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The Three Shofars of Redemption

The following excerpt is part of a Rosh Hashanah sermon given in 1933 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel (then known as Palestine), at a time when Zionist migration to Palestine was increasing in response to growing oppression by Nazi and Stalinist regimes in Europe.

What is the shofar horn made of?

There are three categories of shofars that may be blown on Rosh Hashanah. The first category, the optimal shofar, is made of the horn of a ram. If such a horn is not available, then a shofar made of the horn of any kosher animal (except a cow) may be used. If no kosher shofars are available, then one may blow on any horn, even from a ritually unclean animal. When using a non-kosher horn, however, no bracha [blessing] is recited.

These three shofars of Rosh Hashanah correspond to three “shofars of redemption,” summoning the Jewish people to be redeemed and redeem their land.

The preferred “shofar of redemption” is the divine call that awakens the people through holy motivations — out of faith in God and the sanctity of the people of Israel. This form of awakening corresponds to a shofar made of a ram’s horn, recalling the holy dedication of Akeidat Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac) — It is for this “great shofar,” an awakening of spiritual greatness, that we pray.

There is also a second “shofar of redemption,” a lower level of awakening. This shofar calls out to the Jews to come to the Land of Israel, to return to the land of our ancestors, our prophets and our kings. It beckons us to live as a free people in our homeland, educate our children in a Jewish environment, and so on. This is a kosher shofar, albeit not a great shofar like the first type of awakening. We may still recite a bracha over this shofar.

There is, however, a third type of shofar. [At this point, Rav Kook burst out in tears.] The least preferred shofar comes from the horn of an unclean animal. This shofar is the wake-up call that comes from anti-Semitic nations, warning the Jews to escape while they still can and flee to their own land. Enemies force them to be redeemed. They sound out the trumpets of war, bombarding them with deafening threats of persecution and torment, giving them no respite. The shofars of unclean beasts are transformed into the messianic shofar.

Whoever failed to listen to the calls of the first two shofars, will be forced to listen to the call of this last shofar. On this shofar, however, no blessing is recited, for “one does not recite a blessing over a cup of affliction.”

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