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.
I don’t want to toot my horn, but I blow the shofar in our shul and, like you, I also hope that people are thinking about more than just how I did. Or if I deserve to have my shofar’s license renewed (all humor intended).
The sages have pointed out many reasons for blowing the shofar; I will try to enumerate a few of them in the space I have available.
Maimonides, in his Code, offers the most popular understanding. His words are quoted in many machzorim, or 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 a spiritual, annual alarm clock which awakens us from our reveries so we can become focused upon our purpose in the world and begin the process of tshuvah: 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 when 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 and to heed His decrees, the mitzvot — bringing only the highest honor to His Kingdom as dedicated members of klal Yisrael.
A further hint mentioned is that the Talmud declares the ram’s horn to be 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 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 at Mount Sinai. We accept upon ourselves, at the moment of hearing the shofar, to become more dedicated in the coming year to the study of Torah, and thereby more deeply connected to Sinai and all it represents.
One final thought: 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. This shofar will usher in the next period of history, the time we’re all waiting for! This is not just allegorical; rather, through our tshuvah when the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah, we actually bring the world a step closer to that final shofar.
I tend to focus my thoughts on all of the above during the blowing, as well as other things, some of them personal. Each person should think about what connects them most to the moment.
All of this is in addition to the most important thought of all: to have in mind that you will fulfill the mitzvah of shofar! (Make sure not to “blow” that one!)
Best wishes for a very meaningful Rosh Hashanah. May all y’all and our people everywhere be blessed with a sweet, joyous New Year filled with peace, good health and much blessing!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.