Shofar on Rosh HaShanah

The shofar is generally made out of a ram’s horn, and the Blowing of the Shofar has many purposes and many layers of meaning.

If it is made of a ram’s horn, rather than an eland, ibex or kudu horn, it calls to mind the ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of Isaac. And it helps instill in us awe and fear of Hashem’s glory, as it says in Amos 3:6: “If a ram’s horn is sounded in the city, can the inhabitants fail to be alarmed?”

The word “shofar,” is similar to the word “shapru,” Hebrew for “beautify”, which is to remind us to beautify our deeds and correct our actions.

The shape of the shofar also hints at of our relationship with G-d. The shofar has a narrow end and a wide end. We blow into the shofar at the narrow, tapered end, and the sound comes out of the wider end, as in some musical instruments. This alludes to the verse, “From the straits I called upon Hashem, Hashem answered me expansively” (Psalms 118:5), which we actually recite before the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. In other words, when we are in dire straits we pray to Hashem, and He responds by helping us with expansively, i.e., with bountiful help and support.

One person is designated as the shofar blower, which is a difficult task, and in any case should be performed by a righteous person, since in a sense he is representing us.

On Rosh Hashanah we are judged. The Tempting Angel, who is also our Accuser, stands before the Heavenly Court and enumerates our sins. But the Talmud tells us that whenever we perform a Mitzvah the Accuser is silenced as long as we are doing that Mitzvah. Thus, while we are listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we cannot be accused. Therefore, this is a very opportune time to silently repent our sins.

Judaism does not believe in confessing to human beings. When you confess, do so quietly, so that only Hashem and you can hear it. If you have sinned against another human being, you must ask that person for forgiveness first (not while the shofar is being blown, of course), and afterwards confess quietly to Hashem and resolve to try not to sin again.

Our blowing of the shofar is also like crying. It is our cry to Hashem to show that we are sorry for our sins.

There are three types of sounds that we blow on the shofar: one straight sound, a set of three brief sounds, and a set of staccato sounds. Why these sounds? Eac represents a different crying sound: the long moan, brief groans, or choppy cries. Sometimes a crying person makes various kinds of crying sounds, catching his breath, bleating, even hicupps, at times.

This reminds us that Hashem has mercy on us like a father has on his crying children, giving them what they need and comforting them.

Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgement, either as children or as servants. If as children, be merciful with us as a father has mercy on his children. If as servants, our eyes look to You, in dependance upon You, until You are gracious to us and acquit us with a verdict as clear as day, O Awesome and Holy One.

We blow the shofar in a number of stages: some of the blasts we blow immediately after the blessing, and the other blasts are disbursed throughout the prayers.