Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2012

Faith Forum: On Rosh Hashanah, who blows the shofar (ram’s horn) and why?

September 16, 2012


Rabbi Moti Rieber, Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive:

The shofar is the symbol of Rosh Hashanah, the “Jewish new year,” which we will observe beginning tonight. It is so important that the Torah defines the holiday in reference to it: “You shall observe a sacred occasion,” it is written, “it shall be for you a day of blowing the horn.”

Other times when tradition mentions the shofar include the giving of Torah at Sinai, at the announcement of messianic redemption, and when the ancient Israelites were to go into battle. Each of these contain a teaching: First, the shofar reminds us of our heritage and history, which goes back 3,500 years. Second, the shofar reminds us that we are to work for a world where everyone has access to the necessary elements of life ­— food, health care, etc. This is called tikkun olam, or repair of the world, and is a core Jewish commitment today.

And third, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide us with an opportunity to repair our relationships where needed and to examine and address our personal flaws and misdeeds. This is called “teshuvah,” or turning — turning back to God, and to each other. The shofar serves as a “call to battle” as we undertake this vital but difficult task.

The person who blows the shofar doesn’t have to be a rabbi. You’re looking for a combination of technical ability — it’s not easy to get a really good sound — and awareness of its spiritual significance. At the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, our primary shofar-blower is Stuart Levine, who in his younger days was a renowned professional French horn player. He’s elderly now, but somehow when it comes time for Rosh Hashanah, he finds the ability to give a mighty blow!

No doubt he is being assisted by heaven ­— as are we all, as we listen to the ancient, yet ever-new, call of the shofar.

— Send email to Moti Rieber at

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St.:

One of the central points of the Jewish New Year is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn.

It may look simple to blow the shofar, but you’ve got to play by the rules. Unless you know all the rules, it is best to leave it to your rabbi or another professional.

We use the shofar to produce a sequence of three sounds. One, long and uninterrupted. The next one is made up of short spurts of interrupted sounds, while the third, like the first, is continuous — a long sound again.

The first and third sounds represent perfection, as they continue unhindered, and even grow in power with time. It is the second one that sings a different song. The song of imperfection, of obstacles, challenges and inconsistencies. Of short spurts of energy because that’s all that can be mustered.

It tells the painful story of struggle, of many attempts, of an equal amount of failures, of shortness of breath. It speaks of limited resources, frustration, losses, setbacks, as well as sudden ends; all of which wrench at the heart like the desperate cry of a child.

But it also tells the story of unbeatable determination, of triumphs (small but many), of the strength to move forward, and of beginnings, all of which inspire hope and faith in the hearts of those who listen carefully, unable to help being moved.

There are things that are important to us, so we speak about them. There are things so important to us that the words flow out in a burst of emotion — rich words, expressive and vibrant.

And then there are things that shake us to the core. Things that do not care for the mind’s permission or for the right words — for the mind cannot fathom them, the most poignant words could not contain them. Things that can only break out in a cry, in a scream, and then in silence.

This is the sound of the shofar: The very core of our souls crying, “Father! Father!”

— Send email to Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.