, to be more connected to Sinai and all it represents.

One final thought I’ll mention is that our shofar is a precursor of the “shofar hagadol,” the great shofar that will be sounded throughout the world with the arrival of Moshiach, the Messiah, ushering in the next period of history, the “time we’re all waiting for!” Through our teshuvah at the time of our shofar blowing we actually bring the world a step closer to that final, great shofar blast ushering in the messianic time of redemption. 

Personally, I usually shift my thoughts during the blowing to all the above at different moments, as well as others, some of them personal. Each person should think about what connects them most to the moment.

A great rabbi once said that before the shofar blowing, people often ask him what to think about during the shofar blowing. He said he always tells them “to think about someone else.”

All this is in addition to the most important thought of all: to have in mind to fulfill the great mitzvah of shofar! (Make sure not to blow that one!).

Wishing all the readers a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, with cures for all the sick among us, matches for all those looking and peace in Israel, both from without and from within. 

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA–Dallas Area Torah Association.

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