Celebrate with the Shofar

Yom T’ruah has arrived! Blow the shofar long and loud!

But why? What is the significance of the shofar? Do we blow the shofar like some plastic horn on January first? Are we partying hardy at the outset of the Jewish New Year? We serve apples and honey—symbols of blessing and goodness—expressing our wish for a joyous year to come. Some of us even make promises to Hashem, in a form of “New Year’s Resolution”. What, exactly, are we saying with all this symbolism?

Oddly, the Torah doesn’t explicitly tell us the purpose of this day. It only says that the first of Tishri shall be “a day of complete rest for remembering, a holy convocation announced with blasts on the shofar.”. But remembering of what?

It would take a book to detail all the layers of significance, theological and historical, that have led to the modern understanding of Yom T’ruah (usually identified as “Rosh Hashanah”, or “New Year’s Day”). Images of kings, judges, creation, and blessing are found throughout the proceedings. Unlike other cultures, the annual New Year commemoration is less of a party time, and more like a day in court.

Blow the ShofarAccording to Rabbinic tradition, Moshe carved the second set of tablets (remember, he destroyed the first!) during the month of Elul, during a second 40 days upon Mt Sinai. Supposedly, Moshe ascended the mount on Rosh Chodesh Elul and descended on the 10th of Tishri, at the end of Yom Kippur, when repentance and restoration of the people was complete. The month of Elul therefore represents the time of national sin and the forgiveness obtained by means of teshuvah (repentance) before the LORD.

Personally, my favorite image for Yom T’ruah is that of the arriving King. The shofar is blown, announcing that the Creator, Sustainer, Lawgiver, and Judge has deigned to give us an audience. He has descended upon Mount Sinai with the sound of many shofarot, alerting us to his presence, his glory, and his power. We come before him, rejoicing to be in his presence, and yet ashamed of our violations. We love him, yet we fear his wrath. It is a time of ambiguity. Do we look forward to being in his holy presence, or do we fear the possible penalty that might be inflicted?

Some may not understand this dynamic tension. But it is crucial that we experience all these conflicting feelings. Without them, we will miss out on understanding just what a great mercy it is that Adonai has bestowed upon us whom he has called to be his. We deserve punishment, but he gives us love. He is the King, and yet he calls us his children, inviting us to climb onto his lap.

It is in the experience of these conflicting emotions that makes Yom T’ruah such a powerful time in our consciousness. The recognition of both the goodness and the severity of Hashem allows us to more fully appreciate what a wonderful and complex Being he is. And it makes us appreciate all that much more the unfathomable power of the declaration made so often in Scripture,

I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Celebrate with the ShofarI encourage my readers to meditate upon the text of Tehillim/Psalm 85 over the course of the next few days. Truth springs up from the earth, and justice looks down from Heaven… and we are cradled in their arms. The Creator and Judge is also our loving Parent.

Blow the shofar! Blow it long and loud!


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