There seems to be a cloud of mystery hanging over the shofar. I think this is partially because it’s an ancient musical instrument used throughout thousands of years during sacred religious rituals. If you want to become a shofar expert in no time just read along with me…
This instrument is a hollow ram’s horn that is bent and curved upwards. The horn of a ram is preferred because it was a ram that was offered as a sacrifice in place of Isaac when his father Abraham bound him on an altar with the intention of sacrificing him to God.
The horns of other similar animals can be used instead, but not that of a cow, since it is different than that rams.
In Judaism, this horn is used as a wind instrument. In Hebrew, the act of blowing the shofar is called tekiah. Nowadays it is used only during the month of Elul (September-October) but in biblical times its sound marked several important occasions.
In biblical times the sound of the blowing of the horn was meant to arouse people’s attention. It was used for reasons such as gathering the men before going out to battle, assembling the people for different reasons or marking significant occasions.
On Friday evening before Sabbath began, the sound announced the coming of the Sabbath and was used as a reminder for all merchants to stop work before the holy day began. Another important meaning was the marking of Rosh Hashanah, which is common also nowadays. Let’s learn an interesting insight about this ritual?
Throughout the month of Elul, it is customary to blow the shofar one time at the end of the shaharit prayer of every weekday. This is done to arouse people into a heightened awareness of the need to repent before the ten Days of Awe.
On the last day of the month, Rosh Hashanah eve, the horn is not blown. This is to distinguish between the voluntary blowing of Elul and the obligatory blowing of Rosh Hashanah. It is believed that this will confuse Satan and prevent his condemnation.
There are several ideas related to the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah. The first is that the tekiah symbolizes the crowning of God as Lord of the Jewish people. In the same manner, the ancient kings used to mark their day of crowning.
When hearing the tekiah we revalidate our binding to God just as Abraham did when binding Isaac to the alter. The Sages of blessed memory relate this act to the following passage:
“Sound before Me a ram’s horn so that I may remember on your behalf the binding of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and account it to you as if you had bound yourselves before Me”.
The tekiah is also to reminds us of the stand at the foot of Mount Sinai, where the Israelites were given the Torah. At this event they witnessed God’s great glory and pledged to follow His commandments. When hearing the sound of the horn, a Jewish person takes upon himself, that which his ancestors took upon themselves when they said “We will faithfully do.”
The stand is described in the Book of Exodus as follows: “And there was thunder and lightning…and the voice of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp trembled…”
Learning how to blowing the shofar may take some practice, but once you get the hang of it you’ll see it’s not that hard. There are several sounds that can be produced:
The Tekiah: the “blast,” one long blast with a clear tone.
The Shevarim: a “broken,” sighing sound of three short calls.
The Teruah: the “alarm,” a rapid series of nine or more very short notes.
The Tekiah Gedolah: “the great Tekiah,” a single unbroken blast, held as long as possible. It is used at the end of the series of calls. It is interesting that there is no certainty on what a Tekiah sound really is. It could be a shevarim, a teruah or a combination of both. On Rosh Hashana, several combinations are used to accommodate the various opinions.
By now you are practically an expert, there is just a bit more to go! You know what the shofar is, what it’s used for, don’t you want to hear the unique sound it provides? Click here to listen to the sound of the shofar
The final blowing of the horn is again related to the events that took place at Mount Sinai. The shofar was blown after the Torah was revealed, then God told Moses to send the Jewish people back to their tents. This marked the beginning of the true test of the Jews: would they continue serving God when not in His presence?
In the same manner, at the end of Neilah prayer (the closing prayer of the Yom Kippur service), the shofar is blown. Announcing that God is starting to make His way back “up” to the higher realms and reminding us that God wants to see how we fill our commitments throughout the year.
Sounding the horn on Yom Kippur is also related to the “Shemita” year. This is the Sabbatical year that occurs every seventh year, during which the land remains untouched. Every seventh Shemitah year is to be sanctified as a Yovel year. On Yom Kippur of the Yovel the horn is blown marking the canceling of debts and freedom for all slaves
The most common idea related to the shofar blowing on Yom Kippur is to let people know that the fast is over and that it is permitted to prepare and eat the meal that is eaten on the night after Yom Kippur.
All people are obligated to hear the shofar except women, children under the age of bar mitzvah, and mentally incompetent people. Those obligated to hear it are permitted to blow it for others, by this assisting them to fulfill this obligation. Women are relieved of this obligation but even so, almost all women do hear it. The only difference is that a woman cannot blow the shofar for a man, since she is not obligated by the Torah to hear it.
If you blow the shofar, you must have in mind that anyone who hears it will fulfill his obligation to hear it. Therefore, you may not practice blowing it on Rosh Hashanah; perhaps someone will hear your practice blast and think that he has fulfilled his obligation.