by Daniella Lieberman
One of the perplexing stories in the Tanach is the story of how Joshua and his army of desert wanderers conquered Jericho. After finally crossing the Jordan River after 40 years, Jericho was the first city on the map for Bnei Yisrael to defeat. The plans were designed by God — simple and foolproof.
The battle plan: The soldiers would take the Holy Ark and shofars, and circle the walls of the city once a day for seven days. On the seventh day (Shabbat), they should circle the city seven times, blow the shofars, and on the seventh circuit, have all of the people yell simultaneously. Then, the walls of the city would come tumbling down.
Sounds strategic. Well it was, and it worked. But how?
Kate Rosenblatt, in YU’s Derech Hateva Magazine (“The Resonance of Jericho” 2011), has an interesting theory as to how this phenomenon took place. She claims that God gave Joshua a mechanical and acoustic solution to bring the walls down. Simplified into laymen’s terms, she explains that the resonance of the marching, shofar blowing and people shouting could have created enough vibrations in the earth for the walls to fall down on its own. However, enough resonance would only occur if the ceremony was done in a very certain way — starting small and slowly building up power. Looking back at the detailed, and mapped out war plans, this is exactly what happened; starting with marching with shofars once a day for seven days, leading up to the seventh day of seven marches with shofars, and finally ending with the last circuit, same as the others but this time with the addition of the human voice! Scientifically, it is only with this set that the walls can come crumbling down from the vibrations.
What can this victory, whether miraculous or natural (which is still miraculous) teach us about the power of shofars? After all, they had a key role in creating the resonance for the walls to fall. How do the shofars from Joshua relate to us during the month of Elul?
According to the Talmud, the shofar is meant to sound like a person screaming out from deep emotion. Since the shofar is a powerful instrument, we blow it on Rosh Hashanah to represent the immense noise of our own voices in order to breach the gates of Heaven and tear down the walls (compared to the physical walls of Jericho). However, as we learn form the story in Joshua, although the shofar has the amazing power to build up enough resonance to almost break down a wall, it needs the voices of the people for the final blow.
The shofar cries out for us on Rosh Hashanah, but we cannot rely on its power without putting in our own effort. Whether the walls of Jericho broke down due to a miracle or due to mechanical and acoustic resonance, we know that it could not have happened without our voice, calling out in harmony with the shofar’s.