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September 02, 2010 - Image 80

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-09-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Spirituality

ASK THE EXPERT

Why The Shofar?

I

s there a reason we blow the
shofar on Rosh Hashanah
and not a real trumpet? I
know it's traditional, but is
there a reason that the shofar is
so special?

- James, West Bloomfield

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80

September 2 • 2010

I don't want to toot the
shofar's horn too much, James, but
it really is pretty special. Allow me
to explain.
In the Torah, we are given
a commandment that on the
first day of the seventh month
(Tishrei), "you shall observe
complete rest, a sacred occasion
commemorated with loud blasts."
(Leviticus 23:24) These loud
blasts, or teruah, were understood
by the rabbis to allude to the
blasts of the shofar. So on Rosh
Hashanah, we blow the shofar in
order to fulfill this commandment.
The biblical text doesn't go into
precisely the reason that it's so
important that we hear a teruah,
but there are a few possibilities.
You might imagine that a shofar
was chosen for Rosh Hashanah
just because it was the only horn-
like instrument that the Israelites
had in the desert when they were
given the commandments. But
actually, the Torah mentions a
number of instruments the people
had with them, including silver trum-
pets, so the use of the shofar doesn't
seem to have been borne from neces-
sity.
The Bible contains many explicit
references to the shofar, not just the
Rosh Hashanah commandment.
When the people received the Ten
Commandments from God on Mount
Sinai, they heard a very loud blast
of the shofar. We are commanded
to blow the shofar not only on Rosh
Hashanah, but also at the beginning
of the Jubilee year. Warriors in battle
and musicians in the Temple also
blew the shofar.
The sound of the teruah is both
earthly and Divine. It comes from an
animal, but makes the same sound
that was heard on the top of Mount
Sinai when God addressed the people.
Music can be celebratory, but the
sound of the shofar is more than just
a sound of jubilation. It is the sound
of the presence of God, and the sound

The biblical text doesn't
go into precisely the
reason that its so
important that we hear
a teruah, but there are
a few possibilities.

we use to cry out to God when we
need God's intervention.
The Talmud struggles with the
same question that you have, James.
In Tractate Rosh Hashanah 16a we
read: "R. Abbahu said: Why do we
blow a ram's horn? The Holy One,
blessed be He said: Sound before Me
a ram's horn so that I will remember
on your behalf the binding of Isaac,
the son of Abraham, and to account it
to you as if you had bound yourselves
before me."
In this case, Rabbi Abbahu is
claiming that the shofar is an allusion
to the ram we read about in the story
of the binding of Isaac, which is the
Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah.
The shofar reminds us of the sacrifice
made by Abraham, and we use it to
remind God of that same sacrifice so
that He will credit their good actions
to us today. (Remember, in the end of
that story, Abraham sees a ram and
sacrifices it instead of Isaac.)

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